What makes a great app?

Navtech Software are UK app developers, programming for the Psion in the 1990s and now specialising in iOS iPhone, iPad and Android.

Making an app can be a complex process. It will probably involve a number of different people (unless you possess all the necessary skills yourself – coding, design, marketing).

So throughout what may be a long and involved process, how can you ensure that your idea doesn’t lose its sparkle? How do you make a truly great app?

Great app design begins with clear definitions

Nothing will happen unless you begin with a clear concept.

Can you encapsulate your idea into a compact ‘elevator pitch’? What does your app do? Who is it for? Does it solve a problem?

Do some research – is it the only app of its kind in existence?

If not, what makes it special?

The first realisation of an idea is not necessarily the most successful one. Facebook wasn’t the first social networking site. Google wasn’t the first internet search engine.

In fact, there are very few completely unique apps entering the stores today. However, there are many successful apps which take an existing concept to a whole new level.

Clear is often cited as an example of a fairly common concept (the ‘to do’ list) elevated to a sublime level.

It looks beautiful, it’s easy to use, and people are fond of it.

The whole concept has been re-engineered to make the best of the opportunities the platform can offer.

An app like this does many things right.

a) it’s something people need
b) it’s so easy and convenient that it becomes part of the user’s daily landscape
c) it’s loved to the extent that users spread good word of mouth

Emotional design can turn users into evangelists who share their positive experience with others. People love sharing interesting stories; you just have to give them one.
Smashing Magazine

It must either provide a unique solution, a niche solution, or a better solution than those already out there. A better solution might be easier to use, it might afford more functionality – or it might just be more fun!

Social Networking

Most apps today include some element of social networking, so your users can connect with friends or people of a similar mind – sharing, or challenging each other. If an app becomes a community activity, it has the potential to soar.


Of course the meat and bones of the entire process is the coding. Coding is what makes your app work. And work well. Your app should be utterly trustworthy (both in terms of respecting user’s privacy and in terms of functionality). It should be a delight to use. Simple on the surface doesn’t mean simple underneath. In fact, quite the contrary.

Poorly coded apps – if they even pass Apple’s stringent approval process – result in user frustration, bad publicity and a drop in ratings – not to mention additional cost in fixing or updating code.

Marketing should be part of your strategy from Day 1

It’s very important to build marketing into your plans from the beginning. Aim for your marketing efforts to climax on launch day. Ideally you should spend months building up a base of interested fans who will be ready to download your app the moment it arrives in the stores.

Make use of social networking, setting up Twitter and Facebook accounts for your app. Post progress reports and consider ways to offer special treats to fans who are involved from the beginning. Prepare a website for your app. Prepare a video using screenshots, real footage and even animation! A good video paints a thousand words – communicating across language barriers, simplifying what sounds complex and making a concept real.

App Charts

App Store

Google Play

Further reading:

iOS Human Interface Guidelines

Android Developer Guidelines


Why Angry Birds is so successful and popular: a cognitive teardown of the user experience by Charles L. Mauro CHFP, consultant in human factors engineering (aka usability engineering)


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