Niches, Products and Business Strategy

I’m writing this article as part of a retrospective process. This year’s side-project has been Alter. As the year comes to an end it’s a good time to review what I’ve been doing and what I’m going to do next. Particularly, I’m thinking about strategy.

‘Apps’, by many, are misconceived.

Outside the iOS (and Mac) development community, regarding apps and the App Store, I still encounter views like these:

Apps are for phones and tablets; they’re small.
Any developer can make an app from home.
That app was so successful yet also so simple.
You just need a good idea.
Get the right app in the App Store and then sit back…

The misconception: building an app and putting it in the store is considered different to running a business and selling a product[1].

Within the iOS development community we see things differently. Evidence and experiences have changed our opinions over the last few years. The App Store isn’t a free ride. It’s a hugely competitive marketplace with a lot of big players.

For a current example of an experienced iOS developer’s opinion, I like David Smith’s discussion in episode 206 of the Developing Perspective podcast; he asks: Can the App Store be Full?

“Today I think out loud about the implications of an App Store that is functionally full. Where applications cannot realistically thrive simply because of novelty or freshness. Whatever you do now you are facing up against a hyper-competitive marketplace.”

Novelty and freshness don’t stand up as a viable strategy.

It’s dangerous for developers to ignore this.

Whilst developers within the iOS community tend to have a better handle on the realities of the App Store, the fallacy of the App Store as a special case can still be dangerously attractive.

Those misconceptions allow us to do the thing we really enjoy doing, building apps, safe in the delusion that the rest will be taken care of.

If we drink that Kool-Aid we risk neglecting to consider some basic yet important business concepts:

  • We need to know who the customer is and how many of them are out there.
  • We need to understand their problems.
  • We need to solve a problem that’s important enough for them to pay for it.
  • We need to know how we’re going to reach those customers; how will they find out about our app?

The result: maybe we make the wrong thing? Maybe we make something good but it’s lost in the hyper-competitive marketplace? Our apps don’t thrive.

Work on a niche product.

For a small, independent developer, finding a niche with customers and problems that you want to develop for is a good place to start.

Target specific users. Maybe, professional users. Write software that solves a real problem that you can charge a reasonable amount of money for (a premium app?).

Charles Perry gives some good insight on this approach in his article Succeeding in a Mature App Store:

The real beauty of this strategy, though, is that it means, for indies, it doesn’t matter if the App Store is full. There’s always room for another niche product.

When it comes to strategy I don’t like the word ‘app’. I think a lot of the misconceptions are associated with that concept.

Find a niche you’re interested in. Think about building a product, not just an app. Expand your approach to include a little more business strategy.

  1. In many ways it is different, or at least, was different. But therein lies the danger.