How whimsy is the secret ingredient of a great mobile app

By: John McGarvey

Date: 20 May 2013

When advanced smart phones like the original Apple iPhone hit the market, there was something of a gold rush in the world of mobile apps.

Almost overnight, these devices created a new market. Many app developers did very well out of this mobile app boom. Some made millions and a few even sold their app-based businesses to web giants like Facebook.

Make your app stand out

Things are a little different these days. It's still possible to make money from mobile apps, but with around 800,000 to choose from on both Apple and Android devices, you have to work really hard to make your app stand out.

That means if you're planning to create an app - either to support your existing business or to serve as the basis of a new venture - it's really important to look beyond the functionality of your app (what it does) and consider how to create an experience that people will really enjoy.

In short, it's not enough for a mobile app to just work. To be successful, it needs to capture people's imaginations, sticking in their memory.

Citymapper does it right

A few days ago I stumbled upon a mobile app that has that quality in spades. It's called Citymapper, and it's a handy tool to help you find the best way to get from A to B in London.

First of all, Citymapper is good because it works. It'll tell you which tube lines to take, when the bus is a better option, how long cycling will take and even estimates cab fares for you.

But the creators of Citymapper have made an effort to make it memorable. For starters, once you fire up the app on your smart phone, you see all the transport options you expect, plus some additional suggestions:

Citymapper screen shots

As the app says, the jetpack option is 'how long it will take you in the future'. The catapult is 'for when you're in a hurry' and while the teleporter is 'in beta,' you can see it in action, featuring a character who looks a lot like the current Mayor of London:

These whimsical features take time and effort to create, but they're worth the effort.

Not only do they encourage people to spend more time exploring the app, but they also make it much more memorable. And that means people are more likely to remember this app over some of its competitors.

For your mobile app to succeed, it's not enough to be good. It has to be memorable too.

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