Making an App Worth Buying: 11 Expert Developers Weigh In On the Future of App Development

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With the increase in the number of smart phones on the market, the app industry has absolutely exploded. There are now millions upon millions of apps that do just about whatever you could possibly want. With so many apps available, coming up with the next huge hit is just about as hard as it sounds. We recently reached out to some of the innovators in this field in order to ask them just how to make your app stand out from the crowd and where they think this ever changing industry is headed.

Meditation

Taptanium

Taptanium is an aspiring app production studio for iOS which strives for excellence. They’re on a mission to team up with the most brilliant people for greater impact. Their app Windy ~ Sleep Relax Meditate combines natural winds recorded in stereoscopic 3D with 3D parallax scenes and a wonderful story to help you sleep, relax, study or meditate."

Social media: Facebook and @taptanium on Twitter.

1) Given the current market saturation in the field what steps did you take in the development process to ensure that your app will be noticed and is unique?

Concept is key. Before you start developing an app, think about what you try to accomplish, what problem it aims to solve, and who might want to buy it. Then figure out if the market size and demand is large enough to potentially cover your production costs. In the early days I made the mistake of just developing an app I thought was cool without considering demand. It sold like a leaking water bottle. Also, try to come up with something that has not been done already, and it will be easier to pitch. Consider collaboration and sharing profits for greater impact. While you might end up giving away a cut from your sales to someone else, you may very well end up making a lot more money than you would have made alone. If your app is health & fitness related, get in touch: http://taptanium.com

2) App monetization has been a highly debated topic in the community. From your experience what do you and your team feel lies in store for the future economy of this industry?

Like with any other industry, it is hard to make noteworthy amounts of money with apps. Even if you strive for excellence, you might end up creating something the media doesn't care about at all, and thus your last hope is that it's good enough to spread by word of mouth. And hopefully, it is really damn good because users expect $100,000 style production quality from everyone, no matter how small. Do not bet on the success stories surrounding low budget or weekend productions. If you do, you might be better off playing the lottery instead. As far as utility apps are concerned, I think the App Store is great as long as you aim for quality and keep a viable concept in mind. Games seem more competitive but also more rewarding if you manage to find a fresh concept and execute it with excellence.

Organizational

ChoreMonster

ChoreMonster makes chores fun for kids and easy for parents.  Kids earn points by completing chores to use toward rewards like an hour of video games or a camping trip.  Parents get an easy-to-use tool that takes the tension out of household chores.  With ChoreMonster, your kids will beg to do their chores!  Sign up today at ChoreMonster.com, or download the ChoreMonster app on iPhone, iPad, or Windows 8 tablets.

Social Media: Facebook or @ChoreMonster on Twitter.

1) Given the current market saturation in the field what steps did you take in the development process to ensure that your app will be noticed and is unique?

I think we stand out in two ways: creating a UI that's kid-first to keep them engaged, and creating an app that's providing value to families--so parents are comfortable handing their iPads and iPhones over to kids and know they won't be wasting their time.  If you build something useful and impactful, people rally around it and promote it for you.

2) App monetization has been a highly debated topic in the community. From your experience what do you and your team feel lies in store for the future economy of this industry?

I think that apps need to be more creative when considering their monetization strategies.  Previously, ChoreMonster had a free versions and a subscription that gave our users access to the Monster Carnival (kids earn tickets for each chore completed and can spin the carnival wheel to earn monsters).  We decided that was an unnecessary barrier for parents to receive the full version of ChoreMonster, so we did away with it.  Instead, we're going to focus on revenue from working with brands--something we had done successfully before.  Now, we make money by working with brands to create cartoons that teach kids how to do their chores, which we show in the ChoreMonster app.  And ChoreMonster is entirely free for users.

 

 

Vesper

Vesper. Q Branch crafts precision tools for discerning iOS and Mac users. Its founding partners are Brent Simmons, Dave Wiskus, and John Gruber. Check out Vesper on the app store.

Social Media: @vesperapp on Twitter.

1) Given the current market saturation in the field what steps did you take in the development process to ensure that your app will be noticed and is unique?

We knew that the three of us working together would generate some attention, but momentum is not the same as success. What we wanted to do was create something that fit our specific needs, with our unique touch, that we could be proud to share with others. We’re sticklers for quality, so we got to be our own pickiest customers throughout development. That level of obsession has definitely helped Vesper to stand out.

2) App monetization has been a highly debated topic in the community. From your experience what do you and your team feel lies in store for the future economy of this industry?

I’m not sure anyone is really qualified to answer this yet — our industry is still so young. Freemium is hot right now, but we’re already seeing users getting annoyed with that model. Our take is that paying for a quality product is timeless.

Tech

game your video

Game Your Video for iOS is the result of creator Guruprasad Kamath. Kamath is a driven engineer, a marketing professional with 10+ years experience in Product Marketing, Business Development and Marketing Operations.

