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What defines a ‘killer app’?

By Tim Hutchinson, Managing Director



The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

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April 20, 2015 | 4 min read

Apps are everywhere. A habitual part of our daily lives that we can’t live without: at home, work or play. For many, they are the first thing we interact with in the morning and the last thing we turn to at night. Individuals and companies are constantly trying to find the ‘Golden Ticket’ app – the one that will make them rich and famous, the next big thing – well, for a couple of weeks anyway! Yet, is it so straight forward to sit down with a pen and paper and explore all the possibilities until you have that ‘light bulb’ moment that promises to change your life?

A 'killer' part is the outcome of solving a problem, says Hutchinson.

So what actually defines a 'killer app' and how can designers & developers ensure that theirs is going to be useful and stand out from this increasingly crowded marketplace? It’s a question that we at get asked on a regular basis and frequently consider ourselves, especially when beginning and specifying a new project.

For starters, we know that a ‘killer app':

  • Is a product that somebody uses regularly;
  • Provides value to a user whether it is open or not;
  • Improves their experience when part of another scenario;
  • Solves one particular problem;
  • Makes life easier for its users;
  • Entertains and provides an emotional connection;
  • Makes people believe they need it in their lives;
  • Encourages habitual usage;
  • Is simplistic in design and functionality;
  • Is fast, secure and easy to use.

Having designed and developed products for most markets and audiences, our team has become pretty well versed in this area. We are lucky enough to bring together very talented people who understand the psychology around product interaction, system architecture and best practice coding. This allows us to engage with our peers and swap success and failure stories and bring to life the opportunities around us in wearable technologies, environmental controls and neural interaction. You would like to think, therefore, that we could answer the million dollar question "What defines a killer app?" with confidence. Yet, when asked in isolation and without a brief, we start to unpick many of our original defining statements.

Often, we use the word 'simplicity' as a primary stock answer, however simplicity and complexity are not two ends of a spectrum. A simple problem may be solved through a complex application. This mindset can then confuse our approach to app development and we forget the 'simple' problem we are trying to solve.

What we should never be doing is developing an app for the sake of having one. If it serves absolutely no purpose other than to complicate a behaviour, something that is extremely hard to change without benefit – it will simply be deleted.

Many people have the "I wish I'd thought of that!" mindset, when seeing something so simple or engaging that solves a very basic problem. We then try and understand how we can achieve the same and 'make millions' or be 'remembered in history'. But without a real problem to solve that hasn't been answered before – our efforts are futile. Let's also consider that any successful invention, be it a physical or digital product, only tends to be a winner because it met a specific need or problem!

A ’killer app’ can therefore never truly be defined without having a purpose to support it. The 'killer' part is the outcome of solving a problem, not necessarily the app itself.

Tim Hutchinson is director of mobile & web at RE:SYSTEMS.

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Based in central Manchester, Eighteen is a digital agency that designs and develops engaging experiences through web and mobile platforms. Eighteen offers digital...

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