Is it Still Possible to Make Money From an App? How to Stand Out in a Saturated Marketplace

By on October 28, 2014

I wish I had started building Android apps two years before I did. Back then, there was such a dearth of apps that almost anything you put together would be pretty much a guaranteed hit. When I did land on the app development scene it wasn’t quite too late: I actually managed to release the very first parkour app on Google Play and although it wasn’t very good (it was a Minimum Viable Product as I was still learning and testing the market) it still got quite a few downloads as a result. My ambidexterity app was also the first, as was my ‘mood board’ app. But best of all, I managed to create the first ‘Multiscreen Multitasking‘ app – a genuinely new idea at a time when there weren’t many left (if I do say so myself), but an idea that people knew they wanted nonetheless. Thankfully, people were already so desperate for an app like mine, that it sold in droves with no need for me to even market the thing.

Multiscreen Multitasking THD

But the landscape is different today. Today there are no or very few ‘Multiscreen Multitasking’-like ideas left. In other words, there’s no big demand that hasn’t been met. Sure, there are obviously new ideas – but people don’t know they want those new apps so you’d have to do a hell of a lot of marketing. And however much marketing you do, there are bigger companies who have billions of dollars to throw at their marketing, and they all have apps to push these days too.

Build a fitness app meanwhile, and you’ll be one of a million. Talk about a needle in a haystack.

Charge for your app and someone will download an alternative that’s the exact same, but free. Don’t charge for your app and use ads instead, and you’ll need hundreds of thousands of daily users to turn any profit.

The situation has become so bad, that the other day I told a complete stranger that I developed apps and they told me: ‘there’s no money in that any more’. Wow… Pretty rude.

How to Make Your App Stand Out

So if the market place is so saturated, how on Earth do you stand out? Are you wasting your time developing apps? Should we all just give up?

Personally, I’ve realized that I shouldn’t let an opportunity like Multiscreen Multitasking pass me by, so I’m currently pouring my efforts into making that app even better by giving it a complete overhaul. But what should you be doing? There are some other options…

Target Other Marketplaces

Make an Android app and you’ll face all the issues I just described. Make an app for the Windows Store though and you might find you have a bit more luck. Windows 8.1 on PC and tablets still has a lack of apps – it’s like Android in the early days – and that means there’s tons of opportunity for you to meet the demand. There are plenty of app categories that still aren’t really filled and some genuine innovation and attention to design will still get noticed.

Project Sienna meanwhile (a tool from Microsoft) makes building basic Windows Store apps really easy – pretty much as easy as making a PowerPoint presentation or an Excel spreadsheet. I’ll be looking into this in more detail soon and I’ll be sure to post on my thoughts. Still, it’s a great way to quickly knock up an app to test the waters on the Windows Store.

Project Sienna

Windows Mobile is also a platform worth looking at – especially considering a) Microsoft just bought Nokia suggesting a big push is coming up and b) there are rumors that the two Windows stores will be combining which will no doubt increase potential customers and visibility for the store and apps on it.

Target Specific Devices

Whoever made the ‘smartwatch browser’ that has recently hit the Play Store will likely make a lot of money. Likewise, I managed to get some downloads by creating the first app specifically for Oculus Rift that ran on Android. Again, this one wasn’t my best work – it was an MVP and then sadly I lost the private keysign that you need in order to make updates (oh dear!).

But even beyond this, you could choose to target obscure devices like the recent new smartphone from Sharp – the Aquos Crystal – that features no bezels. What’s something people often do when they buy a new device? They search for apps specifically for their new gadget on the store. If you can create something that caters to this specific demographic, you can gain traction for your app and then branch out to appeal to a wider market. Be a big fish in a small pond, not a tiny fish in a gigantic one.

Target Underground Movements and Upcoming Niches

When I released my parkour app, I was fortunate to reach a relatively large niche before anyone else. It’s too late for parkour, but what about something a little smaller? I haven’t done any research, but are there any curling apps? Any ASM apps? Any ‘real life superhero’ apps? How about apps for lesser known diseases?

Better yet, what about a fan app for an upcoming film/band/genre of music that you suspect will be huge? They are harder to find, but there are still some small niches out there that haven’t been done to death and some of them have great growth potential. Not only can you be the only option for people looking for such an app, but you’ll also have ready-made and built-in routes to market in the form of forums, industry magazines etc.

Of course you have to also be interested in the niche you’re creating an app about – you have to believe in your product. If you can’t find a new niche you’re passionate about then, how about a smaller subsection of a niche you’re currently interested in?

Find a Route to Market

When I first approached ColdfusTion to work with him on his Voxis app, it’s because I knew he had an army of loyal fans who would love to see his vision realized as an app. That meant, he could announce the app via his YouTube channel and we’d have guaranteed sales to help springboard the app and give it a strong launch.

This is what you call a ‘route to market’. Earlier I mentioned niche magazines and forums and those too are ‘routes to market’. If you can find a big enough audience and communicate with them in a direct way that has authority, then you can almost be guaranteed some sales. If you aren’t going to team up with a YouTuber, perhaps you could ask them if they’d be willing to promote your app on their channel? Or perhaps you could gain some exposure?

Create Your Own Route to Market

Alternatively, you could create your own YouTube channel or your own blog, thus giving yourself a platform through which to promote your app. That’s one of the reasons I’m putting so much work into this blog now (which is now getting about 150 visitors a day when I do no promotion) – in theory I’ll eventually be able to use this as a great platform to launch my new projects and to drive more interest through SEO and social media marketing. Time will tell, but it has already increased downloads for Multiscreen Multitasking!

Create an Outstanding Design

Creating an outstanding design isn’t enough on its own to help you stand out, but it is nevertheless a crucial ingredient that will help a great deal. The perfect example of this in action is the way in which ‘Indie Games’ manage to stand out and compete against big budget games like Call Of Duty.

monument valley indie game


These games don’t have the best graphics in terms of polygon counts, but they have an eye-catching and unique design that makes them stand out and that makes them interesting. On the play store, this kind of design makes people curious and it makes them stop and take notice when they’re glancing over different screen shots.

Combine this with the right copy and sales text and you’ll increase your conversions, so that the people who do see your app are more likely to buy.

‘Fail Fast’

Most important of all though: keep having ideas. Keep throwing things at the wall and see what sticks. ‘Fail fast’ by releasing minimum viable products and then investing time and effort into the ideas you’ve verified and that you’ve seen can be successful. While you might be tempted to spend 5 years on your dream project, this can be incredibly crushing when it doesn’t then go to plan. Adapt or die…


So can you still make money from an app, even with such a saturated market? The answer is definitely yes – because people still do make a lot of money from apps (Flappy Bird anyone?). The point is, you just have to be cleverer about it now…


About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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