To App or not to App?

Top tips for getting your app to the top of the download charts

It’s likely that you’ve played or seen someone play Angry Birds. It’s rare to endure a Tube journey without watching a fellow commuter repeatedly fling a virtual bird across the screen of an iPhone, iPad or android phone.

The game has been dubbed the largest mobile app success the world has seen. It has been downloaded more than 350 million times across all platforms. Studies show that Angry Birds is played 200 million minutes a day all over the world or 1.2 billion hours a year.

Not all apps, of course, can boast this level of global success. And in the popularity stakes, the apps produced by and for businesses lag far behind. In fact, if you have bothered to download an app from your bank, your doctor or a car manufacturer, I bet it’s quickly forgotten or deleted within a couple of weeks.


Typically because mobile is a very personal space. Users are quick to distance themselves from anything that is irrelevant, ineffectual or frustrating.

However, it’s for that very same reason (personal interaction with the user) that businesses are desperate to create good apps. And for those who manage to do it well and achieve high engagement levels, the marketing and reputational value is huge. Nor, with people spending more time using mobile apps than browsing the web on their mobiles and desktop PCs, is it a space that can be ignored.
We have plenty of experience now of building apps for our clients. And our own Portland Contacts app, released this summer, won plaudits from our clients, friends and the wider industry. So we have learnt about what to do – and more importantly what not to do.

1. Know your audience: Research your target audience and find out what they will find useful. For example the Nike + GPS app isn’t directly product related but very useful for Nike consumers (runners/walkers in this instance) as it gives them a free pedometer located within the same device as their music.

2. Add value: The best apps are ones that become part of your everyday life and are indispensable. Breaking news updates from Sky News and BBC mobile apps become addictive and without the Twitter app, the service would become very boring if people couldn’t update on the move. The Barclay’s bike app is genius – instantly letting cyclists know the location of bike stations and if there is a free space to park your bike.

3. The best apps only do one thing: While it’s tempting to make an app with lots of different features, don’t. Once you’ve got your brilliant idea,. stick to it. Apps work best if they focus on one primary task. Remember people use apps on the move. If you won’t use the feature right now, remove it from the design.

4. Make it look good and easy to navigate: People get used to using mobile apps in a certain way – don’t try to change or complicate the navigation – simple is always best.

5. Make content people care about: For sports lovers on the move, Sky Go is a must.

6. You don’t need to create something new, just make it better: Pocket Hipster, for example, is definitely not the first music recommendation service. But the app containing hand drawn images of ‘hipsters’ who make rude remarks about your current music collection and recommend ‘cool’ songs you should listen to has caught on. It’s not a new product but a clever execution directed at a very specific target audience.

7. Make the branding subtle: The user experience should be the primary objective.

8. It must be stable and reliable: Make sure you’re app works. Otherwise it won’t last long on people’s phones. Test, test and test again.

9. Make it updateable: There are new apps out every second. Updates will draw attention to your app and keep it interesting.

10. Make sure people can find it: It will get lost in the app store unless you focus your marketing efforts. A few simple starters – Tweet about it, write a blog, send it to journalists and bloggers to preview. Whatever you decide to do, persist until the word gets out.