What I learned after getting every app of the day for 1 year
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
My app received 30,000 downloads in 24 hours as Apple’s App of the Day. But I didn’t learn how to act overnight.
A few years ago, I decided to run an experiment to find out why some apps succeed while others fail. Over the course of a year, I downloaded every app of the day – 365 apps in total. From free apps to paid apps, I put everything into it and spent 30 minutes every morning studying the most popular apps.
I’ve discovered that the best apps have certain characteristics in common that set them apart from the rest. Since then, I’ve been listed on the App Store over 100 times and helped millions of users.
Here are eight key features of the most popular apps (and how you can apply them to your own product):
Related: How to make your mobile app stand out from the crowd
1. No tutorial
The best apps are easy to use and easy to understand. No tutorial is needed to get started, as the design of the app guides the user.
A good example is Headspace, an app that helps users meditate. The application interface is clean, with intuitive navigation and lots of negative space. You will feel relaxed when you open the app when starting your first meditation.
Almost all the most popular apps focus on one thing. They can add a lot more features, but instead have a clear and specific purpose.
Duolingo can teach you all kinds of new skills, but it focuses exclusively on language teaching. FaceTune could offer a toolbox for photo effects, but instead they’re solely focused on making your face look better in selfies.
What do you want to be known for? Focus on that one thing.
3. Beautiful icon
When you’re looking for a new app, your first impression is the app’s icon—so make it pretty. Most featured apps have a foreground icon with a solid or gradient background.
Cramming text into tiny icons doesn’t work well. Bright colors turn it into splendor and attract the eye. Make your app icon relevant and pleasing to users.
The best apps are user-friendly for people with different abilities, preferences, and needs. It was common to follow the iPhone’s global dark mode and change the contrast and text size based on the iPhone’s settings. Most popular apps also use icons instead of text whenever possible to communicate clearly across languages and cultures.
Related: 4 Steps to Increase App User Engagement and Retention
5. Complete ecosystem
Apps in the App Store are more likely to be featured if they use the latest Apple services. Almost all of the featured apps included iPad and Apple Watch versions, and many included iMessage and home screen modules. These don’t always improve the user experience, but Apple typically prefers them to use their latest and greatest features.
While this may increase your chances of being featured, I personally don’t recommend these add-ons when you first start. They take time to build and can be distracting if they don’t serve a real purpose for users.
6. Ask for opinions
There’s a simple reason why the most popular apps get thousands of reviews: they ask for them. Featured apps are very intentional about asking users for ratings at specific times — when they complete a task, reach a goal, or reach a milestone. This is when users are in a positive mood and are more likely to leave a 5-star rating.
Don’t go overboard by immediately bombarding users for reviews. Instagram will ask you after you share your third post. SoundHound will ask after successfully identifying the song. Find an elegant way to call them immediately after entering the value.
The most popular applications provide a unique experience for each user. People like products that feel good and usually don’t want to work hard to find things.
Spotify recommends new music based on your preferences. Snapchat suggests new filters that you will like. Todoist provides custom theme colors to make your app your own. Even the banking app probably says hello by name.
Find a way to make the user feel special by using the app.
Related: 4 Exciting Mobile App Trends in 2023 and Beyond
8. Variable reward
Last but not least, there is a magical category in the top apps that keeps users coming back for more. They release regular updates, add new features and keep the content fresh. This encourages users to engage more often to see if there is anything new.
Netflix is dropping new content. Photomath supports new equations. Starbucks is offering new special rewards. Make it exciting for users to come back.
Before we wrap up, there’s one feature you might expect to be on this list, but isn’t: beautiful design.
Most of the featured apps look really beautiful. But this is not a requirement if the application solves a clear problem and is intuitive. WhatsApp, Reddit and GroupMe are among the ugliest apps with millions of users. Being pleasant is not the same as being useful and easy to use.
If you’re building an app and want to be listed on the App Store, here’s what you need to know: Getting exposure from Apple is a wonderful side effect of creating a product that people love. Focus on helping your customers and things will fall into place.