Mobile apps are a $60 billion industry – but not all apps are created equal. While Apple’s App Store and the Google Play store generate almost 100 billion downloads and $60 billion in revenue every year, the distribution of that success is wildly uneven. Some estimates show that only 1% of mobile apps ever achieve real financial profitability.

So what separates the winners from the losers? Answering that question is complicated, and the factors affecting the success of a mobile app range from go-to-market strategy to the experience of the company CEO. However, even accounting for every other mobile app success factor, there’s no way to discount the importance of the idea behind the app.

How important is an idea for an app? Ask different people and you’ll get different answers. Some consider the concept the only factor determining the app’s success – but this is flat out not true. At the end of the day, a mobile app is like a business. The core concept is fundamental to success, but there are plenty of other things that determine the outcome: strategy, team, timing, execution, and even marketing are all crucial in affecting how the success of an app plays out.

But even so, your app idea will be one of the primary factors determining the success of your app. So how do you tell if you have a good idea for an app? Is there a way to forecast whether or not an app will succeed? What’s the secret to evaluating mobile app ideas?

At the end of the day, there’s no sure way to look at an app idea and say with 100% confidence whether or not it will succeed – there are simply too many variables to account for. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make a pretty good guess. And, with enough info and research, it’s possible to reliably evaluate the potential of an app idea to succeed. In fact, at Rootstrap, we’ve built a process to do just that.

It’s called Roadmapping.

How Does Rootstrap Evaluate App Ideas?

Roadmapping is the primary method we use to tell a good app idea from a bad one. In Roadmapping, we drill down on what the core concept for an app will be and put it through its paces by testing it against the market. Our goal is to de-risk the investment of app development – we want to discover, with as much clarity as possible, whether or not there’s really a market for the product and whether or not the product will achieve profitability in that market.

So how do we do that? We start by asking questions. A lot of them.

First of all, what, exactly, does this thing do? When you strip off all the bells and whistles and get to the core of the app idea, what is the point?

In asking this question, there’s one concept that’s critically important to understand. The difference between function and benefit.

This is a nuanced concept, but it’s vital to evaluating an app idea and proceeding with app development, so it warrants some investigating. Let’s start with function.

The function of the app is a bare-bones description of what it does – essentially, its feature set. What can the program do? What are all the capabilities and add-ons? Is it a scheduling app? Can it remind you to do something at a certain time? Does it make lists for you? Is it a game? If so, can it save your past scores or let you share them across social media?

In short, function is about mechanics. It’s a matter of the technical capabilities that the app can perform. When you’re describing the function of an app, you’re describing the properties of the underlying code and technical architecture.

Function stands in contrast to benefit. Benefit takes this description beyond the technical capabilities of the app – in fact, benefit isn’t really about the app itself. Benefit is about the user.

The benefit of the app describes the positive effect it has in the user’s life. Benefit isn’t a matter of features, properties, or capabilities – instead, benefit is a way of understanding how the app impacts a users life.

For example, the function of a calendar app may be to create events organized by time, then remind the user of certain things at pre-specified times. But the benefit of a calendar app is different, and much simpler. The benefit of a calendar app is that it helps the user keep appointments. It makes the user more punctual. It keeps things from falling through the cracks.

This distinction matters because it helps us evaluate the merits of an app idea. If we understand the benefit an app provides, we can move on to asking other critical questions. One of the most important is who is going to use this?

This question leads us to the target user demographic, which is an important thing to understand. Understanding the target user helps us evaluate both the validity of the app idea and its potential for profitability. In fact, you can’t truly evaluate an app idea without understanding who the app is designed for. The two work together in symbiosis.

The target user determines what additional features should go into the app, the go-to-market strategy for the app, and the ideal plan for monetizing the app. Ultimately, an app idea isn’t good or bad in itself – it’s good or bad in relation to an existing reality of users in the marketplace.

And finally, we arrive at the third component for evaluating an app idea: market. What’s already out there? What does the world look like? Understanding the current dynamic of the marketplace is vital to evaluating an app idea, because the app will live or die based on the conditions of the market.

Many first-time app entrepreneurs assume that if competitors exist for their idea, there’s no hope for their app – but this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, if you can identify close competitors for your app, that’s sometimes a good thing. Competitors tell you that there is a market for the product. You just have to figure out how to get into it.

That said, heavy competition isn’t necessarily a good thing. If a market is saturated, trying to enter it with a new app may not be a good idea and it may be best to pivot. Or, you may believe that your app does something critically different or better than the existing competition, which makes the market yours for the taking. Again, there are no hard-and-fast rules here.

What’s important to take away from this discussion is that an app idea cannot be evaluated in a vacuum. Apps aren’t good or bad in themselves – they’re just pieces of software. It’s the confluence of the app idea, the benefit it offers to users, the needs of those users themselves, and the larger market environment that give a particular app idea a good or bad chance of succeeding.

During Roadmapping, we evaluate all these factors – and many more – in detail. We look at the fundamental concept and key value proposition (a fancy way of saying benefit) of the app, the target user demographic, and the existing marketplace we’re trying to enter. Based on these and other factors, we evaluate the chances an app idea has to succeed.

The Best Mobile App Ideas

With that, you have a basic understanding of what goes into evaluating an app idea. But how does that play out for different types of apps? And more importantly, how can you tell if your app idea is a good one?

As always, the best way to answer these questions is through a Roadmapping workshop with Rootstrap. However, there are still overarching principles for how to evaluate an app idea. One of those is the platform for the app idea.

The platform you build your app on is important. It determines the users you can target, your distribution model, and the potential options for monetizing the app. Accordingly, platform is something you should consider carefully when evaluating an app idea.

