Technology: What makes an app popular?

Posted by Danny Jackson on Monday, Mar. 4 at 11:00 am.

Every app available in the iTunes or Google Play stores is marketed toward a specific demographic. Some find success, but many fail to reach their audience. The perfect formula for an app remains to be found, but new statistics reveal a few trends.

Each smartphone owner used an average of 41 apps in 2012, according to Nielsen’s State of Mobile Apps 2012 report. As the number of available apps in each store nears one million, companies are trying harder than ever to convince people to download their app.

What attracts users to one app over another?

Unique apps gain the most attention, but many useful apps go unnoticed despite their prevalence. When fumbling around in the dark, I am likely to download a flashlight app. When I am golfing I download scorecards, when I am going to the movies I download the Cinemark app and when I am traveling I download a translator app. Useful apps add to the entertainment value of smartphones by allowing them to function as a tool as well.

Nielsen’s studies have revealed that Facebook, Google Maps, Weather Channel and Pandora apps are the most used across all types of smartphones, but the majority of downloaded apps are games. With trends like Temple Run, Words with Friends and Angry Birds, this is hardly a surprising revelation.

Nielsen also studied how users first discover an app before downloading. Most users either found the app while browsing the store or heard about it from a friend or relative.

It is evident that most people choose to download apps based on the number of people they know that currently use the app. But the most successful apps combine entertainment with functionality to connect users through games, photos, music and many other unique new ways.