iPhone and the state of the application (Part 3)

Now that we’ve covered the two different application options accessible via the iPhone. We need to figure out how this figures into your business. If you have been in product management for any length of time you know that everything we do is traced back to cost savings or revenue increase. Your business goals will likely require further considerations but I have included some things to consider when the conversation comes up.

Know your audience
It might sound silly but you really need to understand if your users are even using the iPhone. If your budget allows you can always get some market research. The first place I look is the logs. If there is a low number coming in you will at least have some idea if there is interest from iPhone users.

Know what works
From my earlier posts it is pretty clear that games and entertainment are popular with iPhone owners. Good news if you have a game or entertainment related product. For the rest of us I look first to see direct and non-direct competition are doing. Based on those findings you will analyze the good and bad and determine where your potential application and do better.

Pull the plan together
If you are still plodding forward then you must have users coming into your site and have a pretty good idea around what type of rival applications exist. You have to pull the plan together and figure out what is really going to work for your users. Don’t flinch at the option to repackage your site in an iPhone friendly way if it makes sense. Conversly you don’t want to sell yourself short either. If you offer benefits to profiled users can you do something iPhone specific?

Get Help!
Don’t be afraid to find the experts in the field. Depending on how ambitious your plans are you will not regret learning from those that have figured out the challenges to development. There are many different things to consider, especially if you are looking to produce a native application that the help is essential.

Have patience
Another point to consider is that most large corporations have not jumped into application development. Clearly the value has not been determined. But for how long? Also, take a look at the names of the companies putting these apps together now. There are a few recognizable names, but the business model is still only now coming together. Eventually larger development shops and agencies will offer development services to their customers.

Surely you will find plenty of other considerations specific to your business. The intent here is to get the ball rolling and kick off the right types of conversations with your team. Have any experiences to share? Drop them in the comments.

iPhone and the state of the application (Part 2)

In the last post I talked about the state of the iPhone web application. As promised, now we can take a look at the apps available via the iTunes store. In order to put the number of applications available lets look at the numbers. The number of web applications is now up to 2,505 from last week. In the iTunes store right now there are roughly 3,780 applications available. This is startling to me as the web apps have been available since day one.

Rounding up the number of total apps available that gives us 6,200 applications. Around 25% are games and 21% are labeled entertainment. I should point out that the way the Apple classifies things in the store it is a little convoluted but we’ll use these numbers for the sake of argument. Another point to consider here is that just because an application exists doesn’t mean that people are downloading and regularly using the application.

One of the complaints that has been noted recently is that the iTunes store is not organized efficiently. The shear volume of applications is making it difficult to find what the user wants or needs. Let’s look at an example to demonstrate the problem. If you search for “converter” you will return 150 results. You might be looking for Jeffrey Grossman’s Currency (iTunes Link). On the other hand you might be looking for Paolo Grifantini’s Currency Converter (iTunes Link). One is free the other is two bucks. Paolo is at a huge disadvantage here because the selling point is relegated to the description and screenshots. He need a way to “sell” his app to users.

The lack of a trial mechanism is also proving risky for paid apps. When the app store first opened many bloggers were running out there trying out as many apps as they could. Have they been able to keep up? Several have tried to keep pace or at least find some compelling things to highlight. However volume is getting to the point where users will have too many choices and forgo the store.

I’ll wrap up next time by bringing the web app and the iPhone app back to products and where we go from here.

iPhone and the state of the application (Part 1)

Apple’s iPhone has been out for more than a year and third party apps have been available for a few months now. When the SDK was announced last year there was a lot of buzz around application development. If you have been following the iPhone since it was first announced you might recall that web applications were the wave of the future and that is what the iPhone would support. Tom Yager from Infoworld pointed out that the web apps were not necessarily the way to go. He wasn’t alone as there were many application developers drooling at the prospect of running an app on the iPhone. Many thought Steve Jobs must have bumped his head on the way in to the Moscone Center.

At the time I was all for web based applications. It’s what I do for a living so naturally I was ready to get going from day one. I also liked this move because it challenged the traditional model for mobile application development. Surprisingly to some this turned out to be a positive move. Brian Fling and Daniel Applequist gave interesting presentations regarding Mobile Web at the Web 2.0 Expo this past spring. Both mention the influence of the iPhone in furthering the development of Mobile Web.

At the time of this post there are 2,472 web applications listed on Apple’s website. Many of the web apps are really well thought out. Even now I think there are still plenty of opportunities to improve on the web applications that are out there. Especially with the 3G connection on the newer iPhones and the fact that the 3G is going global.

Next time a look at iPhone apps.

Microsoft Product Manager on Vista

The crew at MaximumPC managed to get an interview with a Product Manager on Vista. While this is a software product I think this is still a good read. During the interview they walk through some of the issues during the launch of Vista. I can’t provide an opinon on the OS itself as I’m not using Vista on any machines at my disposal, but the key here is the comments about the launch.

