Quick question, how many times have you downloaded an app, used it for a day or two, and then never touched it again until months later when you're clearing out all of your unused apps? I'm sure it's more often than we'd like.
I'd be willing to bet that most of those apps were novel, eye catching, or had some sort of other x-factor that made them sound fun, but something was missing that didn't give them any lasting appeal. I won't deny that there's something to be said about novelty, but for the majority of apps, the only real way to guarantee your app isn't deleted after a few days is to create something where your users will continually benefit from its use.
Does this mean you need some genius idea that nobody has ever thought of before? Or solve a pain that nobody has ever addressed before? Not at all. I don't even think that's realistic. I actually believe the opposite, that pretty much everything we work on is a remix of other ideas or technologies. Any change you've ever seen Kirby Ferguson's short series about this? If not, you might want to check it out (after you finish reading this article of course).
I think most of us know the story about the iPhone. When Steve Jobs announced it, it was portrayed as completely revolutionary, something nobody has ever seen or thought of before. Truth is, multitouch screens had already been around for years. What Apple did was greatly improve the interface and package it in a very user friendly device to make it easily accessible.
What this means is you should first think on a higher level about what problem you really are trying to solve. Step back and think if you are really creating the best solution you can to solve that pain, and determine if an app is even the answer.
A large caveat comes to mind with this one, and that's gaming apps. Are games really solving a pain? I guess depending on how you look at, maybe you could really stretch the definition. Gaming apps can fill voids in down time, and we all know how people can hardly tolerate a minute of silence these days.
Again, it goes back to how you define your app's success. Apps can be a big investment. Even if you have the skills to build it yourself you'll be investing a serious amount of time and attention. If the success for your app entails continual use and really providing a benefit to your users, make sure it actually solves a pain for your audience.
We had a very clear pain for Find My Train to try and solve. I would often be sitting sitting at Light Rail stations not knowing when the train was going to be arriving. The only help you get from the stations is a warning at 2 minute and 5 minutes. When the trains can be spread out up to 20 minutes, that leaves a lot of time to sit around and wonder when their ride is going to arrive.
I realize waiting for another 10 or 15 minutes isn't the worst thing in the world, but the unknown does have an effect on people's perception of how pleasant an experience is, especially if they're trying to get somewhere on time. Not to mention sitting for 15 minutes in 115 degree weather can literally be painful. So by helping to relieve this pain with our app, we've pretty much guaranteed continued usage and support of our product. More importantly, we know from users contacting us that people are genuinely thankful that our product exists.
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If you found this information helpful, you may enjoy an upcoming book that I am working on with my friend Kirk. The book is called “The Bootstrapper’s Guide to Creating Apps”, and covers the entire process of creating successful apps, from idea inception all the way through launch. If you’re interested you can find more information on our website.
Lastly, if you’re working on an app or planning to work on an app, I wish you the best. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you think there is anything I could do to help, whether that’s answer questions or bounce ideas off me. I am easily accessible and respond to all emails.