After the iPhone Gold Rush

Apple claims, in their “answers to the FCC’s questions,” that there are currently about 8500 new apps and updates each week. That makes for a crowded marketplace that is pretty much unprecedented. How can you compete? Well, I think there are two good ways. The first one is …

Being First

You probably know about Firemint’s “Flight Control” by now. It’s been a huge success. It dominated the App Store for weeks. How did Firemint achieve this? They obviously poured lots of talent and effort into this title, but so do loads of other games that don’t see such stellar sales. My opinion: I think it’s because Flight Control defined a genre. Being the first game to clearly demarcate this style of gameplay really paid off for Firemint, because their users got to experience something new, and that experience was worth spreading the word about.

Other games have come along to fill out this genre with gameplay mechanics like shipping (Harbor Master), and combat (Coast Guard). They are great games, and they’re worth every penny, but they won’t see the success of Flight Control without…

Being the Best

As time goes on, it’s getting less and less likely that you’ll be first person to come up with a particular type of app. For most types of application, pretty much anything you can think of has been done. You might have an idea, take a glance at the App Store, see a slew of existing apps, and abandon your app saying “I shouldn’t waste my time.” Well, you might be wrong.

The latest success story to come along is tap tap tap’s “Convert.” They are a shining example of why, even in a seemingly crowded niche, there’s always room for one more. There are dozens of unit conversion apps in the App Store. They are all over the place in function, with some focusing on currency or temperature, and in quality, ranging from weekend projects with bland UIs to the fun and beautiful (and much heralded) “Convertbot” from Tapbots.

How did Convert come out on top? The developers certainly had a fearsome marketing machine at their disposal, but they also managed to build one of the most useful, usable, enjoyable and overall well-designed apps in the App Store. They heavily invested in beta testing, and polished it to a brilliant shine. What they ended up with was an app that appeals to nearly everybody (who doesn’t need to convert something once in a while?) that stands out far above every other competitor in usability and user experience. It is good enough to convince people who already bought a unit converter to buy another one (it’s just $0.99 after all).

Building a new take on apps that have already been done has some clear advantages. It gives you a chance to look at what works and what doesn’t. You can be strategic about what sort of approaches meet with success, and which completely fail, and you can get a good feel for why by using the existing apps. It’s a great opportunity because researching the 10 best apps in a certain area might only cost your $20. That kind of research is expensive for complex desktop applications or big enterprise software packages. You can also read the huge number of reviews for the apps you want to compete with to find out exactly where users’ needs are before you start building a product. All of these factors mean you have a great head-start when building something that’s already been done before, and you can strategically approach building your app in a way that you just can’t do when you’ve got something new and untested.

So, it’s great if you can be the first app to do something, but it can be just as worthwhile to build a really excellent version of something that’s been done before.