A Product Strategy Review of Alter, Part 1

My latest app, Alter, has fallen into a black hole. Whilst the project did include some development for the sake of development goals, this is still an app that’s available in the App Store; a product that people can buy.

Given this demise I think it’s worth reviewing the product strategy. Did I make good product design decisions?

Introduction.

I’m no expert at this. Following are some basic questions I’ve used recently when thinking about the viability of a product/app:

  • What problem does it try to solve?
  • Who has this problem; who is the customer?
  • How can I reach them?
  • Are those customers willing to pay for software?
  • Are there many of them?
  • Vertical or horizontal?
  • Competition?

With that in mind…

What does Alter do?

Alter’s primary goal was (at the launch of v1.0) to convert plain text into a usable list. With individual items being separated so that the user can check them off.

v1.0 actually stopped there, providing the user with a single, active conversion. One list at a time: convert some text, use the list, start again…

Alter v1.0: a narrow, text-to-list conversion workflow.

What problem does that solve?

This conversion allows a user to cross off individual items from a list of tasks, that were otherwise in a static format. The goal: remove the pain (and potential error) of mentally re-reading the static list to see what’s left to be done.

Is that a big/costly problem? Depending on the circumstance, it can be bothersome. For example, with my grocery list use case, I’ve found it to be a problem worth solving[1]. But that’s just one example.

Is there an alternative solution? Yes. A person can simply use the list of things-to-do in the original format. Or, if they like lists, pay the cost of transcribing the items into another todo list app.

How often does the problem occur? This depends on the circumstance; why does the user have a static list of todos? Which leads into…

Who is the target customer?

This type of generic conversion, or workflow, is horizontal in nature. It applies to anyone who would benefit from converting text into a list format.

Some example use cases:

  • Grocery list sent from wife in email/message (my workflow).
  • Recipe preparation steps copied from a website.
  • List of tasks emailed from boss.
  • Actions from a meeting.

There isn’t a specific customer domain or workflow for Alter.

More generally, the app is targeted at:

  • People that like to use lists, on their iPhone.
  • People who regularly work with collection of things to do – that they didn’t generate themselves.

Was this product well thought out?

No, not really[2].

A horizontal product needs to be widely applicable and flexible. Generally useful.

Although Alter was designed with a specific (vertical?) workflow in mind, it was not implemented so. Everything about v1.0[3] was generic. The name, the icon, the App Store description…

This app converts text into something more useful. This app provides todo lists…

These type of features need to be flexible. In contrast, Alter launched providing a restrictive, niche workflow. Taken as a whole, the app managed to be neither targeted or flexible.

Summary.

An app isn’t over at v1.0 but it should at least start out with a solid identity. v1.0 of Alter was more of a feature than a product. It lacked identity and direction.

In part 2 I’ll take a look at user feedback from v1.0 and explore how that made me think about the app’s fundamental design and future roadmap.


  1. My grocery list use case: my wife sends me a grocery list in a text message or email. Not always a short list. Alter converts this into a todo list, making my life that little bit easier.
  2. Note to self: “development goals” or not – it’s better to think about this stuff before working on and releasing v1.0!
  3. The exception is the original promo video, which was targeted at the shopping list workflow.
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