Throwback: The Best Apps of 2016 (and What You Can Learn From Them)

The mobile industry is booming, but even more important is that mobile apps are completely dominating the arena:

  • Apps command 86% of the average time spent on mobile
  • This time spent on apps equates to 2hrs 19mins per day
  • Time on mobile web is decreasing to an average of 22 mins/day
  • 52% of all time spent on digital media counts for mobile apps

So, which apps were able to persuade us to spend all this time on our smartphone? We have curated a list of the best apps of 2016, including what you can learn from each of them. Stand on the shoulders of mobile giants to boost your own app development and mobile marketing strategies.


Venmo app

This money-sending app has become a common household verb, aka. “Just Venmo me”. It doesn’t happen very often that companies, let alone apps, get verbified, but Venmo has proven to be an indispensable tool amongst millennials.

What can you learn from Venmo?

Venmo’s brand revolves around simplicity. From its design, to its function, to its brand… Even their name is simple! The lesson here is to create a simple app that does one or two things really well. Do not stuff your app with a bunch of gimmicky features. An easy and functional user experience can differentiate your app from its competitors.


Prisma app

Prisma is not your regular photo editor, their complex algorithm allows users to transform their images (and now also videos) into unique works of art. This app went viral, with Prisma-filtered pictures flooding Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

What can you learn from Prisma?

Prisma’s viral selling point was that enhanced pictures were not being created for personal use, but for social media sharing. People didn’t want to keep their beautiful photos to themselves. So, if you want to increase your app’s reach, you need to integrate it with social media. Give users the possibility to share it, people love promoting things they love.



Snapchat has been around since 2011, but really came into its own in 2016. Its disappearing video messaging has spawned a slew of similar apps (even Instagram and Whatsapp have copied their “story” function). They are still beating their competition though, with popular features like facial lenses and geofilters.

What can you learn from Snapchat?

Snapchat is the king of engagement. Snapchat users spend an average of 25-30 minutes on the platform every day. Because posts disappear after 24 hours, users visit the app several times a day so as to not miss out on anything (see F.O.M.O). This sense of urgency has lead to an impressive level of engagement. You should find the right way to encourage engagement on your own app. High engagement is the only way you can turn a mere product into a profitable habit.

Pokémon Go


Players can relive the 90’s super-powered creatures in the real world with this augmented reality game. Pokémon Go became a massive sensation the moment it launched – it even lead to Yelp adding “Pokespot nearby” to the businesses’ descriptions.  

What can you learn from Pokémon Go?

“Pokémon Go just goes to show that everyone likes to play games, especially when it involves cutting edge technology”, says Monitis. This technique of gamification revolves around applying the elements of game play to other activities, including app use. Encourage engagement with your app through the use of badges, tokens, challenges, or contests. Get creative here, the more interesting you make the mobile interactions the better.



WhatsApp has become one of the most widely used messaging tools in the world. With free global messaging and the ability to easily send pictures, videos, and voice messages, WhatsApp has become the communication app of choice in 55% of the world.

What can you learn from Whatsapp?

The most important thing to understand is that people are social and yearn to be connected. WhatsApp gives humans a way to communicate with others around the world through chat rooms, instant messaging, and group chats. Your app should foster a community, providing people with a feeling of belonging. Offer different tools for users to interact with you and each other.



Spotify, the leader in music streaming apps, has close to 100 million users (with 40 million paid subscribers). Their most beloved features include mood-based playlists and personalised discovery playlists.

What can you learn from Spotify?

Personalization is where Spotify shines. By allowing users to not only create their own playlists, but also offering specifically curated ones, Spotify adds an unrivaled personal touch. According to Contagious, “a personal touch can create a sense of ownership and draw more people into the experience.” Give your app users a customized experience by segmenting them and providing relevant content.



Who needs words when you have stickers! Bitmoji allows you to create custom emoji-like stickers that look exactly like you and can be shared on various platforms. Bitmojis, and stickers in general, have become so popular that Snapchat acquired the company for $100 million in 2016.

What can you learn from Bitmoji?

Bitmoji’s success lies in its ease of adoption. The app complements something mobile users already use, in this case stickers, emojis and emoticons. It was very easy for new users to adopt Bitmojis, as they already used these types of content enhancers on a daily basis. The lesson here: make your app boost something that users already use. This will be a lot easier than creating a new market for your app.

Google Translate 


Google Translate takes typed phrases, spoken words and even images (like street signs) and interprets them into other languages. Travelling to different countries get’s a whole lot easier with on-the-go translation.

What can you learn from Google?

Simply said, Google Translate makes everyone’s life a little easier. Language barriers can be difficult, but Google’s instant translation is starting to remove this hurdle. Every app should make life easier in one way or another. Focus on the value you can provide users, whether it’s facilitating reservations, simplifying payments or providing information



Mint is the queen of budget management software, allowing people to connect their bank accounts and track spending. The app grew to more than 2 million users in the span of 3 years, and was subsequently sold for $170 million.

What can you learn from Mint?

Apart from it being an extremely useful, visual and simple app, Mint’s success was propelled by its strong content marketing strategy. Jason Putorti, the Lead Designer at Mint says: “We focused on building out a unique personal finance blog, very content-rich, that spoke to a young professional crowd that we felt was being neglected. Eventually the blog became #1 in personal finance, and drove traffic to the app. Our app didn’t have a high viral coefficient but we had content that was.” After you have built a killer app, you need to do everything you can to put it in front of the right audience. For small businesses on a budget, content marketing can make that happen.

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