Developing an app is a long, iterative process that can be quite a test of patience and perseverance. After building, testing, debugging, and finalizing a mobile app, developers are often tempted to rush through the final steps and propel their project over the finish line. Despite the strong temptation, premature release is never a good long-term strategy, especially in the highly-competitive mobile technology industry.
Ironically, one of the most commonly overlooked facets of designing an app is also one of the least technical — choosing a descriptive, unique, memorable name that doesn’t cause any technical, legal, or branding blunders. While some creative developers have a near-perfect name for their next project chosen right at the outset, many developers put that decision off until very late on the process. In some cases, settling on a name can get pushed so far into the future that it becomes one of those tedious final tasks that resurface when you’re tired and eager to finish.
Realistically speaking, your app’s perfect name may not arrive as a mid-project epiphany. You also may not have time to put the technical aspects of your project on hold and give the task of naming your latest creation the attention that it deserves. So, to guide you away from potential pitfalls and along the path of least resistance towards an effective app name, here are four things to consider.
Don’t Pick a Name That’s Too Long to Fi…
This consideration make come across as obvious, but you’d be very surprised how many major companies have released apps with names that are simply too long for major mobile operating systems. Most mobile software has to truncate the name and end it with a somewhat-dreadful ellipsis. This serves as a fairly poor first impression and a constant reminder to users that the app designers delved too deeply into the technical matters and overlooked some obvious ways to improve their app.
The iOS operating system does not have a fixed character limit that triggers the ellipsis treatment — it depends on the length of the characters themselves. Typically, an app name that’s 12 characters in length (including any spaces) will fit without a problem, but it’s always best to test your name carefully before you make the commitment, invest in the name, and start designing matching branding materials or setting up matching URLs.
The Android platform has similar length limitations — approximately 12 characters, including spaces, carefully tested, is probably prudent. Android users have a little bit more control over the display length of their app names, but any developer would agree that relying on specific user settings for proper form and function is unwise.
Testing the length limit of your prospective app name (or better yet, several prospective app name candidates) on multiple mobile operating systems is a very fast, easy way to avoid conspicuous mistakes and ensure a professional presentation for your app
Decide Between Descriptive, Evocative, and Other Types of Brands
Most developers don’t have a “brand manager” on staff, so it’s important to know the different avenues that one can pursue when devising the perfect name for new mobile software. Knowing these different brand types can not only put a prospective app name to the test, it can also unlock some new branding ideas through unexplored branding methods. Let’s briefly look at a few specific brand types:
Amalgamations are combinations of two or more words. These brands are intended to borrow credibility or connotations from the words that are amalgamated together. This can be fairly effective for mobile apps, as long as the chosen words retain their meaning and describe the app accurately. And, as long as you don’t “over-amalgamate” and go past the aforementioned character limits. Think of the word “haircut” as a short, effective, descriptive amalgamation.
Descriptive brands are… well… descriptive in a very immediate, concentrated sense. If you’re familiar with “5 Hour Energy” drinks, then you’re also familiar with a quintessentially descriptive brand. Once again, if you can fit your full description into the character limits of iOS and Android, your descriptive brand could be very effective, especially for the limited attention spans that mobile users are known to have. One possible downside of using a descriptive brand is that it may carry a generic feel, which can be disadvantageous in an ultra-competitive mobile app market where there a likely several (if not dozens of) similar apps available for purchase.
Evocative brands give up most of their practicality to stir powerful emotions. These types of brands wouldn’t describe an app as pragmatically as a descriptive brand, but they do offer unique advantages. Think about the purpose of your app and what you are really providing. Is it a social media product that offers access to friends and family? Is it a personal organization tool that saves time? If you can think beyond what your product does on a superficial level and into the more significant service that you’re offering, you could end up with an ideal evocative brand. “The North Face” is a great example of an evocative brand that has emotional power; you’re not buying a jacket, you’re buying what you need to reach your proverbial mountain summit. From a mobile developers perspective, these can work well, and they’re fairly easy to fit into your character length limitations.
Distinguish Yourself from Competing Apps
BuildMobile recently reviewed an app called “Pocket.” (It’s a stellar app, by the way.) Pocket recently re-branded — their app’s former name was “Read It Later.” If you read the aforementioned branding considerations, you might conclude that they changed from a “descriptive” brand to an “evocative” brand. Both the past and present app names seem fairly effective, but there is one far more important problem: there’s already a very similar app named “Pocket” that offers very similar features, and there are dozens of popular apps that begin with the word “pocket.”
This could create some serious confusion for customers, and it could even impede sales and exposure via mixed, muddled web and app store searches. Brands are meant to offer distinction. While “Pocket” is short enough to avoid technical problems, descriptive enough to illustrate its purpose, and possibly even evocative enough to carry powerful connotations of freedom, mobility, and easy access, the brand does not offer distinction.
Keep distinction in mind when considering names for your next big app, and look up your competition to fully understand what would truly distinguish you from a crowded app scene.
Have You Secured All of the Matching URLs?
After posing several demanding challenges for your prospective app name, I thought I’d finish with an easy, straightforward litmus test. If you don’t have an acceptable domain name (appending the word “app” at the end of your domain e.g. dataslugapp.com is a solid option with SEO benefits), matching URLs, and social media accounts reserved, you should think very seriously before moving forward with an app name that you haven’t truly secured. Some enormous companies have moved forward with a brand without having these assets secured, and it became a fairly serious public relations problem. If a large, publicly-traded company can overlook the basics, then so can you, especially if you’re exhausted after single-handedly finishing a long app development process.
(I won’t name any names, but the company in question sends out millions of red envelopes, and they’re not stuffed with traffic tickets or greeting cards.)
Do you have any thoughts on proper naming practices for mobile apps? Do you follow a different process? Do your app names come to you at the outset of a project, in the middle, or is it one of those final loose ends to tie up?
Peter is Chief Digital Officer of CuriosityStream, a multi-platform nonfiction streaming service by the founder of Discovery Communications (Discovery Channel, Science Channel, Animal Planet, etc.). Peter is also Co-Founder of True North, a management consulting firm and digital marketing agency with clientele that includes WebMD and Salesforce.