Where Do You Get Ideas For Apps?
by Seni Sangrujee on February 01, 2011[I get asked a lot of questions about what life is like as an indie app developer, so I've decided to write a series of posts on topics that frequently come up when having a beer or coffee with friends who wonder what it's like behind the scenes. Filed under openkimono.]
One question I get asked a lot is "How do you come up with ideas for apps?" Often I get asked this from a someone who is an Execution Master and brilliant coder who wants to make an app but keeps telling me, "I don't have any good ideas."
I've found ideas come from a lot of sources and there's inspiration everywhere, but here are four sources of ideas that come up often.
My Own Ideas (Overrated)I have this massive text file called ideas.txt that I've been keeping around forever where I jot down any idea that I find interesting. Sometimes an idea will strike me in the shower, and I'll end up running to my laptop dripping water across the house. Or I'll come up come up with something at 3am and stumble to the office in the dark to write everything down before it escapes my head. The funny thing is, when I read back what I wrote the next morning, often it's never as good an idea as it was the night before.
The problem with a lot of these ideas is that a lot of them are pretty elaborate and not easy to execute with even a simple MVP (minimum viable product). Sometimes it's obvious that there's no market for them. Or they're only viable with key partnerships or need a critical mass of users before they're useful. Others are probably a year or two away from being interesting to people. The current state of mobile reminds me a lot of the early days of the web where sometimes it's best not to get too ambitious. I've been making mobile apps for 6 years, so I've been immersed in this for a while, but when I get emails from customers telling me that my app is the first app they've ever used/bought, it reminds me to keep things simple.
Occasionally there will be an idea that will haunt me, though, that I can't get out of my mind. These are the ones that I try to ignore and postpone until later, but they keep coming back until I break down and build out an MVP. The sad thing is that even after I've built one of these, they're usually not as successful as my other apps. But they're worth doing even as a creative exercise because they're the most fun and rewarding to build.
Lurking in User ForumsI don't do this anymore, but when the iPhone and Android first came out, I would lurk in AT&T, Verizon, and phone handset forums looking for people who would post something like "I wish someone would write an app that does ________." Then I would crank hard, and an app filling that need would magically appear in the Appstore or Market a few weeks later. This was actually pretty successful, but that was when the appstores were less crowded.
Requests from Existing CustomersThis is the source for ideas behind my most successful apps. I have a fair amount of users of my apps out there (currently 460,000 downloads with a nice percentage of active users). I get a few emails a week that basically say, "I love your _______ app, could you make one that does ______?"
I love these emails because:
1) If I build this app, I know I have at least one customer.
2) This is a person that I know that actually uses apps and probably paid for one of mine already. They have a need for an app, have already looked for one that does what they need in the appstore/market, and either didn't find any or found the existing options lacking.
3) Usually these are fairly simple apps with a well-defined usecase. I tend to overdesign apps and try to cram too many features in there, but usually these app requests are just a sentence or two long.
App Requests from Friends and FamilyThis one is tricky. When friends and family find out I make apps, sometimes their response is, "You should make an app that does ______." This reminds me of the early days of the Web again when back in 1996 people would always approach me with an idea for a new website.
It can get tricky when the person doesn't have a smartphone and has never used an app and isn't aware of the 10 other apps already out there that do the same thing. I've done this a few times, and this is a path with lots of obstacles, so tread with caution.