Social media: LinkedIn or @GlobalDelight on Twitter. You can also keep up to date on the developer or App via Twitter through @gpkamath and @GameYourVideo.

1) Given the current market saturation in the field what steps did you take in the development process to ensure that your app will be noticed and is unique?

It's about trying to understand and solve the problems in the area/genre you are interested in developing. Once you pick the problem, you need to come up with a unique solution that's simple, easy and yet produces amazing results. We at Global Delight give utmost priority to design, user experience, and how simply and easily we can cater a solution with the complex technology behind the curtains. With Game Your Video, the 'AirSnap' feature in Camera Plus, Full-Resolution Real-Time filters or editing in Camera Plus Pro, or Boom - the system-wide volume enhancer and equalizer app, we have done that. It takes a lot of time to both understand the problem and arrive at the right solution while considering all the aspects of product development.

2) App monetization has been a highly debated topic in the community. From your experience what do you and your team feel lies in store for the future economy of this industry?

There are more than 2 million apps across all the mobile application store platforms and there's no slowdown in the race. Gone are the days where users buy and download apps following a single review; they now explore multiple channels before choosing the right app. The list of channels explored before purchase includes reviews from trustworthy sources and peer opinion via social media and word-of-mouth.The platform owners are currently changing the rules of the game. They are moving towards newer ways of highlighting useful apps.

There's a huge overlap between the functionality of apps as well. The whole new generation have started with Smart Phones and used to apps culture already. There's definitely a long tail effect with more apps coming-in and this situation may continue for some more time. Finding the right monetization method is key--for certain category of apps the freemium method may work. The situation is changing from pure 'download volumes' to 'quality downloads' where user-engagement is the focus.

Tape A Call

Tape A Call for iPhone and Android works by creating a 3 way call between you, the caller you want to record, and our TapeACall service. When you're on a call you want to record, simply open the TapeACall app and press record. The app will dial our TapeACall access number and begin recording as soon as we answer. Simply merge the calls and your conversation will be recorded.

Social media: @teltech on Twitter.

1) Given the current market saturation in the field what steps did you take in the development process to ensure that your app will be noticed and is unique?

We spend a lot of time up front properly vetting our ideas and validating that a user's needs aren't already perfectly met by an existing service, app, or business model before we start development of a product. If we're entering a space where there may already be similar existing apps, we ask ourselves if we truly believe that we can be the number one or number two app for that certain need. We also do a lot of homework and try to study every single app review that we can. This helps us get a clear understanding of what we need to build and what we need to avoid. So building exactly what users really want is key.

It's also important to really work on your user experience, so that you exceed your users expectations, and can turn them into your evangelists.

2) App monetization has been a highly debated topic in the community. From your experience what do you and your team feel lies in store for the future economy of this industry?

I think the future of app monetization is bright. The in-app purchase model is taking off much faster than I think most people expected. That's a model that we're studying very closely. I believe revenues per click on mobile ads are also increasing steadily, which makes the ad-supported model more appealing to developers, like we saw with Flappy Birds. But I also think that these monetization trends will continue to evolve over time, as everyone races to copy all the popular apps strategies. And once that happens, the leaders of the pack are forced to change things up again, so they can continue to stand out and be unique.

I also think that users will continue to see more and more value in exceptionally well done apps. Meaning that users will be willing to pay slightly higher prices for great apps and move away from the perception that an app is "expensive" if it's not 99 cents or $1.99.

Educational

Starwalk

Starwalk for iOS puts the power of the stars in your hands. It’s a completely interactive tool that shows the exact locations of many different celestial objects. All you have to do is download the app, point it at the night sky and then be wow’d by the vast expanse of the Universe.

Social Media:@OlgaShtaub on Twitter

1) Given the current market saturation in the field what steps did you take in the development process to ensure that your app will be noticed and is unique?

This is quite a complicated question to answer. The app market is so crowded nowadays that it is quite a difficult task to stand out and be noticed. Although it is fair to say that Apple Appstore does their best to find quality products and help developers with exposure, so doing something of value is always your best bet. With Star Walk we have literally poured our souls into it, you can’t imagine the hours of fighting over every feature and every pixel. It doesn’t come as a big surprise when we find our solutions borrowed by similar apps.

2) App monetization has been a highly debated topic in the community. From your experience what do you and your team feel lies in store for the future economy of this industry?

The industry is developing with the speed of lightning. Monetization models are changing and transforming according to market demand. The most popular so far seems to be Freemium, but non-game apps can hardly afford this. The rising number of pseudo FREE games on the market push more developers to the edge of bankruptcy. We see new models appear, “paymium” (the paid apps with In-App Purchases), “subscription” (the apps that require monthly/yearly subscriptions) and some others. Developers experiment a lot. For example, you may have noticed that fewer major updates of premium apps are released free-of-charge now, more developers prefer to make sequels of their well-known titles. As for the future, I expect to see more freemium and probably more paymium as well as in app advertisement.

