2016 might be in the rear-view mirror, but it’s the perfect time to look back at the apps that made headlines last year. We analyzed three apps that stood out to us from a development perspective, considering their scale, complexity, and underlying technologies and their impact on the total app development cost.

Top 3 iOS apps of 2016 logos on iPhone


The app that made peer-to-peer payments cool

Part social platform, part payment service, Venmo blurs the line between two formerly distinct areas. PayPal touts the app as a service “for payments between friends and people who trust each other.” You can link your debit card or bank account to the app, and the

n send money to friends or businesses that’ve signed on with Venmo.

Venmo Mobile App Screen

Venmo offers its users several key benefits:

  • Easily send money to friends and trusted individuals
  • Securely link with debit cards and checking accounts
  • Keep a personalized newsfeed of all transactions that can be shared

Venmo’s simple and clean interface and social hooks have made it a huge hit with millennials, but the real meat of the project lies in the app’s social integration, payment processing, and security features. Venmo is unique because it ties together users’ financial transactions with mandatory descriptions in a social feed. The app creates compelling narratives based around people’s Venmo transactions while still providing a real service.

While much of Venmo’s social aspects are front and center, the app’s security shouldn’t be underestimated. After hearing some of its users concerns, Venmo integrated two-step authentication for all its users. This kind of security is expensive, but it’s also what tech giants like Google and Facebook use to secure their users accounts. Additionally, the app utilizes bank-level encryption for its transactions.

An investors’ call in 2016 put the amount of active users on Venmo in the neighborhood of just over half-a-million. And by April of 2016, nearly $3.2 billion in transactions were routed through Venmo; a staggering amount for a free app. These numbers are a direct result of Venmo’s ongoing support of the app, both to evolve its UI/UX, and enhance its security.

While Venmo’s value proposition to users appears simple, the development into its underlying technology is extensive and, as a result, costly.


Raising the bar for privacy

You’ve probably heard of Signal’s much larger cousin, WhatsApp. What you may not know is that WhatsApp and Google’s Allo messengers both use the end-to-end app encryption technology developed by Signal’s parent company, Open Whisper Systems. Compared to other messaging apps, Signal is a purer implementation of secure messaging.

Signal promises its users a sparse and secure messaging experience by delivering the following:  Signal Mobile Application Screen

  • Excludes messages from being archived in app backups
  • SMS messages and call logs are not backed-up
  • Free to download with no in-app ads

Of all development costs, in-house encryption can be one of the most expensive. Signal is unique because it has direct access to encryption experts that belong to the same organization. Other apps looking to integrate encryption are most likely going to use a third-party API. Like Venmo, Signal favors a practical and clean approach to its interface. You won’t find a dedicated GIF button or flashy transitions and effects, like in iMessage. Signal’s focus is almost entirely on its users’ privacy and app security, and it shows in the final product.

The critical support challenges involved with Signal is its ongoing user support, as well as the continuing development of the underlying encryption technology. The app itself is a good example of lightweight, but powerful software that utilizes robust APIs.

Pokemon GO

Bringing AR to the masses Before there was Super Mario Run, there was Pokemon GO. The augmented reality app was a smash hit at release, racking up downloads at a blistering rate. Despite Nintendo’s licensing of the Pokemon IP, this was a purely third-party developed a


pp. While the app’s creators worked on other AR games, Pokemon GO had the brand recognition to reach critical mass and become the developer’s biggest hit.

Pokemon GO brings to the table some of the key elements that lead to viral hits:

Pokemon Go Augmented Reality App


  • Compelling social hooks through player competition
  • Stylish visuals tied to a well-known brand
  • Stylish AR effects

With 3D mobile games like Pokemon GO, there are two critical development costs: backend servers and art assets. Art assets can become especially expensive if you’re paying in-house artists, or contracting remote teams. A project that depends so much on its aesthetic to attract users can drive those costs even higher.

Other ongoing development considerations are the servers needed to store player information and online interactions. When the app launched, many users reported having problems connecting to the service to play the game. Pokemon GO quickly added servers to deal with the huge influx of users, a very time and labor-intensive process. This puts Pokemon GO squarely in enterprise app territory.

Game development can be an extensive undertaking, with both initial costs and ongoing support consuming a tremendous amount of your project’s budget. However, with a success like Pokemon GO, the upfront investment was well worth it.

Determining the scope and cost of your app doesn’t have to be a difficult process. Working with Zco’s development experts is the best way to realize the vision for your app. Get in touch with one of our Account Managers today and find out why our mobile app development services have made us an industry leader.