The Kind of Apps People Want: How to Get a 5-Star Rating on Your Magazine App

The kind of apps people want make life easier and more fun. Free, quality content with a smoothly functioning interface is the key.

As tech industry observers like to note, the world of apps is wild and wacky. There are millions of apps in the Apple and Google app stores. If you pick up or click to pretty much any tech publication these days, you’re guaranteed to see at least one app review, to help bewildered consumers navigate this crowded field.

Of course when you read those articles, you’re getting a lot of personal opinion, and in tech land, much of that turns out to be excitement over flashy technology – no surprise there. So what kind of apps do people want, really? For magazine publishers, the answers are fairly simple.


And as Mequoda always makes clear, in our world there are two distinctly different types of magazine apps:

The first one we advise publishers to create is the app that delivers your digital magazine. If you’re still in the early stages of creating and marketing your digital magazine, we’ve got plenty of free advice, the same advice we give to clients.

Then, once your digital magazine and its app are fully functional, you can start considering magazine-branded “gadget” apps, which can do almost anything you want.

What kind of apps do people want? Apps that include free content.

The universal complaint in consumers’ app store reviews: The app is free, but there’s nothing there!

Creating apps that are nothing but sales vehicles for your subscriptions drives your audience crazy – and these folks will never be back to your app. Worse, they’ll tell their friends, family, Facebook, and everyone else who downloads the app all about it.

And that, as it turns out, could be deadly. A study from IT company Compuware, Mobile Apps: What Consumers Really Need and Want: A Global Study of Consumers’ Expectations and Experiences of Mobile Applications, made a critical finding: 84% of mobile device users say app store ratings are important in their decisions to download and install a mobile app.

The Kind of Apps People Want: How to Get a 5-Star Rating on Your Magazine AppThat’s why including free content – preferably every day, to encourage continual engagement with your brand – is one of Mequoda’s app best practices. I Like Crochet, a Mequoda client, is a great example of a magazine with a couple sample issues you can “try before you buy.” Try the app out here.


Bonnier and Bloomberg create separate apps to deliver daily content related to their digital magazines. They’re not “gadget” apps, because all they do is deliver news, but they are outside the magazine app, making them something of a hybrid.

Bloomberg for iPad offers customizable stock market quotes and market updates for indexes, futures, bonds, currency, and commodities. Bloomberg sells advertising to support this free content.

What kind of apps do people want? Apps with good functionality and usability.

The study noted above, Mobile Apps: What Consumers Really Need and Want, included these key findings:

  • Fix your bugs, stat! Users will not tolerate a problematic mobile app, and will abandon it after only one or two failed attempts.
  • Avoid negative reviews. Dissatisfied users are driven to competitive apps and will spread unfavorable reviews in person and online.
  • Perform usability testing. Consumers want to download an easy-to-navigate app that delivers a suite of key functionalities and mobile services through an intuitive, entertaining user interface.
  • Make it responsive and smart. Consumers expect an app to identify what device they are on and present them with the right set of options and functionality for that particular device.

For example, PC Mag praised Monster’s iPad app because it’s simple for most of the global population to use. “For anyone who’s used an iPad for 10 minutes … the app looks familiar. Touching the text fields calls up the virtual keyboard. Tapping a result maximizes the text. Swiping from right to left lets you scan through results. Changing the orientation of the tablet rearranges the content on the screen. It’s all quite friendly – and functional.”

These are the features that should be part of all magazine-delivery apps. But when it comes to “gadget” apps, consumers are even more demanding. Here are some features you’ll have to keep in mind for these apps.

What kind of apps do people want? Apps that include quality content.

Of course it goes without saying that the free news content you include in your magazine delivery app should be of high quality. But once you’re in gadget app mode, it’s more important not to skimp on either quality or quantity.

When you read those techie app reviews, it’s notable that aside from the technology, the one thing the reviewers zero in on is the usefulness and quality of the content. PCMag’s Top 100 iPad Apps of 2017 include several publisher apps, such as Guinness Word Records, which we complimented several years ago.

It also includes IMDb’s free app, which is praised for its wealth of movie trailers, information on popular actors, and list of current theatrical releases – it’s a “must-have for movie buffs who want the latest Hollywood news,” says PC Mag.