Gaming

Astray

Astray for iOS and Android by UIEvolution is a creative app that brings the power of augmented reality straight to your smartphone. All you have to do is snap a photo of a flat surface. This imports that surface to the game and allows you to control the action on your phone by manipulating your surface.

Social media: @UIEvolution on Twitter

1. Given the current market saturation in the field what steps did you take in the development process to ensure that your app will be noticed and is unique?

While it's an exciting time of growth in mobile application development, it's safe to say that there is nothing else on any platform quite like UIEvolution's Astray.  Cutting edge computer vision technology seamlessly glues the real and virtual worlds together in a way that very few people have seen.  Even if you've experienced a quality AR title, you've not seen physics utilized in AR space quite like this.  We deliberately take a familiar and comfortable mechanic (tilt the world to move a ball through the maze), and present it to you in a delightful new way.  It's very satisfying to watch someone light up when they're trying Astray for the first time.

2. App monetization has been a highly debated topic in the community. From your experience
what do you and your team feel lies in store for the future economy of this industry?

Mobile applications are clearly a rising tide, and computer vision applications, in particular, are an underutilized and extraordinary new technology.  One way we compete is through creative and innovative uses of emerging technologies like augmented reality, while striving for excellence in our implementation, a proven formula.  There are many pathways to monetization, but in our industry they should all begin with delivering innovation to the customer.

 

Inkle

InkleStudios is a two-man independent studio from Cambridge, UK, that specialises in creating games with a strong, fully-interactive narrative. Their 150k+ selling "Sorcery!" series (for iOS and Android) won Game of the Year accolades from several reviews sites and their inklewriter platform for writing and sharing interactive stories is used in schools and colleges worldwide. Their latest game, 80 Days, will be out in June.

Social Media: @inklestudios on Twitter.

1) Given the current market saturation in the field what steps did you take in the development process to ensure that your app will be noticed and is unique?

The short answer is, we make sure our apps are unique. To expand on that - there are millions of apps out there, but to say the market is saturated isn't quite accurate: I often sit down thinking I'd like to play a good game on my iPad, but don't quite manage to find anything that suits my mood. The App Store has a lot of match 3 games, a lot of casual construction games, a lot of endless runners, block puzzles ... But if you're looking for a game with a strong narrative and enough interactivity to keep you engaged in that narrative there's really only a few contenders.

So we try to make sure we have unique ideas and that we're breaking new ground. We're pretty certain, for instance, that Sorcery! 2 is the most complex branching narrative that's ever been created.

Then of course you have to execute it well. The App Store - and Apple themselves - rewards beautiful, polished experiences. People have paid a lot of money for their tablets and phones and they want apps that feel like that purchase was worth it. So we really obsess over the details; there isn't a single button or screen in any of our apps that hasn't been through three different versions at least.

The trade off of this attention to detail is we make, in gaming terms, "small" games. They're not 3D, they don't have voice acting, they won't last 40 hours. We make them quickly, usually in around 6 months. What's there is perfect but we try to avoid chaff - mobile users have very little patience for learning complex rules or exploring an apps design.  But then, we prefer that kind of lean design anyway: it's one of the reasons we enjoy working in mobile.

2) App monetization has been a highly debated topic in the community. From your experience what do you and your team feel lies in store for the future economy of this industry?

It's been great to see the premium app space developing over the last year or so. When we released Sorcery the $5 price point was relatively extreme and we were more expensive than almost every other game around at the time. The mark is now standard, and pretty much every game of quality clocks in at five bucks. It's still horrendously low compared to PC game prices, or books, and margins are tight, but it's not unacceptable to consumers.

The big discussion is around freemium of course, but I don't think we'll ever go that route ourselves. Freemium design doesn't work well in the context of a content-based game like ours: you can give away an episode and then charge for extra parts but then you're basically being paid for only 75% of your work, and your paying market is limited down to people who get through the first part (and as everyone knows, most players don't finish games). Freemium works best for repetitive games with clear, repeatable mechanics that you can top up or speed up -- but that's exactly  the kind of game we don't much enjoy making, or playing. Repetitive is death to a narrative game like ours!

My gut feeling is the freemium bubble is waning, too; consumers are starting to consider digital products to be normal and the idea of paying for digital content is no longer as unheard of as it used to be. Free is starting to look cheap, and more often than not, suspicious too.

 

Monument Valley

Ken Wong is the lead designer of Monument Valley(iOS), the critically acclaimed #1 App Store hit created by ustwogames. The London-based games team is part of ustwo, a global digital product studio.

Social Media: Facebook and @ustwogames on Twitter.

