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Better Features Doesn't Make a Successful App. Here's Why.

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Most of the best apps come from people solving problems that they’ve had in their daily personal or professional lives.

You’ve probably heard this a lot in general and went on to discover your own problem that is worth solving. So you build an app, but it doesn’t get much traction. It may get some initial traction, but not enough to make it a business. This is the story of many of the two million apps in the app store.

Related: If I Knew Then: Serial Entrepreneur Reveals Why Second Place Isn't Good Enough

Your app’s kicker is a feature only incrementally better than the existing app(s). While you may convince yourself that this is reason enough for people to use your app vs. the one they’re using currently, the truth is that people don’t change habits that easily and frequently.

Case in point: There are many apps such as Snapchat in the market with incrementally better features. Does that make all of them successful and move the existing Snapchat user to those other apps?

Just because there’s a better mousetrap, it doesn’t mean that I will buy it if the current one that I use satisfies my needs. 

In a recent interview, Google’s Larry Page said, “Incremental improvement is guaranteed to be obsolete over time. Especially in technology, where you know there’s going to be non-incremental change.”

If you’re still not convinced, here are some more reasons why you should drop your app idea if it is only incrementally better than the existing products:

1. A better app doesn’t always win. This is especially true if a large number of users are already using a competing app. A paper by John Gourville, professor of marketing at Harvard Business School, specifies that products fail because entrepreneurs irrationally overvalue their innovation, compared to consumers who overvalue what they’ve been already using. He states that for new apps (products) to stand a chance, they have to be 10 times better than the existing ones, “making the innovation’s relative benefits so great that they overcome any overweighting of potential losses.”

Related: 9 Tech Entrepreneurs Share Their Secrets to Success

2. Competition can squash your business. If your idea is similar to your competitor (with marginal feature differentiation) that already has traction in the market, you must be naïve to assume that your competitor will not react. The competition already has a head-start with a sizeable customer base and can quickly adapt to the new feature if it is of any consequence, squashing your business aspirations. You need to be able to differentiate a feature from a product.

3. The app is only "nice to have." Build a painkiller rather than a vitamin. A vitamin is nice to have and may do some good if you have one every day. But if you have a headache, you must take a painkiller or suffer the consequences. Should you launch your app with incrementally better features, that makes it a nice-to-have product rather than a ‘must have,’ since the ‘must have’ already exists in the market.

4. No word-of-mouth trigger. if you look at the most successful apps in the market today, they’ve all grown because the word spread from one person to another, quickly. Be it WhatsApp or Evernote, they didn’t spend any marketing dollars to get traction. They just built a fantastic product that solved a problem so grave for some people that they couldn’t live without it.

If your product can invoke that emotion, you’ve got a viral effect as people are bound to tell their friends and extended network about the app. But if you build something that is just incrementally better than your competition, chances are people may not have that same feeling.

Legendary quarterback Joe Namath said it best: “If you’re not gonna go all the way, why go at all?”

Related: 7 Myths of Developing Mobile Apps

Rahul Varshneya

Written By

Rahul Varshneya is the co-founder of Arkenea, an award-winning web and mobile app development agency.