The dawn of the very vertical app

Note: many of the apps linked in this article are no longer available. As a result, I have removed those links.

A friend of mine on Facebook invited me to a FB page yesterday and introduced me to a new app GottaGo. An Android app that lets you find the nearest restroom in Delhi, Mumbai, and Pune. This got me thinking about how some product ideas are becoming more niche and focusing on doing one thing and only one thing, while trying to do it well.

I went looking, and the first thing I found was something in line with GottaGo, except REFUGE Restrooms specifically aims to find restrooms for transgenders, intersex and gender non-conforming individuals. Apart from the obvious fact that both of these apps serve a good powerful need, I recalled of one of the rules of software development from the essay/book by Eric Raymond – The Cathedral and the Bazaar

Every good work of software starts by scratching a developer’s personal itch Eric Raymond

I went looking for some more super niche apps and came across Counters which lets you create multiple colourful counters with an aim to help track habits and other daily life things.

Post-It-Plus allows you to take photos of your Post-It notes and archive them, while Here Look allows you to limit the number of photographs anyone can see on your phone.

One of the apps I really like is Be My Eyes which helps you Lend your eyes to the blind. Essentially a video chat service, the app connects sighted people to people who need help in seeing. You use the app as a remote camera, to see what they see and to help them as best you can. Possible use cases suggested include simple things like – food past its use by date, moving things and in one example – editing a photo!

The app which takes the cake however, is the CleverBot App which lets you chat with a bot about anything and everything. Depending on how you look at it, it’s either very cool, or very sad.

These apps may not be the highest grossing apps on the app stores, but they still exist. Why? In my opinion these three reasons

  1. Scratching a personal itch – Apps like Look take cognisance of the fact that when you give your phone to someone to browse a few photographs, you want them to look at those photographs. Bet you didn’t realise that this annoys you – a lot – until you heard about the app. Be My Eyes also belongs to this category. Their story is really worth a read.
  2. _Category apps have too much breadth and don’t serve the need completely – _Both the restroom locator apps could ideally be built into a navigation app like Google Maps or Apple Maps probably as PoI. However it doesn’t always happen. Both of these apps use existing map apps (Refuge uses Google, I was not able to use GottaGo on my iPhone) and overlay their relevant data.
  3. A truly new idea – Very rare, very exciting. The most recent apps for this category – in my mind – include the medical research apps announced at the Apple Spring forward event. While ultimately relevant to many, these apps for Breast Cancer, Diabetes, Parkinson’s Cardiovascular disease and Asthama, allow elementary diagnoses of initial symptoms, gain improved insights, and are niche in the need they serve.