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What makes a successful iPhone application?

With iPhone application downloads now topping 500 million I thought I would spend some time to share some of the things I have learned designing my first iPhone apps and then being able to get feedback directly from Apple on that work.

Don’t miniaturize content or create a Web portal and expect success
I have talked with a lot of friends and ad agencies who think that the road to success on the iPhone is simply to take content they have developed for the web or other platform and miniaturize it, put it in an application and launch it.I have also seen brands who have created an application that is nothing more than a browser window that loads their site that has an application icon to launch it. The problem with both approaches is that all you are doing is giving consumers the exact same experience they could have on their computer but you are doing it on a smaller screen which it probably wasn’t created to be viewed on. The reality is that if you want to stand out and have success you need to be able to customize at least part of the experience and that brings me to my next point.

Work with what features of the iPhone
When you open up the App Store and scroll down the top 25 downloaded applications list you consistently see is that the best and most popular applications use one if not multiple features of the iPhone. It’s the way the GPS is used in Loopt. It’s the way the accelerometer is used in Super Monkey Ball or Urban Spoon or even the was Shazaam or Ocarina use the phone’s microphone. They all leverage those new and unique features and functionality to create something that people haven’t experienced before. Using this functionality well will also get you noticed by Apple because they are looking for well designed apps that use the phone. Those are the apps that are featured in their commercial and get the free press so if you want ot be one of those people you have to do those two things well.

Just putting your brand on an App isn’t enough
Right now we are seeing that success on the iPhone is often found either through apps that are entertainment or they are a utility that people can use to simplify or enhance their lives. You will see brands choosing one camp or another when they come out into the market with a branded application.

In the entertainment camp all you have to do is look at the Audi A4 driving game they launched on the iPhone to see that even a brand as strong as theirs isn’t strong enough to make people like a bad experience. The driving game they launched for the A4 was boring, hard to master and just didn’t do anything to enhance your image of the car because if the car handled like the game no one would want it. Disney did a much better job when they launched a game to promote the animated movie Bolt as it did what I talked about above and used the functionality of the phone and was original content.

in the utility camp you can look at what Nike did with their recently released Nike Training Club that lets users design workout plans from videos on NikeWomen.com that are then transferred to the iPhone and combined with a calendar function to map out the workout timing. The application than gives users points for completing workouts in an effort to keep them motivated.

You can see the similarities between the two approaches and how all things I have outlined are brought to bear to create a successful experience.


Great iPhone Design Resource
The guys over at Teehan+Lax have created the best iPhone design resource I have found anywhere. It’s a PSD file that is a pretty comprehensive library of the available iPhone assets that are all fully editable. The best part you can download this high quality resource for free. If you do at least leave them a thank you comment for their hard work.

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Creative Director, Designer, Brand Builder, Speaker, Podcaster, Crazy One. As a designer, I have 20+ years experience creating the strategy, concepts, and designs for award-winning integrated global advertising campaigns, building multiple global Fortune 500 brands and creating innovative digital experiences. As a leader, I have 15+ years transforming agency and client-side teams using a mix of creativity, business strategy, process and political skill to create innovative, world-class work and cultures that change industries and companies. My clients have included American Airlines, W Hotels, Disney, Citi, ExxonMobil, Acura, Old Navy, Nationwide Insurance, Verizon, Subaru and many others. My work has received over 150 international awards, my app designs have been named as one of the World’s 100 Greatest Apps, Apple has featured my work in 9 keynotes, 4 TV commercials and more.

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