A Product Strategy Review of Alter, Part 2

Part 1 of this review suggested that my latest app, Alter, wasn’t particularly well thought out. It lacked identity.

Part of the product strategy problem was not giving future roadmap due consideration. Whilst I had (correctly) anticipated feature requests I didn’t factor this in to the bigger, product picture.

User feedback made me see this as a lack of identity and direction. In part 2 of this review I’ll explain my thought process as I started to work on v1.1, which made it clear that I hadn’t thought things through.

User feedback.

There were two consistent requests following the launch of v1.0:

  • I want to export the list
  • I want more than one list

For an app that converts text into a list format these might seem like obvious, and innocuous, requests. However, as I started to work on them, to consider them in more detail, I began to see them as divergent product directions.

In turn, this made me think about where they might lead the app, what problems would I be trying to solve, and is there’s a future there?…

Direction 1: exporting the list.

Exporting the resultant list, rather than using it in within the app, leads Alter toward being a conversion utility. A step in a wider workflow, needing to connect with other apps.

The roadmap might include things like:

  • Enhance the conversion; make it more flexible, more sophisticated.
  • Add new conversion options, support different inputs and outputs.
  • Add more compatibility; connect with more apps.

A workflow tool? I could define a strong product goal here and give the app a real identity. There’s certainly a cohesive set of backlog features. But is it viable?

Consider the app Dispatch. A workflow tool for managing your inbox. In addition to processing emails internally, Dispatch connects with other apps, allowing the user to route action-based emails to other apps, e.g. a todo app.

Everyone has an inbox. Lots of people feel a need to manage their inbox. That’s a healthy problem worth solving.

Lists and actions wrapped up in static text that could come from anywhere? I’m less sure.

Direction 2: more than one list.

Multiple lists suggests the user wants to keep track of more things, to do some organising. This leads Alter toward being a generic todo list app.

The roadmap might include things like:

  • Add list management features.
  • Add reminders and calendar integration.
  • Add GTD style features.

A todo list app? There’s definitely a market for it, no question. However, whilst it would be easy to settle on a theme for such an app (there are many approaches to take with task management), I’d have to rethink the identity of Alter.

  • A task management app can’t be based around pasting text, it’s simply not general purpose. Pasting text could be a useful feature within such an app but not the primary use case.
  • The name (and icon)? “Alter” fits well with the conversion angle – but does it resonate with people wanting to be productive?

Going in this direction it would also be wise to consider the competition:

  • This is a very competitive space.
  • This is a horizontal product making it hard to target customers outside of the crowded App Store category.
  • How would this app differentiate itself?

Could I offer something viable?

Conclusion.

As I’ve written before this project was, in part, motivated by a development challenge. However, I was also writing an app to support a real and specific workflow; to solve a problem.

Along the way the emphasis changed to be something more generic – because why be too restrictive, more people might want this? – and I didn’t stop to review the fundamental product design, goals and roadmap.

That was a mistake.

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