With more than 250,000 iPad apps in the iTunes Store, it's evident that custom iPad app development is an extremely popular field. And, because of this tremendous quantity, the ability to provide a differentiable, value-added product or service via the App Store has never been more difficult. This is not meant to discourage -- it's just that a quarter of a million apps have an inconveniently annoying way of covering 99 percent of the general population's needs.
Anyone familiar with getting an application to market will tell you that it's hard enough just getting all of the pieces together -- from hiring the right software firm to completing development within the timeline to ensuring the app is accepted in the App Store. With the odds stacked against the average app from gaining a solid customer-base and reliably generating revenue, what are the modern rules for creating custom iPad apps that actually have a chance to get noticed?
Follow the data
The best custom iPad app developers listen to their customers' needs. Understanding your consumer-base no longer requires having them fill in archaic surveys for analysis. Data gathering tools are readily available for mobile devices so you can better understand key factors such as app usability, feature gap analyses, and the purchasing tendencies of your customers.
How are your customers interacting with the app? Are they finding it difficult to navigate? Are there bugs causing issues for your customers? Usability tools like Crashlytics and Flurry can show you problematic areas for your app, allowing you to optimize features and provide a seamless experience for users. They help pinpoint the parts of your iPad app that are most heavily used so that you can focus time on developing functionality. These tools are extremely useful for maintaining the longevity developers desire when they first submit their app to the App Store. Ultimately, because there's always a surplus of new apps in the App Store, existing apps that aren't evolving to meet the demands of customers quickly get left by the wayside. To that point, diligently tracking your app to ensure it stays bug free, unique, and delightful for users is a rule that goes on far longer than the original development cycle of any iPad app.
Phasing feature rollouts
Apple has long been known to hold off a year or two before putting new technology into one of their devices -- and it's a strategy that has paid enormous fiscal dividends by increasing its stickiness with customers who make each iterative purchase. The first iPhone didn't have a front-facing camera, the first iPad didn't have any camera, and 4G (now a two-year-old technology) only recently came to Apple in 2012. By taking a more gradual approach to adding features, Apple products often show a polish and refinement that competitors struggle to match, giving customers all the more reason to buy the latest iPad, iPhone, and Mac.
Likewise, iPad app creators can maximize customer engagement using a gradual feature release cycle with a well-planned product roadmap. A strategy that neither overloads an app update nor stingily withholds new functionalities will optimize stickiness by providing users with a consistent set of feature upgrades that will occupy them until the next one.
Here are a few reasons why gradual release cycles work:
- Every new release puts your app back in the mind of your customer when they install it.
- Separate monetization opportunities arise for every update when using techniques like in-app-purchase or subscription models.
- Apps can be more responsive to market needs by iteratively developing functionality based on the latest customer pulse.
For example, Net Texts is an education technology firm with an iPad app for students and teachers designed to help end the reliance on textbooks within schools. The first version of Net Texts' app allowed students to download course material onto their iPads. Subsequent updates (scheduled around the academic year and based on constant feedback between Net Texts and schools) added features such as note taking, audio recording, integrated schedule planning, and interactive testing with grading and reporting functionalities.
By phasing feature releases, Net Texts has been able to help schools acclimate themselves to the app by easing in new functionality while also attracting a greater audience. This approach ultimately gives customers the exact features they desire from an educational product. Allowing users to "pull" features into an app as opposed to "pushing" features from the top-down results in a loyal and growing customer-base.
Understanding the input
Touch computing has opened new and exciting ways to use our fingers as inputs. On tablet-sized devices, the immediate advantage of a touch screen is that it can mimic the functionalities of both the keyboard and mouse. However, because modern screens are multi-touch, they can offer much more. Inventing your own custom gestures can become an immediate differentiator. Using one finger to scroll through a webpage or a playlist is great, but what about using two fingers to quickly highlight text or three fingers to change volume levels or the brightness of the screen? Innovating at the touch-level is one of the best ways to stand out from the pack.
For instance, the iPad app "Paper," by 53 Studios, allows a user to take two fingers and dial back their mistakes. It's incredibly simple, completely original, and most importantly, makes users' lives easier by keeping them focused on the drawing canvas as opposed to pecking through buttons. By understanding the fundamental ways in which people want to draw using touch, "Paper" has grabbed valuable mindshare within its specific vertical as well as piqued the curiosity of millions of casual iPad owners.
It goes without saying that creating a compelling iPad app in such a saturated environment is a tough task. However, even with all of the barriers to entry and the myriad of competitors, the market opportunity to capture a significantly large customer-base is far too big to avoid. With that said, the above points are smart ways to uniquely create value for customers and generate stable revenue from their continued interest. Ultimately, keeping these rules in mind will help you remain sticky with your consumers and, even more importantly, will keep you nimble, agile, and ever responsive to the pulse of your customers' desires, ensuring they have no reason to go shopping around for substitutes.
Prasant Varghese is a technical analyst at Icreon.
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