Who’s Out First?

I’ve been involved with many projects and products over the years.  Some have been true innovations – the first product of its kind.  Most have been products created to compete in a market where there already is competition.  Let’s face it, the latter case is the more common.  How many times do you see a new product come out, hardware or software, that’s really different than its predecessors or defines a whole new category?

What made me think of this? I was perusing some software blogs and I ran into one where there was a picture of a Windows Phone.  I’ve never played with one before, but it hit me that the iPhone defines the category now.  It really shouldn’t have – Palm owned this market from the beginning (I used to carry a Palm Pilot, then they added phone capabilities to it), then Blackberries (RIM) came along.  The iPhone didn’t start it all, they just did it better – well integrated, great marketing, and sleek design.  The iPod was new and nobody has topped that yet.  My daughter bought a competitive product and it was ok, but using Windows Media Player instead of iTunes was a drag.  Again, much better integration and better design.

The iPad wasn’t the first tablet, but it was.  The Windows-based OS for tablet PC and the hardware that accompanied it wasn’t significantly better than a PC with a Wacom tablet for pen-based drawing.  The iPad started from the other direction, not by modifying what already existed, but starting over (having the iPhone’s OS certainly helped).

This brings me to software.  How long has facebook been around and how many users does it have?  Can Google+ just sweep in with some new functionality and take over?  Facebook stole the world from MySpace, so why not?

The question to ask is: Where is my product?  Is it the market leader?  If so, are we complacent or constantly improving?  Are we the start-up, making something to beat the current market leader?  If so, do we have the story that makes people want to switch?

Even if you’re a young software developer, you should start asking yourself these questions.  Not only will you learn something about your company, its goal, and its marketing, but you may also decide it’s time to look somewhere else for a future that has more potential.