Which app should I build? Exploring opportunities in the market

This blog post is the first in a guest series of articles from the creators of AppFeds.com which walk developers through some of the business aspects of app development. In this post, we will cover the process of identifying your goals, doing initial market analysis, and brainstorming to set yourself up for greater success before you even get started.

So you’re thinking about developing an app for the Windows Store—that’s awesome! The Store is constantly growing and is a hot space to develop for right now. To compete with tens of thousands of apps in the Windows Store, use real data to make good decisions to help your app succeed.

Note: This post specifically discusses how to look at data for the Windows Store. Similar data for the Windows Phone Store can be found on AppAnnie (who recently acquired Distimo). Also refer to the Windows and Windows Phone Store trends update on this blog for recent data and analysis.

Identify your goal

You may already have an idea of which app to build, or maybe even a whole list. Before you jump in, you should pause and determine why you are building the app to begin with. App developers build apps for a variety of reasons, most commonly money and passion, but let’s also consider fame and philanthropy.

Note: Microsoft’s Kraig Brockschmidt covered some additional business questions and goal breakdowns in his blog: Instrumenting Your App for Telemetry and Analytics.

Money

The majority of app developers want to make money with their apps. Whether you are building apps as a side project or as a full time job, if you’re building for money, it’s recommended you incorporate business strategies into your plans from the beginning. You need to think like a businessperson, even if your core skillset is more closely related to a developer. One key is to not get attached to a particular idea, but rather look for gaps and seek out market opportunities where there is good potential for profit. That is, instead of thinking about that one app you dream about, if you want to make money, focus more on download numbers, ad and in-app-purchase strategies, and more.

Passion

Some developers build for fun, often to work on improving their coding and design skills and to build a work portfolio. These developers can also be passionate about a certain area and build apps to better improve that area (think specific apps like dog grooming apps, yoga exercise instruction apps, news about popular entertainment, and so forth).

Fame

Fame is typically an outcome of a developer building for either money or passion. While this outcome is rare, an app’s fame can also raise visibility of the developer’s other apps. This results in increased downloads, significantly more money, and the ability to build a brand around your developer franchise, opening doors to even greater.

Fame may not be a desired outcome, however. In one recent case of an extremely popular app, the developer didn’t anticipate the fame that the app would bring him or its effect on customers. He ended up removing the app from both Apple’s App Store and Google Play because of the game’s frustrating and addictive style. In this case, fame was actually detrimental to the app and the developer.

Philanthropy

Lastly, there are some who build for charity, promote a message, or simply to help out a business that they believe in. Philanthropy developers don’t seek any reward for their efforts except for the benefit that their apps will bring (that is, as a benefit to a favorite charity).

Market Analysis

Regardless of your development goal, all apps have one very important thing in common: they all need users! Whether a user decides to download your app or not can be attributed to a large number of factors, but the first and most obvious factor is app discoverability – does the user even know your app exists?

This is where it’s important–once you’ve identified your goal—to spend some time looking into what the current market landscape looks like for the idea. Who are your competitors? How popular are they? What’s their value-add? Conducting a market analysis before you build an app can greatly increase the discoverability of your app and, as a result, lead to an increased number of downloads and users.

There are a number of resources available to help in analyzing the current landscape of the market. Choosing a category with less competition or adding features a competitor may not have will help make your app stand out more.

Windows Store

It’s good to understand the breakdown by category to see where people are building the most apps. To better interpret the data, look at the number of apps as well as the number of ratings and reviews. You can use a service such as AppFeds to get some overall data and get some insights from blog posts such as Windows and Windows Phone Store trends update. Let’s look at a recent snapshot from AppFeds.

Category breakdown (June 24, 2014 – AppFeds)

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Ratings/reviews breakdown (June 24, 2014 – AppFeds)

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As you can see from the first pie chart, Games is by far the most popular category (and the second chart shows that Puzzle and Arcade games account for half of all games). After games, developers have built a roughly equal number of apps in the Entertainment, Education, Books and Reference, and Music and Videos categories.

Now look at the bar chart for ratings and reviews, and you can see that Games wins by a huge margin, disproportionate to its category share. Similarly, the Social category is a relatively small slice of the whole apps catalog, but garners a relatively high number of ratings.

What does all this mean? Here are some thoughts:

  • If you’re looking for areas with fewer competitors—where it might be easier to find opportunities—you might focus on the smallest categories such as Finance, Security, Photos, Government, and Health and Fitness.
  • If you’re planning to build a puzzle or arcade game, you’ll be joining a plethora of similar games. Therefore you really need to think about making an app that’s unique enough to get noticed, or make sure you invest heavily in promotion.
  • f you’re looking to learn how to make a great app that’s responsive to user feedback, Games are a good category to explore for that reason alone, as is Social and Entertainment.
  • Even though Games as a whole is the largest category, some of the sub-categories have relatively little competition—and thus greater opportunities—than others. For example, if you hover over the Games pie chart on AppFeds.com, you’ll see the actual number of apps in that subcategory. Doing this you’ll see that subcategories like Racing, Simulation, Role Playing, Casino, and Music only have a few hundred apps apiece, compared with the thousands in other categories.

While the category breakdown is just one data point, it gives you insight into what types of apps have been developed. A second data point is to understand which apps are actually most popular right now. A good place to do that is on the Windows Store itself or services such as Distimo and AppFeds. What you start to notice is that some categories are disproportionately represented in the top app charts relative to their overall app count, again indicating potential opportunities. Social and Tools are good examples.

Apple’s App Store and Google Play

Similar to the analyzing of apps in the Windows Store, you will want to take a look at the other main platforms to find gaps. You can use a service like AppAnnie to help here.

Take a look at the top charts for the other platforms. Do you notice any app trends in the top that are missing from the top on Windows? A good example here was Flappy Bird. After seeing Flappy Bird at the top of the charts on the other platforms, clones and similar games started to show up on Windows as developers saw the gap and jumped on the opportunity.

Brainstorming

Looking at the market data, you may notice a particular category where there is relatively little competition. You may have also found a few missing apps or app types that seem to be currently popular on other platforms. Use this information to augment and better prioritize your ideas list. Once you have this, you can start looking at the competition in that space.

Quick Search

Take your top ideas and brainstorm a few keywords. For example, if you wanted to make a Solitaire game, you might have keywords such as: Solitaire, Spider Solitaire, Cards, Casino, etc. Take these keywords and look at the Top Charts. Do you already see one or more extremely popular apps of this type? Is there something that these apps are missing? What do users mostly criticize the app for? All of these pieces of information are opportunities that will result in a much more competitive app.

Resources

For your convenience, here’s a list of resources you can use while you research:

  • AppFeds – A comprehensive site with statistics about categories and apps in the Windows Store. Also has tools such as Search Keyword Monitor.
  • App Annie – A site with lots of analytics for all major app stores including the Windows Store. App Annie also has an SDK you can download and put in your app for in-app tracking and tools for app store listing optimizations.
  • Distimo (recently acquired by App Annie but still separate)– A site with some analytics about all major app stores. It also has a powerful dashboard that lets you track downloads, revenues, conversions, and other important metrics.

What’s coming next

In the next article of the series, we’ll dig further into competitor analysis. This includes digging deep into competitor’s apps and figuring out how to position your app so that it can compete efficiently. By doing so, you can land on Top Charts and New and Rising, which can have a significant impact on your overall user base.