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Mobile apps aren't anything new. But the market for them has exploded to the point that many companies are scrambling to jump on the bandwagon -- and it's a dusty one.

There's been a lot of debate lately about the need for mobile apps and how to use them for marketing and sales purposes. Some believe they're the way forward. Some have claimed (rashly, in my opinion) that mobile apps are dead.

Others are scratching their heads, trying to figure out how best to design one and then how to use it to their advantage. In a recent article for Forbes, Cheryl Snapp Conner stated that “most businesses are still struggling to find their footing in this brave new arena.” I agree. But it’s not about having an app; it’s about having a good app.

It’s readily apparent that mobile apps have become a forceful connection between consumers, brands and businesses of all kinds. According to web resource, “mobile subscribers worldwide will reach 7.0 billion by the end of 2013, 7.5 billion by the end of 2014 and 8.5 billion by the end of 2016.” However, last year Canalys did a survey which revealed a sobering fact: two-thirds of apps received fewer than 1,000 downloads in their first year. I doubt anyone with an ounce of business sense would want to invest their time and money in creating one of the many zombie apps proliferating websites which rarely -- if ever -- get downloaded.

What Do You Need?

You don’t need technical skills for the first stage in developing an app. What you do need is something original or a new twist of some kind allows you to stand out from the crowd; that changes the game of the sector you’re designing the app for.

Also, as with most things, quality counts. Even you’re successful when it comes to people downloading your app, if it isn’t useful or doesn't work, it’ll be uninstalled faster than it was installed.

Add to this a plethora of websites where people can and do leave negative feedback about anything and everything, and your reputation can be easily damaged, on the app store and elsewhere. That tells you that a high quality, functional and intuitive app that delivers more than it promises is essential to success.

What Makes a Good App Good?

I reached out to three companies recently for their ideas as to what makes a good app one that’s worth downloading and keeping. Here are some of their thoughts:

Mike Williams, VP of Point N Time Software:


1. Should Be Easy to Use -- Good apps are intuitive and require little or no documentation. The user just fires up the app and they’re off and running.

2. Provide True Mobility -- Apps must have the ability to run in offline mode, then sync with data center systems when connected.

3. Utilization of Mobile Device Capabilities -- Good apps will utilize mobile device capabilities. For example, Meeting Mapper utilizes the iPad camera for capturing pictures relating to meetings.

Natasha Nova, Co-Founder of Wedeeo:


1. Fun to Use -- One of the best ways to ensure people continue to use your app is to make it fun to work with. Then, even if you’re using it for a business project, the process is an enjoyable one which you’ll share with others.

2. Design, Design, Design -- As much as you can, try to make your app look good. Also, the different visual styles of Windows, Android and Apple need to be considered as much as possible. You can’t copy the design, but it’s much more pleasing if the app fits each device's style.

3. Bring People Together -- Creating an app that provides for creative collaboration is creating real business value. The ability to easily share, connect, post, recommend, like, follow, get feedback and bookmark is part of today’s social media world.

Etien D’Hollander, CEO/Founder of Front Row Solutions:

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1. Provide Real Time Insight -- With the increased competition the internet has brought about, giving people the tools to provide up-to-date and relevant information is essential.

2. Consider the User -- Nothing’s worse than a sales app designed by someone who knows nothing about sales. If you don’t fully understand the needs of your users, find someone who does. Four years of intensive research revealed that professionals were looking for an easy to learn, fast and easy to use mobile-based reporting system. The bottom line desire was improved sales and increased earnings. The intensively high failure rates of apps and software were nearly always due to lack of forethought. If you don't have time to do it right the first time, you might not get a chance to do it right ever.

3. Intuitive Functionality -- Once you understand the needs of your users, you have to build in functions that almost think for the user. Never release an app before you've done your due diligence. We took a long time and put in many months into research and testing before we released our app.

Three of my own thoughts:

1. You Can’t Please Everyone -- Forget the kitchen sink app. If you try to cram your app with everything under the sun, most of us won’t want to use it. Follow a three-tiered rule: Keep it simple. Keep it understandable. Keep it easy. Outcome? Keep it marketable.

2. Slow Means No -- An intuitive app means it works for the user, not the other way around. We’re on the run these days. If a website takes too long to load, we’re gone. No one cares that your CPU health is poor. We want an easy to use cancel option if things are taking too long, and a minimum of data for the next interaction.

3. Help Section = Easy to Follow -- If you're smart enough to provide a help or FAQ page, make it searchable by topic and provide easy to follow steps with helpful diagrams. If we have to spend hours in order to learn how to use your app, we're gone.

I think it's clear you've got to perform serious due diligence when designing any app before you release it. Are you in the process of designing an app for your brand or service? Have you thought it through and done your homework?

Editor's Note: Read more from Tom in Are Great Leaders Made or Born?