5 reasons why creating a popular app is harder than it looks

Flappy Bird start screen

When a game like Flappy Bird is able to hold steady at the top of Apple’s charts, it’s easy to think that creating a hit app is easy. After all, how hard could it be to create a game like that? A few pixel animations, some tap controls, and you’re done.

But, just like getting your scribbles featured in the Museum of Modern Art, creating a runaway hit application is a lot harder than it looks. Sure, learning to write the actual code can be a challenge, but these days there’s a lot more working against you than that.

1. You’re up against millions of apps

When the App Store first launched, simply creating a unique app could instantly propel you into the spotlight. If you had the only app in a certain category, you’d immediately hit it big by default. That’s sadly no longer the case. If you simply release your app with no marketing, it will quickly sink into the abyss.

Getting noticed without doing marketing is possible, but it’s equal to winning the lottery. With so many other apps, you need to find other ways to stand out.

You need to have a marketing strategy, which includes setting a specific launch date, hyping your app, courting the press, and soliciting reviews. And this marketing effort can’t end when you finally release your app. You’ll need to constantly change and evolve your app to meet user’s needs.

Building your app is only the first step. The real work is letting your potential user to know you exist.

2. First impressions are super important

Have you ever downloaded an app, instantly hated it, and deleted it from your phone? If so, have you ever downloaded that same application again to give it a second try? For a majority of users, that first impression is everything.

I’ve mentioned that it’s difficult to get people to download your app — and it’s even harder to get someone to try your app again if you’ve already left them with a bad taste in their mouth.

This doesn’t mean that your app needs to be perfect before you release, but you need to plan your launch carefully. Things don’t always go as planned.

3. Monetizing an app is hard

Having a popular mobile app can be a good source of passive income — if you’re able to figure out a monetization strategy. Does your app cost money? Use ads? Offer in-app purchases? These are tough questions, each with their own upsides and downsides.

It’s important to do some calculations before releasing your app in the App Store, and take into account Apple’s 30 percent cut off the top of your earnings. How many apps sales will you need to make back your initial investment? How much advertisement exposure?

It’s much easier to make money in the Apple App Store than in the Google Play store, but it’ll still a struggle. Reader Tracker took over a year to recoup the development costs.

4. App discovery is broken

Searching the App Store or Google Play isn’t like placing a web search on Google. App discovery is still light years behind web search, simply because there’s less information with which to build an effective search algorithm.

With websites, Google has a lot of information to inform rankings, such as the number of inbound links on a site and author authority. With apps, determining worth is a lot more difficult.

There’s no PageRank for apps. There’s only keywords, user rating, and number of downloads.

Until there’s a big improvement in app store search results, you can’t rely on organic app discovery to drive your app’s downloads.

5. Users are quick to dish out bad ratings

Users are quick to leave one-star ratings, even if they love your app. The ratings section of the App Store is no longer simply a place to review apps — it’s also become a feature-request center and a support desk system. And there’s nothing that developers can do about it.

Sometimes a user will try to hold a developer hostage, promising to change the review when some new obscure feature is added. Other times, a small bug will result in a one-star review, when a simple email would have fixed the problem immediately. Those one-star reviews almost never get updated.

It’s hard enough to convince happy users to leave reviews, so the bad reviews can be devastating. It’s up to you to stress the importance of positive reviews while also not annoying your users. It’s a delicate balance that few apps successfully manage.

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