And when it comes to news, PCMag singles out Reuters’ free app as better than the others in a crowded field:

Reuters News Pro delivers the venerable newswire’s core product, news and market data, with a broader experience than either NPR’s magazine-style app or Bloomberg’s finance-heavy app. The app features dozens of customizable categories, a personalized watch list for business news, and geographic-specific news views.

NPR is on the list too, saying, “The app delivers hundreds of NPR live station and on-demand streams. In addition, NPR for iPad features photojournalism with full-page zoom, plus the ability to share stories over e-mail, Twitter, and Facebook.”

And Mother Earth News (MEN), a top Mequoda practitioner, offers more practical, high-quality apps than almost any other magazine we know of, such as apps to help users decide when to plant, design gardens and can their produce. Two of these apps, in fact, have been recognized by WIRED as top apps in their categories.

Bonus: MEN’s apps are so popular with users and advertisers alike, “We’ve paid off our development costs with advertising sponsorships and sales in short order,” reports Publisher Bill Uhler. Now that’s high-quality content!

What kind of apps do people want? Apps that make life easier or better.

PCMag’s review of Condé Nast’s free Epicurious app notes that users can “find recipes by main ingredient, course, cuisine, dietary consideration, and dish type, and even by season or occasion,” making it a snap to find exactly the right recipe no matter what the occasion or need.

If you’re too sick to cook, however, you’ll want to open WebMD’s free iPad app, where you can search through symptoms to identify your condition, all without having to navigate the much more complex WebMD website.

What kind of apps do people want? Apps that leverage mobile technology.

Mobile technology has become increasingly connected in consumers’ minds with personalization, real-time and real-place communications, and above all, social sharing.

As Compuware’s study puts it, “Consumers want proactive and relevant (to them) information and services within the context of their location at a particular time.

“An app has to push out personalized content, offers and perks based on their interests, while providing the ability to share offers, news and product recommendations virally on their social networks.”

What that means for publishers is taking your niche and delivering relevant information your audience can access on the fly, customize to their specific needs and share with their friends. Some ideas consumers say they want apps for:

  • Apps that help them plan and navigate trips, or translate foreign languages offline (travel publishers)
  • Apps that identify plants and offer buying, growing or elimination advice (gardening publishers)
  • Apps that store personally important locations such as historical sites, places you’ve passed by and want to visit later, even personal sites such as where you met your spouse or got your first kiss – use your imagination! (travel, shopping, family publications)
  • Apps that identify your favorite authors and musicians, based on your library, and notify you when new works are coming out, and when and where concerts or personal appearances are planned (music and literary publications)

These are just a few ideas that can be adapted to a huge variety of niche markets.

An arts and crafts publication could offer an app that allows users to store photos and an inventory of all their supplies so they never buy duplicates or leave the store without something they need.

A B2B publication app might scan employment sites for appropriate jobs. And I shouldn’t have to go into details on the enormous variety of apps that cooking and health publications could offer!

In short, as consumers become ever more attached to apps, and as publishers become more tech-savvy, it’s critical to know what your consumers want. And of course, we’d be interested in hearing your own ideas for apps, and what you think consumers want, so we can continue to monitor this changing marketplace.

This article was originally published in 2013 and is frequently updated.


    Great summary Ed. Free content is a must because people approach app from various channels. Some of them install app through the smart banner on a publisher’s website, others search through the App Store etc. These users finally install the app but their product awareness is different. The less aware user the easiest it is to get a one star rating and poor review. That’s why we recommend our publishers to give away at least one issue for free. Besides that there are free samples available for each magazine edition.


    Thank you Bill. We hope this will spark some thinking within media businesses about where apps fit into their multi platform publishing strategy.

    Kaytlin O.

    I think that people need to realize that many magazine apps are really boring, we as apple users or any kind of app user need to come up with an app that will keep people busy for a long time, when you are travelling you want games to play, when you are bored and sitting at home, you want something to do right?
    When you are doing homework and you feel like giving up and you need to get your mind off of it for a bit then get back to it, you will want something to do as well…
    There are all these times that we have really nothing to do.
    -kaytlin O


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