Hit Apps

Unexpected Hit Apps, July 2017

Patience is not just a virtue, but generally a necessity in app development

Every year brings a new batch of hit apps. Perhaps the first truly amazing viral app was Angry Birds, first released in late 2009, and which caught on in a big way with the launch of the iPad four months later. Another silly, bird-themed app that caught the public imagination was Flappy Bird, which launched in 2013 but didn’t blow up until the following year.

Both exploded comparatively quickly, on a scale of months rather than years, but for different reasons. Rovio, developer of Angry Birds, was an established studio that had released more than 50 games by the time they flew to the top of the app charts. (Sorry about that pun.) Flappy Bird was a one-man project at first that actually received a lot of critical reviews. It became so addictive, its creator Dong Nguyen withdrew the game from the Apple and Android app stores out of a sense of guilt.

Most apps, if they blow up at all, won’t do so nearly as quickly as those fowl apps. You’ll need some patience, which, depending on your goals as an app designer, you may find easier or harder to obtain. Maybe you’ll be able to hatch some ideas of your own by reading about these apps that took years to incubate (ok, really, no more bird puns!)



Untappd, a social beer drinking app, is definitely an app that took time to ferment. (What? We said no more bird puns!) Today, it has more than 2 million individual users and beer companies on its network, but it didn’t exactly burst onto the scene. When it launched in 2010, critics called it “FourSquare for beer” and they were mostly correct, as users mainly “checked in” to brew pubs and breweries and beer stores. But as it aged, it developed complexity, and brewed up new features to head in the right direction.

Now it offers user reviews of more than half a million different beers, commercially-, craft-, and home-brewed alike. It was very much not an overnight hit, but it’s now an essential app for serious beer aficionados and brewpub fans alike.



Slack is another app that, though it’s been around a while, maybe you’ve only recently heard of. And unlike others on this list, it isn’t just an app on mobile, but works as a browser-based app as well. But if you’ve ever used it, or know anyone who uses it, you’ll realize how essential it’s becoming, and how adaptable it is.

On the surface, it’s a deceptively simple chat app, and you’d be hard pressed to say why a company would prefer it to, say, Google hangouts — or even that 1990s favorite AOL Instant Messenger. But prefer it they do — more than 30,000 companies use it as a primary internal communications tool.

Its success lies both in its simplicity and its robustness. Groups can create vast numbers of “channels” where all combinations of team members can communicate 1-to-1 or 1-to-all and everywhere in between. For example, you could have a sales chat, an engineering group or a mix of both by organizing the people in your company.

It uses #hastags and @usernames like Twitter does, allowing people to call each others’ attention to key points even in the midst of large discussions. An archive of every conversation is kept, but that’s a feature you can disable as well for sensitive discussions.

And it’s not just companies that use it. Teachers are using it to communicate with their students and social groups with their members. If you aren’t using it today, you probably will be soon.



If Companion sounds familiar, you might be one of the million+ users the social-safety app has gained by word of mouth. Companion is another deceptively simple app that has slowly built itself up into a force.

Users of Companion are people who want someone to know where they are and where they are going, and want someone to make sure they arrive safely. If you have a child, a niece or a nephew, or even a sibling on a college campus, you may want to pause and ask them about it.

The Companion app grew up at the University of Michigan, where student safety isn’t all it could be. Users invite family and friends to become “companions” in the app. When the user is, for instance, walking home to their dorm late at night from the library, they log on and invite their companions to track the trip. The mobile app has automated features that allow them to quickly set off loud alarms and call 911. For a small fee, Companion will also offer professional monitoring (“Companion+”), in cases where friends can’t monitor or aren’t watching closely enough. (Watch Planet of the Apps to learn more.)

The most remarkable thing about Companion is that they exceeded one million users without spending a single dollar on advertising. It is a truly viral app, because before Companion+ it depended entirely on a user downloading it, then getting three or four other people to download it to monitor the original user’s trips.

The key factor in all of these is patience

None of these apps blossomed overnight, and none were created by giant companies with unlimited resources. Of their developers, only Slack was created by people who had done large scale app work before. Untappd is a weekend project for a couple of guys who like beer and work in a big company. Companion was developed by two college friends while students at Michigan. All have made the commitment to let their apps grow and fostered the patience to see it happen.

Sure, every once in a blue moon a Flappy Bird comes along and blows up in just a few months — and creates unrealistic expectations for ordinary developers. But the designers who have staying power are the ones who have enough of a vision to get going, and enough patience and wisdom to see not only how they want their apps to develop, but how they actually do.

If you’re confident you have the patience needed to let your app reach its full potential, the next step is taking action on your app development. Call us now (877) 534-1301 or fill out the form below to learn more how we can help with your app idea today!