The sheer abundance of applications vying for attention and selection on the App Store and Google Play is enough to make the aspiring app developer keel over in horror at the prospect of attempting to make it big in such a massive, and often unforgiving, market. Yet, a quick scaling of the top 5 most popular free apps on both iOS and Android-served devices reveals that there are many trends within the market’s most downloaded.
Currently perched proudly atop the App Store’s free-to-download list is Bitstrips. Garnering its frantic popularity from its affiliation with Facebook, this comic book-influenced application allows users to create their own detailed avatar (as well as those of their friends and loved ones) and place these characters in mundane or zany cartoon landscapes, accompanied by a humorous caption. The outrage that these harmless images have received from miserly internet commentators has done nothing to dent Bitstrips’ runaway success. Bitstrips’ social media credentials when coupled with its simple blend of wit, social interaction and accessibility has allowed its developers to target a wide, and ever-expanding, audience.
The third-highest shifting free app on iOS appears to have elevated simplicity to a higher art form. Its minimalism is reflected in its every detail, most notably in its elementary name, Dots: A Game About Connecting. Setting its user the simple challenge of joining as many matching coloured dots as possible in fewer than 60 seconds, the rudimentary content of the app does not undermine its enjoyability but merely enhances it. A variation on the Candy Crush, Bubble Witch and Bejewelled formula that tests its users’ skill, composure and speed in completing an easy task over a short time period, Dots is once again proving that developers should be going back to basics to produce a game that is as addictive, accessible and in the words of its creators, ‘easy and fun to play but difficult to master’, as this one. As would be expected from such a game, this title subscribes to the Freemium model, and offers users the option to purchase add-ons to help them achieve higher scores and optimise their gaming experience.
Also operating to devastating effect on the App Store’s free chart is the official Dunkin’ Donuts App. Demonstrating the awesome repercussions that investing in mobile technology can have for an already world-renowned and flourishing brand, with this app, the American snack giants have added another string to their well-defined marketing bow. Pushing exclusive offers directly to the palms of those in possession of the app, providing a useful store locator and encouraging owners to send a virtual gift card to a hungry friend, the app has proven to be a sumptuous way of increasingly Dunkin’ Donuts’ revenue, consumership and consumption by exploiting the Smartphone as a revolutionary marketing channel, granting their advertising department immediate contact with the consciousnesses (and rumbling stomachs) of their clientele.
Bringing up the rear and occupying fifth place in the race (well, sort of, as the other four are noted for their ubiquity) to be crowned most popular free app on Google Play this week is the rather colourful title, Jelly Splash. Following the example of Dots, Wooga’s hit game is all about connecting objects, this time substituting the former’s coloured dots for fluorescent jelly shapes. True, the game bears more than a passing resemblance to King’s aforementioned money magnet (Candy…) but its theme of connection cleverly mirrors how social interaction and social networks drives the success of apps such as these.
In a virtual world where people are obsessed with sharing their every activity (see Bitstrips) with others and who are not content until they have rocketed to the top of a particular game’s leader board, Jelly Splash’s themes reveal that the key to an app’s popularity is simple: it’s all about connection. Its Facebook-generated leader board encourages the inviting of friends, the challenging of loathed ones and facilitates the endless bragging that clogs up News Feeds across the globe in notifications that appear something like this: “I’m on Level 73 of Jelly Splash, have you got the nerve to outdo me or are you as shaky as the eponymous foodstuff?” This app owes all of its success to people relishing interaction, conversation and competition, the same elements that drive addicted players to throw money at supplementary and (at-first) small in-app purchases to progress more quickly through the game than every body else.
Although Dots and Jelly Splash may be harbingers of an army of Candy Crush Clones set to flood the market, their success proves that players can just not get enough of matching colours and beating the clock. And anyway, isn’t Candy Crush just Tetris with sweets?
Google’s four remaining top-shifters merely underline the previous point, with the irrepressible Facebook followed by WhatsApp, Skype and Ebay in the rest of the chart. All of these apps promote social interaction and connectivity, with Skype encouraging face-to-face video conversation across the web and Ebay cementing its place as the pre-eminent virtual one-stop shop where the savvy consumer can nab a bargain. It is increasingly apparent that applications are no longer the exclusive province of fantasy worlds and escapist games but have many real-world (excuse the pun) applications. Linking your app to social media (both physically and thematically) is the way to ensure of healthy downloads and consumer recognition. The world may have migrated online but the human impulses for connection and competition remain, albeit in a more virtual vein.