Mobile has been the one of the big buzz themes in startup land for the last year or so. Companies like Foursquare, Spotify and Flipboard are pushing the limit of what our cellular devices can do and generating incredible innovation in areas like social networking, news delivery, digital entertainment, gaming and peer-to-peer communication. Yet despite these successes the market is still quite raw and much remains unknown about what makes a good mobile app successful. Even less certain is the revenue model. Should mobile startups today go with in-app or separate app freemiums? Virtual currency? Subscriptions? A 100% ad based model?
What does seem clear, however, is that, as with web 2.0, it’s all about creating traffic. If you can create a tool that provides value to users and makes something about their lives simpler or more engaging, you may have something that could garner attention in the mobile market. So here are a few of my thoughts on what might make a mobile startup successful:
1) Be light-weight and simple
I doubt that users of mobile apps are looking to get the same experience that they get on their laptop or home computer. The hours spent on facebook on your couch at home are less likely to happen when you’re up and about. When it comes to mobile, people want things that are simple, fast and easy to use. They want to be connected on the go and are focused more on 1:1 connections rather than large social interactions. Kik for example has pushed the frontier of texting, making it an incredibly fast (we’re talking real time) and light weight platform that goes cross-platforms (Phone, Android, Windows Phone 7, Symbian, and BlackBerry)
2) Consider Gaming
The great thing about mobile devices is that they can be taken anywhere. Most people spend a fair amount of time traveling each day (whether on a bus to school, train to work, etc.,) With that commute comes the time to play games on platforms like Zynga. Games have traditionally been a single player human-to-computer interaction but, increasingly it’s becoming more interactive allowing people to connect with existing friends and play peer-to-peer. There are some “gaming” apps that are a bit more serious in nature. Everest for example is a mobile platform for framing and achieving goals. The app lets you create specific goals, break them down into incremental steps and then focus on achieving these goals with the emotional support of friends. This will be an interesting startup to follow as it moves out of beta.
3) Style. Style. Style.
One of the most important keys to the success of a mobile device is its “elegance” factor. Appearances and first impressions matter in the competitive and still developing world of mobile. Apps should follow basic principles of design and usability; they should also mimic the desktop interface closely (or at the very least follow similar conventions). A thoughtfully and creatively designed product stands a much greater chance of being successful in the mobile world. Here’s a link to some mobile apps that were knockouts in terms of style in 2011: