Why apps are great

As the smartphone market continues to grow, as a large number of featurephone owners migrate to more powerful, Internet-connected and advanced devices, the demand for mobile applications has boomed.

Whilst many download a large number of apps on their smartphones the average number of installed apps that are frequently used sits at around 23 apps per device, with iOS device owners said to download more than their Android counterparts.

Research analysts IDC estimates that manufacturers will ship more than 472 million smartphones this year alone, an increase of over 160 million units from 2010 – that figure will nearly double to reach 982 million by the end of 2015. As a result, app downloads will rise to 183 billion within four years.

With nearly a billion people set to own a smartphone by 2015, downloading and using an average of over twenty apps, the already burgeoning app market is set to explode as new hardware technologies open up what is possible to achieve on a smartphone or tablet device. Where a number of developers (big and small) have already experienced the power of the App Store, thousands more are tuning their apps to mimic the success of Instagram, Angry Birds and Shazam.

Like any other saleable object, apps need to be unique to sell. Some of the most successful apps on smartphones today haven’t introduced new ideas, they just do them better. With this in mind, we wanted to take a look at what makes a good app great, what differentiates one photo app from another photo app, to become a top seller on a mobile app store.

UI, UI, UI.

The way an application looks and operates is imperative to its success. When an application is downloaded, a user is going to open that app and will instantly form an impression. Especially in the case of free apps, there is a huge amount of churn – if the app doesn’t look as good as a rival app and navigation isn’t fluid, the chances are the user won’t even bother getting to learn about what it can do.

A great app keeps in mind that in most cases, the user is operating a device that has a small touchscreen. The user interface needs to be as unobtrusive as it can be, leaving out any design elements that don’t add a use or function to the app. Bundling in too many design elements can leave it feeling bulky and will feel unintuitive.

Apple’s own User Interface Guidelines suggest that to make an app that people will care about, app developers should focus on the primary task, elevate the content that people care about, think about how a smartphone screen is viewed in different environments, to give users a logical path to follow and make usage easy and obvious – to name a few.

Photo applications are excellent proponents of Apple’s ideas, shaping experiences that make users care about the processes associated with sharing their photos. Take Path for example; on the iPhone, the application instantly loads photos taken by friends (elevating the content that people care about), emphasis is placed on a green camera icon which provides the user with the opportunity to share their own photos (focus on the primary task) and annotates each of the options on the toolbar (to make usage easy and obvious) and showcase other parts of the app.

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