Seven years after his death, Ralph Waldo Emerson was credited with saying “If a man can make a better mousetrap than his neighbor, you will find a broad, hard-beaten road to his house, though it be in the woods.” Although the phrase was meant to convey the power of human innovation, thousands have taken it literally, making the mousetrap “the most frequently reinvented device in U.S. history.”
Of course, the odds are that some idle and enterprising software engineer will in fact develop an app capable of trapping mice, but in practical terms, it’s worth remembering that the best mousetrap out there may still be a cat. That said, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel or come up with the Next Big Thing to be successful in the mobile app industry. All you have to do is apply basic rules of business apply: exploit demand where it exists, and create demand where it does not. In other words, the key to success in the development of a mobile application lies either in identifying a real, human need the industry has yet to satisfy, or in spotting a gap in the applications already available on the market and then filling that gap. The lesson here is simple: refine, refine, refine.
So, what makes a good app idea a great app idea? Start by asking yourself these questions:
Has this been done before?
The answer to this is often not as simple as it seems at first glance. Even if the answer seems to be “yes”, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should scrap your idea and go back to the drawing board. Again, your goal should be to speak to a specific need. The more specific, the better.
What’s available now?
Of course, to answer the first question, you have to know what’s been done before. This can also be a difficult question to answer. There are ways and places to search and ways and places not to. A full discussion of search strategies is beyond the scope of this post, but there is one simple piece of advice we can give – start your search using key words very specific to your app idea. If your app idea deals with the weather and ski conditions at Vermont ski resorts, search for “Vermont ski weather and conditions.” Whatever you find, don’t stop. Search more and more generally (“east coast weather,” “ski resort weather,” “ski conditions,” “Vermont weather,” and finally “weather” and “ski conditions” and “ski resorts”) until you think you’ve found all weather and ski condition apps and reviewed documentation as to how they relate to your idea. Search in iTunes and the Android Marketplace (both even if the plan is to develop your app for only one platform). Search all the review sites you can find like appvee.com and 148apps.com. Search the web for websites and related apps.
Answers to these threshold questions will help you determine whether your good app idea is potentially a great app idea worth pursuing. In Part II of this post, we’ll discuss three more critically important questions (such as “Is there a market for this idea?”) and how you might go about finding the answers.