For most people, especially first-time entrepreneurs, even the word “app” alone implies mobile. That makes sense – remember, mobile apps are a $60 billion market – and although mobile apps aren’t the only possibility, they do represent a significant portion of the available market. We’ll get to other kinds of apps later, but for now, let’s look at what makes a good mobile app idea.

So what makes a good mobile app idea? Aside from the three factors of benefit, target user, and market that we discussed earlier, there are a few mobile-specific things to keep in mind here.

The best mobile apps tend to be habit-forming. The more incentive a user has to keep coming back and using the app, the more likely it’ll be profitable. This is something to keep in mind when creating your app idea. The more you can build little hits of dopamine into the app itself – small rewards for simple tasks, reminders and rewards for completing them, or a routine the user goes through when using the app – the better the app idea.

Another important thing to keep in mind for mobile apps is sheer convenience. Most users are incredibly impatient when it comes to apps on their phone: if they can’t get the information they want or perform the task they’re looking to do immediately, they’ll often get frustrated and close out of the app.

To that end, follow the old maxim: keep it simple, stupid. Do not make things complicated. Time per session (the metric for how long the average user spends on the app when they open it) is important, but only to an extent – brief session time isn’t a bad thing if users continue to come back. If most of your users come to your app to do one thing, make it easy to get to that function. Don’t waste users’ time with menu screens and extra steps – just let users do the thing they came to do and make it easy for them to do it.

At the end of the day, though, asking what makes a good mobile app is a lot like asking what makes a good business. The answer is one that makes more money than it spends – but that’s too broad to be useful. So let’s get a little more specific.

iPhone App Ideas

What makes a good iPhone app?

This is another broad question, but its specific enough that we can start to arrive at some answers. To get there, we have to look at what separates iPhone app users and the iPhone app market.

First, let’s look at the data.

Apple’s App Store generated $40 billion of revenue in 2017 across 28 billion downloads. This stands in contrast to the Google Play store’s $20 billion in revenue and 64 billion downloads. See the difference here? iPhone apps generated twice the revenue with less than half the downloads. That means that, on average, iPhone apps are more profitable. Why is that?

Apple products dominate consumer tech in highly-developed, mature geographic markets like the US, greater North America, and Europe. Consumers in these countries are wealthier than many other areas and have money to spend on Apple products, and as a result, they’re more willing to spend money on apps.

So what does that tell us for iPhone app ideas?

In general, iPhone apps are a great market for “premium” app ideas and products. iPhone users are more willing to spend $10 or more on an app if they think it’s generally useful, and subscription-based models are a great option for iPhone users as well. If your idea requires a pricier monetization model or you’re going after upper-class consumers, iPhone is a great place to target – but this also means competition is fierce. Remember, less than 1% of apps ever turn a profit.

Android App Ideas

So what about Android apps?

As we saw, Android apps generated 64 billion in 2017, but only $20 billion in revenue. That may seem bad on first blush, but it actually presents an opportunity.

Android users, on the whole, may be less willing to lay down the big bucks for an app – so if you’re building a massive photo editing tool and want to charge $60 a pop for it, Android isn’t the best place to start. However, Android users are also more willing to download apps. If you’re using in-app purchases to monetize the app or plan to monetize through ad revenue, Android may be a great option.

Furthermore, Android apps dominate in developing markets like China, Latin America, India, and many other regions of the world. This means Android is a great market for app ideas intended to serve these markets. If your app is a management system for microfinance, Android is a great option: there aren’t many microfinance operations in the US, but there are plenty in India and Africa.

Now we’ve explored what makes a good app idea for mobile, iPhone, and Android – but these aren’t the only places you can build an app.

Web App Ideas

Many people don’t think of the internet when they hear the word “app,” but web apps are actually a fantastic market, particularly for new entrepreneurs.

For starters, web apps aren’t limited by operating system. If you’re hosting your app online, anyone with a browser can use it – it doesn’t matter if they’re running a PC, a Macbook, an iPhone, or an Android phone. This means you won’t have the same demographic considerations that you would on mobile.

Additionally, web apps are much cheaper to build, test, and maintain. They require a smaller development investment and are easier to update. That’s a good thing.

But remember – web apps can only be accessed through a browser. This means they aren’t as effective for app ideas that require users to access them quickly, on the go, for short periods of time.

In general, web apps are great for concepts involving more intensive user involvement. Think project management tools, design tools, photo editors – things where a user doesn’t need quick, immediate access, but would rather sit down and work in the program for a long time. The best part is that after building and testing the web app, you can retrofit your app idea into a mobile app.

Simple App Ideas

Finally, let’s consider one more class of app ideas – simple ones. Single function apps, with few bells and whistles.

By and large, simple app ideas are underrated. Most first-time app entrepreneurs assume they need to build big, feature-rich apps if they want to succeed. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Often, simple app ideas are some of the best because they cut to the chase: they provide the core function and key value proposition to the user without complicating things. They make it easy for users to do the thing they want. They’re light, lean, and to the point. They’re also a great place to start.

At Rootstrap, we’ve seen plenty of simple app ideas become some of the most successful projects we’ve ever worked on. Whether an iOS or Android app, a simple app idea is often all you need to get an initial user base going and start building traction. From there, you can add on functions and build your app into a more feature-rich program.

If you have an app idea – simple or otherwise – and want to really understand its potential in the marketplace, Rootstrap can help. Our Roadmapping process has been trusted by some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world to validate their app ideas. It can do the same for yours.

Want to get started? Drop us a line.