One of the luxuries we enjoy on websites is that the code is never “gold” there are always going to be changes. That doesn’t mean we don’t face launch dates, PR events, marketing communications etc. In this example it is pretty clear that Microsoft understood what went wrong, regardless of where the blame goes. This is one of the key things that we need to strive to do a better job realizing on the web.

I suspect that no matter what project development process you use there is some sort of post project wrap up at the end. This is one of the most difficult steps in the process because once it is live we are quick to transition to maintenance and many times we are knee deep in requirements on our next project.

[MaximumPC via Gizmodo]

Return of the Brainstorm

It would be impossible to put everything into one blog post that deals with brainstorming. There are tons of books on different approaches, benefits and even drawbacks of brainstorming. Since this is a followup to my previous post about brainstorming this week I felt compelled to share the results of the session.

The process we employed this week was spread over two days. The first day we threw out every good, bad or indifferent idea we could think of during the session. The fascinating part of this excercise is that you get some really interesting concepts and different ways to appraoch the task at hand. In retrospect I threw a copule of ideas out there that came out of left field. They were really a stretch, but it was good fun and interesting to hear the pros and cons from the other team members.

Day two was much more practical for our team. We came away from day one with a concept that we really wanted to explore further and see what kind of traction we might have with more time to work it out. There is a risk here. If we find that the idea doesn’t hold up we are in trouble. But we had the right brains in the room and were able to validate enough on Day 1 to justify further exploration.

By the end of Day 2 we had pulled our concept into a more workable form that will lead us into the next step of the process. It was a successful excercise and really proved beneficial to all in the room. We all walked away with a feeling that we really needed Day 2 to keep moving.

Weather Report: Brain Storms on the Horizon

Today I had an opportunity to participate in  a brainstorm discussion. I was really looking forward to the meeting and our followup tomorrow. There is nothing more exciting to me than getting in a room with colleagues and kicking around ideas. I know that there are plenty of people that would rather get a root canal than get involved in a brainstorm discussion, but I dig it.

My approach to brainstorming depends on the amount of time I have available before we going. One of the first things I do is look at the competition to see what they are doing differently and try to come to understand how they might have reached that point. The next step is to expand out from there to non-direct competitors in the same industry. This usually provides some different perspectives on the verticals they focus on. Sometimes this yields some new ideas but many times it is just a gut check on my suspicions. From there I try to look at some of the leaders online. Many times this is just revisiting some sites I haven’t checked out in awhile. Amazon, Dell, Apple and depending on the project I’ll take a look at some less technical sites like Gap and Land’s End for more retail inspiration.

After visiting these sites I start to think about the consumer. Who is going to use the product that I’m working on? You could probably argue that this should come first. For me I like to check out the “scene” first then circle back and see if some of the early concepts in my head hold up to the audience. If not, this gives me an opportunity to flesh out an idea and file it away until next time. Don’t doubt the old ideas. I have a handful of concepts that I have tinkered with in some form or fashion for the last three years that I’ve been in my current position. It may be that we never bring any of these to light, but that isn’t the point. Sure I’d love for some of those ideas to get some legs, but the important point for me is to keep these ideas close so I can tap into the inspiration for a different project.

Sometimes I put these ideas on paper and sketch them out. Other times I just write down the key points I want to remember. Then I throw the ideas into the mix along with everyone else to see what we can bring together. I’ll explore some additonal ideas next time on how to move forward.

What’s up Facebook?

If you have been in Facebook recently you have no doubt seen the new design or at least the invitation to view the new design. There are plenty of opinions, good/bad/indifferent, about the new design, but the focus of this post comes from Internet legend Robert Scoble via ScobleizerTV. He takes a behind the scenes look at the new design and a little peek at what it is like to work there. Checkout the full video.

The interviewee is Mark Slee, Lead Product Manager at Facebook be sure to read his blog posts on the Facebook blog. It is always fascinating to hear how other companies manage their products. There were a couple of really interesting things that stuckout for me. First thing that was clear early Mark recounts the goals of the project. The goals were simple and straight forward. I know this seems pretty obvious, but they really boiled the intent down to something manageble and clear for the for whole team.

Another thing that stands out for me is the incorporation of user feedback and A/B testing. Facebook naturally has a user base that should be easy to tap into. Not all web products attract vocal users. I’ve been involved in more than one user study where we continually sweeten the pot to get statistical relevance. The A/B testing is really a cool idea. I’ll expand on this in the future but putting different concepts infront of your users to see what works for them can be critical to success. I’ve considered pushing for this in the past but the situations just didn’t work and we would have been forcing the issue unecessarily.

(Thanks for sharing JD)