Almost no matter where we are, when people hear that we do app development, we hear the phrase “Oh? I have an app idea.” We love hearing your app ideas. There are some truly innovative, insightful, creative people out there, and we’ve been lucky to been a part of quite a few!
However, thanks to Apple’s great marketing department, there’s another phrase you often hear around the mobile app business “There’s an app for that!” And while it may have become cliche, with hundreds of thousands of apps on the app stores, it’s largely pretty true.
A couple months ago, we attended a meet & greet where one of the participants shared her app idea with us. She wanted to create a list app. It turns out that list apps…check lists, to do lists, grocery lists, travel lists, and even general purpose lists are one of the most popular app types on the app store. When we probed a little further asking what makes her idea unique, her response was a short and stunning, “Nothing.” :-/
Turns out, coming up with a truly unique idea is actually hard work. We’re not even immune to it. Years ago, we had the idea to have an app that controls your home thermostat. Brilliant, right? Well, turns out there is one, and it’s one of our favorite apps, Nest . They took it well beyond “simple” thermostat control into an entire energy usage and cost reduction app. Brilliant!
The first thing you should do when you have an app idea is go to the app stores and search for it. See what you find. If you find you have competitors, do a competitive analysis (see our upcoming posts for details). After you look at the app stores, go to your favorite search engine and search there too. Maybe there’s a web app. Maybe the search engine uncovers an app that was buried in the app store. In any case, do as thorough of a search as you possible can. You don’t want to get caught by surprise after spending weeks or months on development.
So if there really is already an app for that, how does one come up with a unique idea? Well, there are lots of ways.
Combine Things That Don’t Belong
Friend and colleague, Jim Haudan , used to say that one of the best ways to be creative is to combine two things that don’t naturally belong. So let’s take an example of that. Say you’re really passionate about sports. You’re an avid fan, you go to games all the time, and you want to make your experience more enjoyable. At first you think, well, I’ll make an app that gives me sports scores. You do a quick search a find out, not only are there a lot of apps, but powerhouses like CBS Sports and ESPN already have significant sports score apps. What should you do? Look at some of your other passions. What kind of app you come up with if you combined sports with travel? with finance (somebody is passionate about that right?)? with weather? with cooking? with food? Let’s say it was food. Maybe you could design the app that helps harried parents find their way around the stadium to get the food their kid wants in the shortest amount of time. Or maybe it’s the app that pages the hot dog vendor to come right to your seat. Either way, now you have another idea worth vetting.
Change the Model
A final interesting approach is to change the business model entirely. Apple has done that over and over. They’ve moved whole industries from selling physical records/tapes/CDs/DVDs to digital downloads, from boxed software to app stores, and from bookstores to mobile readers. But they’re not the only ones to change the model, digital cameras moved from a film/lightbulb profit model to a device model. What if you created an app that moved people from a subscription model to a sponsorship model, or from a big software model to in app purchase of only the features you need, or maybe to a social networking model where the more friends who join the more benefits you get. There are lots of approaches to change the model. Changing models is hard. They’re often very entrenched. People don’t always understand the new model. But if you can do it, you might actually change the world.
Do It Better
Yes, there might be an app for that. But have you ever tried it? It sucks. Sadly that’s too often the case. Maybe you can come up with a design, an approach, an interaction that is better. Instagram did that with the camera. Apple built in a camera app. Hundreds of other pretty good camera apps existed, even some really popular ones. Instagram came up with a better way of editing and sharing photos (something thats only very limited in the built-in app), and just a couple years later Facebook bought them for $1 billion dollars. Yes, you can take an existing app and do it better. It’s hard, but it’s possible.
What’s your app idea? Let us help you figure out how to stand out in the app store!