Photo: Ellis Hamburger
Brian Akaka is the founder and CEO of Appular, the first full-service marketing and PR agency founded just to represent apps on Apple’s App Store.While Akaka hasn’t built an app himself, he has a keen eye for what works and what doesn’t.
He sat down with us to explain how great apps are built, and what best practices to use when building them.
'The icon and the screenshots are the only elements of design users get to see of your app.
Often times, there are so many apps in the App Store that the way people are even figuring out which app to click on and learn more about is just by the icon. In the 'What's Hot' area, you see the name, which is generally cut off, and the app's category.
So you're really going on the icon. Also, there's a certain minimum level Apple expects if you're going to have a chance getting featured.'
Example: Wunderlist has an eye-catching and attractive icon that implies the app itself is also good quality
'There's a whole art to deciding when is the optimal moment to hit up the user with a 'rate us on the App Store' message because you want to get them in the optimal frame of mind where they're most satisfied with their experience and they don't mind the interruption.
For a picture app, for instance, you might want to hit them with the pop up after they've completed some task, or just finished editing and adding cool effects to their tenth picture.
Why 10? Odds are, if they've used the app 10 times, they're reasonably satisfied with it and it can help skew the responses in the positive direction.'
'Discoverability on the App Store is largely controlled by Apple. The best way to get discovered is to be featured in the App Store by Apple.
You need to get on Apple's radar before the app goes live, typically that can happen through getting press coverage and building a buzz, then letting Apple hear about it.
Apple is in the business of picking winner, so they tend to take the safe bets.'
What to do: email app review websites and ask them to cover your app. If it's a good app, they probably will. Once they pick up on your app, others will follow, and a snowball of press coverage will help get Apple's attention.
'People don't comparison shop when they're looking for apps. Well, they may--but very quickly.
The first app you can discover that does what you need and fulfils your minimums without turning you off in some way is the one that the person's going to go with. That becomes even more so if you have a free app, because there's zero monetary obligation.
As much as we in the app marketing industry like to think that people are spending a lot of time making careful decisions about which app to download, the fact of the matter is that it's a very spontaneous decision for most people.'
Example: Quickoffice helps you 'create and edit' Office docs. Ok, it does what you're looking for. Check the screenshots and reviews. If all signs are go, most people won't browse around for other options.
'Don't assume that your user has used the app a hundred times like you have. Assume that they are coming in a complete novice. Have a very easy and intuitive way to teach people how to operate the app.
Also, don't make your user jump through too many hoops before they can enjoy the app. If it's a Hipstamatic or Instagram, you want them to be able to take a photo within the first 10-15 seconds of using the app. You don't want them reading pages and pages of tutorials.'
Example: Moleskine is a beautiful app, but is Exhibit A for how not to make your app accessible.
'Hire design snobs, design nerds, and design aficionados. First impressions are huge. If your app doesn't look good, it's not going to get featured by Apple.
If Apple wants to feature your app but they don't think your design is up to snuff, they'll ask you to improve your design. They might even help to identify bugs if they feel like your app deserves features but has critical flaws.
It's the reviewers, but it's also an editorial team as well in the app store.
They want the best showcases, so Apple has a team devoted to helping app developers improve their apps.'
Example: Weave is 'new and noteworthy,' despite being one of hundreds of To Do apps.
'Some apps, the goal is to achieve the maximum exposure and number of downloads, while others are just trying to monetise.
The difference between the free charts and paid charts is an order of about 10x, to my knowledge, or more. If you were to graph the top 100 in paid vs. free, you could approximate it on a whole different magnitude. Those numbers are anecdotal based on watching our clients' apps on the charts.
If you're a FarmVille, you offer your app for free, then once your users are so personally invested in the app, you charge an in-app purchase price in exchange for not having to wait 24 hours for a crop to harvest.
This model hopes for the maximum amount of users to begin with and you get them coming back and hope that over time you can monetise them.
Will your app be opened once a week, or five times per day? If they're coming back to it over and over again, in-app purchases make sense and in-app advertising makes sense. Otherwise a one-time purchase makes sense for immediate value.'
'If you're not sure your app will generate any meaningful revenue at this time through an up front purchase, in-app, or advertising, you may just want to make it completely free and really try and build the user base in hopes that you can monetise it later down the road.
Sometimes you can delay all kinds of monetization and use it as a Get Out Of Jail Free card later. Then, I have this whole audience to whom I can send push notifications, I can send them a newsletter. Sometimes it's just about building good will.'
Example: Instagram is a completely free (and no ads) photo-sharing community with millions of users. There's no obvious monetization scheme the company has yet revealed.
'The hardest thing that we have to do is bridge the gap between developers' views of their apps and how consumers view the same app.
It doesn't really have anything to do with PR or marketing as it does with a fresh unbiased perspective on what they've been working on with tunnel-vision for six months to a year. After working on it for that long, they tend to lose perspective on how the average consumer will see it.
Get a second opinion from someone who's played with a lot of apps and has a good idea of where the bar is, and what makes a decent app, and what makes a great app.'
'A larger and larger percentage of the population is getting smartphones, and it's making more and more sense to be running a billboard ad, or a taxi ad, or a subway ad even. People on subways are a perfect captive audience right there.'
What to do: invest some money buying some ads in public places. Consumers don't see many app ads yet, so they'll assume you have something notable to advertise.