1) Given the current market saturation in the field what steps did you take in the development process to ensure that your app will be noticed and is unique?

It's strange to say it, but our competitive edge was simply to make a very good game. Many mobile developers are focused very strongly on monetization, so much so that they are not aiming to make a quality game experience. Others focus on audience retention, trying to keep people playing even though they are very bored or frustrated. Some developers are happy to simply copy other games, without any attempt at innovation. There will always be markets for such low grade entertainment, just as there will always be a market for junk food and gambling.

However, there is also an audience that desires art, high quality craftsmanship, and emotionally and intellectually engaging experiences. It's interesting that the iPad and iPhone are well designed, premium priced devices, yet the App Store is full of low quality, poor user experiences. We thought that Monument Valley would stand out from the crowd by being as beautiful and fun and unique as possible. We were enabled to do this because the studio owners and managers gave us the trust and freedom to create great games.

2) App monetization has been a highly debated topic in the community. From your experience what do you and your team feel lies in store for the future economy of this industry?

The Apple App Store is only six years old, compared to the monetization of console games which has evolved over the past 30 years, and arcade games before that. We are still seeing experiments in economics and shifts in trends every few months. The market is still stabilising, as audiences are still coming to terms with the new relationships between money, ownership and time. Freemium and low priced games are definitely here to stay, but we also feel that premium priced content will remain a viable option for small, agile teams with low overhead and the advantage of creative specialisation. Just as we have seen the policies of Gamestop and Valve shape the economics of the PC and console markets, the future of mobile games are heavily informed by the policies of Apple and Google.

 

Niko and the Sword of Light

Niko and the Sword of Light. Bobby Chiu is a Toronto-based artist and the founder of Imaginism Studios. He is known for his creature concepts and other fantastical, quirky characters. Some of Bobby’s favorite themes to explore are disguise, irony, and duality. You can see his creatures in Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” as well as upcoming feature films from Sony, Universal Studios and Columbia Pictures.

Social media: @bobbychiu on Twitter

1) Given the current market saturation in the field what steps did you take in the development process to ensure that your app will be noticed and is unique?

The exciting thing about our app is that no one made a fully animated 2d Comicbook yet. To be the first at anything definitely helped make Niko and the Sword of Light stand out.

2) App monetization has been a highly debated topic in the community. From your experience what do you and your team feel lies in store for the future economy of this industry?

We are hopeful that the app market will continue to grow. It's such a great platform for independent artists to reach such a wide audience.

 

Darklings

Darklings iOS is a critically acclaimed game that puts all the magic at your fingertips. The game itself was designed to be heavily gesture based, which only makes sense on a smartphone. It’s an endless survival game that tests the player’s skill as well as their “finger magic”. Darklings boasts over 3,000,000 downloads and high rankings worldwide.Darklings-author (Medium)

Social media: Facebook and @MildManiaStudio on Twitter

1) Given the current market saturation in the field what steps did you take in the development process to ensure that your app will be noticed and is unique?

Well, when we first started this idea, the market was actually not as saturated. The idea of course came from the search for natural, intuitive controls & gameplay. Like we mentioned couple of times before, we believe Apple made a much needed innovation when they removed all those buttons from mobile techs. We shouldn't move to put them back onto the screen, it's a mistake.

We also believe that the mechanics of Darklings alone doesn't affect much if it hadn't been packaged with simply amazing artwork ( in our opinion ) + awesome soundtracks + all the talented and passionate people we worked together with throughout the journey of development.

After all the stomach aches we had during development, we finally got lucky. We found the right people, and we quickly formed strong bonds that led to the type of innovation necessary for a very good product. I think a huge piece of getting noticed is relying on the excitement and belief of the people you work for your idea/product.

2) App monetization has been a highly debated topic in the community. From your experience what do you and your team feel lies in store for the future economy of this industry?

This was our first app and our mission while we were creating it was to put aggressively trying to get people's money on the back burner. Instead we would create an experience for users that they can play without too many distractions.

From our little experience, we noticed that some local markets get used to the freemium business model and won't buy premium products--even if they should pay much more than premiums are asking. Some local markets are getting used to buying premium products. I think that's a matter of mobile gaming culture evolving. We’ll see what users get used to in the future.

Our expansion pack, that's going to be released in few months, is designed in the freemium model. It aims to saturate all the “free” obsessed users, while rewarding old players that are initially bought the premium product in order to make both sides happy!

From our viewpoint, I think it's easier to get lost in Free app space because of the millions of apps that are released everyday. Your ways of promoting yourself are a bit limited because you can't implement discount campaigns to create awareness. However if you already have a user base that you can reach with cross-promotions and stuff, I would go for (not too aggressively) a Fremium Business Model for the time being.

But personally I believe F2P is going to disappear if the evolving gaming market results in more mid-core players who want access to high quality and complete apps rather than small parts of games.

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