Competitive Threat

As many readers know by now I am in the late stages of developing and releasing an iPhone application. This is the first time I’ve ever really been involved in the launch of a consumer product and while there’s nothing here that is likely to surprise any marketing guru’s, I’m finding it an interesting process.

I talked about pricing previously, but today I want to talk about the competition.

I downloaded the SDK ((Software Development Kit, the program you use to write other software.)) shortly after the original announcement. The first version was fairly primitive, with little to no support for the drag-and-drop style of development used for parts of Mac OS X programs. I played around a bit, compiled a few demo applications but didn’t really get very far. Too hard, I though.

The beta’s came and I started having ideas for programs that I might want. Initially I thought they were too easy for a professional developer and certainly something that other people would be working on.

Turns out that I was wrong. Not only were most of the applications available on launch day very simple — tip calculators, currency converters — but no-one had thought to implement my idea.

Partly as an “itch to scratch” and partly because I had no competition, I set to work. This time rather than doodling around I had a goal. Well, a vague goal. My first attempts were too ambitious for my limited experience of the SDK and didn’t go very far.

I really gained some traction when I switched to my current scheme. All was going well until a couple of weeks ago when I saw a headline announcing my first competitor.

My first reaction was panic.

My second reaction was also panic.

It was a big deal. I’d got used to having no competition, to dictating myself exactly what features it needed to have and to thinking entirely in abstract terms about pricing. Reality intruding was hard.

I eventually calmed down enough to download a copy. Fortunately reality wasn’t nearly as bad as the simple idea of a competitor. Although unfinished, my application was already more sophisticated. It worked in a slightly different way but mine had more features, more closely conformed to Apple’s user interface guidelines and provided better feedback to users.

It did mean that I had to refine my thinking about pricing. But most importantly I had to start considering when to release it. Should I trim a few features so I could release it early? Or keep going, be a bit later but have something unique? In the end I just decided to keep going. Another “me too” product wouldn’t have managed to overcome their first-mover advantage, but extra features might.

If there’s a lesson here it’s that making the best product you can is a better use of your time than examining the competition. Happy users is the key to success and improving your software is the best way to achieve that.