Six Reasons We Spend So Much On Apps

You’d think you would have stopped buying apps by now.

pulseYou got your smartphone months–or even years ago. You loaded it with stuff. You’re pretty sure you haven’t even used all of it–or if you have, you’ve probably taken some of those purchases off your phone.

So why is it that we all still keep buying them?

App customers are looking for six things when they make a purchase. If you’re a UI/UX consultant, or if you work for an app developer, you’d do well to remember them. (This post is geared towards those who are in the process of releasing iOS software: if you’re just browsing, I’d love to hear your comments below!)

What App Store Shoppers Want and Need:

1. Does this app do something better, or make something more useful, than others I already own?


This is expressible through your app’s design, its functionality, its reviews (good or bad), or the amount of polish and time that’s gone into it. An ugly app that has well-developed functionality might not win massive acclaim, but there will be some loyal fans. On the flip side, an app that really rocks the power of, say, the iPad– even if it’s buggy or incomplete– is going to get noticed. This is by far the most important rule: build an app only when you have a clear sense of both your customer and the problem you’re going to solve for them. This is guaranteed to save you thousands later– so, you know, you can forward 20% to me if you like :-)

Does this app entertain, excite, or prove helpful to me in particular?

It just doesn’t matter if your app seems like a good idea. It doesn’t even matter if you’ve spent thousands on beta-testing: if the app simply doesn’t appeal to your target audience, you’ve got nothing. However, specialized features are often sought out by people who wonder if their new smartphone can do X.

If you’re a game designer, for example, then spend quality time working out the mechanics of your game, particularly how rewarding or fulfilling it is to the player. There are millions of books on game design, so I won’t get into this here, but the takeaway is this: don’t let the technology seduce you. (That goes for a lot of things, doesn’t it?)

Ask people in your target audience exactly what they dislike about your competitors’ products. Ask them how they use the software, what they want from it, and how well they think they “understand” it. Remember: it’s much more effective to improve a few key areas than it is to match an existing product. Asking customers what they like will get you a list of features you’ll suddenly feel you “have to support” in order to be competitive. Resist the urge. Focus on doing something well, instead of doing everything “the other guy” is.

Sometimes, all people want is 99% of an existing solution, marketed to a different audience and tweaked a tiny bit. Some App Store shoppers are nerds and want something that does exactly what they want. Customers like this are your best friends. They can not only tell you what you can do better, but they’re willing to dig through a few pages of app listings to find you. Treat them well, and they’ll do the same for you.

2. Is this app on sale or part of a promotion?

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Admit it: we’re all into saving money. App Store shoppers are no different. Having a price drop when your app is already popular is a surefire way to get more attention– especially since so many app trackers are out there. If you get in the Most Popular list on iTunes for just one day, you’ll get even more popular.

3. Has this app been featured, showcased, or otherwise mentioned by Apple or a trusted source?

This is key to the breakthrough success of apps like Flipboard and other Apple-featured apps. The criteria for getting on Apple’s good side? Your app better have a beautiful interface, be easy to understand, do something really unique, and really demonstrate the flexibility or power of the device it’s on. Flipboard is a great example, as is the entire category of “augmented reality” apps for the iPhone.

4. Does this app developer have a unique “flair” or ability that makes their stuff worthwhile?

Certain developers have a special talent for making their software behave, look or work differently from the rest of the pack (Tapbots and Sophiestication come to mind). While this might seem like the same rule as #1 (be different), it’s not. A well-known, solid developer can produce a product that has almost no features– or might not be terribly unique– but get lots of attention due to the perceived future potential of their products. What that means is that an entrenched developer will spend less time on their 1.0 releases than a newcomer: buyers already know their track record and trust them to deliver. This is particularly true with games, where buggy first releases are (unfortunately) the norm.

 

5. Does this app “seem like a good idea” right now?


Finally, there’s one last reason for buying an app: the thrill of the right place at the right time. This is why it’s so critical to market your apps well, and target customers directly. Someone who comes across a good iAd is going to click on it. You’d better make sure your ads are intriguing and showcase how unique your app is!

If your app is being advertised in the right place at the right time– ifit seems like an ideal solution– then your customer is compelled to test-drive it in order to “close the open loop” you’ve planted in their head. Remember: our brains don’t like to leave things unfinished. If you get the idea started in your customer’s head, and present a really cool action for them to do (ie. buy your app), they’ll actually start trying to justify the purchase to themselves. This is a really powerful trick, so use it wisely, and remember: if your app is truly, honestly good, it will sell.

And then a bunch of people can sit around thinking, “why do I spend so much on apps?”…

Can you think of a good reason why we buy so many apps that I haven’t listed here? Let me know in the comments!

NEXT: Are “Tactile Touchscreens” In Our Future?

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