Successful App Development

Successful Apps: How Uber, WhatsApp and Waze Cracked the Codes

You might have a top notch idea for an app. It might also be well designed and developed. But what really makes a product stand out in a crowded marketplace? How can your company set your app apart in a way that entices millions of users to download and actively use it? We asked these questions and looked to three highly successful app owners — Uber, WhatsApp and Waze — to find answers.


Uber, a lifestyle company and mobile app, is now one of the leading transportation services in the world. The company began in San Francisco in 2009. And in 2012, the franchise grew from a team of select drivers to any qualified driver with an acceptable vehicle. Uber is now valued at $50 billion and operates in more than 35 cities worldwide.

The Big Idea

Uber began as a way to crack the unreliable taxi problem in San Francisco. Once frustrated commuters suddenly had the option of an on-demand, exclusive chauffeur. Today, customers can use the app to instantly locate an Uber car, view the wait time, and gauge roughly how much it will cost.

Scandalous Publicity

In May 2011, Uber received a cease-and-desist letter from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, claiming it was operating an unlicensed taxi service. The news of the city’s action spread, which — incidentally — resulted in much public support for the new service. Countless other legal claims were aimed at the company. Uber co-founder, Travis Kalanick, however, wouldn’t be defeated. He stood his ground and fought back. The Uber head office became known as “the war room”.

Celebrity Endorsements

Following the hubbub, Lindsay Lohan, Neil Patrick Harris and Snoop Dogg began promoting Uber on social media. (They reportedly receive discounts on rides for having done so.) Whatever the case, endorsements from the likes of these popular stars have undoubtedly helped the company seep into the public consciousness. Lohan has 9 million Twitter followers alone. But scandal and celebrity endorsements were not the only things the company had going for it.


Uber’s success comes down to a few important factors: improvement of a struggling transportation model, notoriety in the press, celebrity endorsements, and public goodwill. In addition, the product itself is viable and well conceived. The app is fast, efficient and simple to navigate. With just two clicks users can search a location and request a driver, making this a go-to app for busy urban commuters.


WhatsApp is an instant messaging app for smartphones that has around 800 million active users. The proprietary, cross-platform app uses the Internet to send text messages, photos, videos, user locations and audio messages. In January 2015, it held the designation of being — hands down — the most globally popular messaging app with 700 million active users. Adding to its impressive status, Facebook acquired WhatsApp Inc., in February 2014, for approximately $22 billion. This is reportedly Facebook’s largest acquisition to date.

The Big Idea

Co-founder Jan Koum thought it would be helpful to see his friends’ statuses in his cell phone’s address book. These statuses included if the contact was on a call, if their cell phone battery was low, or if they were busy working out at the gym. Today, WhatsApp operates under a subscription business model.

Incomparable Features

WhatsApp provides unique features like group chat, as well as photo, video and audio file sharing, while these functions were not available on most IM apps. Group chatting was previously only available on desktop computers, and it was pricey. Plus, popular instant messengers of the day — Google Talk, Yahoo Chat, Skype, etc. — could only be used on a PC or laptop. With WhatsApp, users can now share on the go.

Small Fees, Many Users

In early 2011, WhatsApp was listed in the top 20 of all apps in Apple’s U.S. App Store. By this time, the company had pulled in millions of dollars without advertising. They charged iPhone users a one-time $.99 fee upon installation. They also charged Android users $.99 every year. With millions of monthly users, small change adds up to big dollar signs.


WhatsApp had the benefit of being first-to-market with cellular group chatting and instant messaging, setting it apart from all others. It also utilized another incendiary approach: a file sharing component that most IM software didn’t offer. This one-two punch was underscored by the strategic decision to charge a nominal $.99 fee. At a time when their PC counterparts were seemingly price gouging, WhatsApp founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton essentially made the public an offer they couldn’t refuse.


Google Maps seemingly had the GPS apps market cornered when Waze came on the scene in 2009. Waze — a mobile app (and company) — won the Best Overall Mobile App award at the 2013 Mobile World Congress, rising above the likes of Dropbox, Flipboard and others. In June 2013, Google acquired Waze for a reported $1.3 billion.

The Big Idea

Waze is a free mapping application designed for commuters who use iOS or Android. It offers spoken turn-by-turn directions, real-time traffic reports, gas prices and toll avoidance. It also has options for users to report accidents, traffic jams, speed traps and cameras, as well as blocked roads. Like other GPS software, it learns from users’ timestamps and location data to provide routing and real-time traffic updates, helping commuters minimize their driving time.

User Mapping and Gamification

Waze Inc. saved what some have estimated to be hundreds of millions of dollars on mapping — and simultaneously set itself apart — by creating an infrastructure that lets logged-in users provide GPS information passively as they traverse the roads. There is also a gamification element, as Waze rewards users — who log uncharted areas and report traffic issues — with points, titles and achievements.


Another element that set Waze apart was its successful use of social networking. On the often lonely and long commute, Waze makes travel more bearable. Users can connect with their Facebook friends and see which of them are nearby. They can also “Map Chat” and share photos with other users.


It has been said that Waze is not the most well developed mapping app; however, what it lacks in the user interface it makes up for in user experience. Gamification and social interaction bring users back again and again. Waze also delivers on its promise: to minimize the duration of your commute.

Final Thoughts

Comparing these three successful apps makes one thing abundantly clear: it pays to innovate and/or improve on a useful idea. Uber saw the need for a more personalized and on-demand taxi service, while WhatsApp brought an established IM and group chat function to mobile. Meanwhile, Waze turned a once boring commute into a social experience, while also minimizing users’ drive time and introducing drivers to new neighborhoods.

Profits come from harnessing the power of community. Uber, WhatsApp and Waze each benefited from social activities and community involvement. WhatsApp helped people communicate on the go, while Uber benefited from community and social media support. Finally, where the daily commute was once a solitary experience, Waze successfully incorporated socializing via Facebook into its user experience.

Does your app solve a problem in a unique or innovative way? How can you leverage community or social media to attract more people to your product?

CabForward wants to help you crack the code and make your next app a breakout success. We care about the success of your product. How much do we care?

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