Last week I let you know that you are the Ilium Software advisory board. When we’re trying to determine the best course of action, we really listen to our customers. That said, we’ve got an assignment for you.
As you know we’ve been planning to release ListPro on the iPhone. Working with a contractor, we actually made quite a bit of progress. Of course ListPro, even though relatively simply to use, is an extremelycomplex piece of software. Anytime you offer the level of customization that ListPro does, you’re looking at a ton of work. Throw synching into the mix and you’re talking about a monumental task.
That said we’re faced with a bit of a dilemma and we want to get your feedback. So if you’re up to the challenge, read on after the jump!
The Challenges We’re Facing
At this point, were facing a number of tough challenges. Here’s what we’ve got:
1: Behind Schedule
ListPro for iPhone is running behind schedule. While we had expected an August release, we now find ourselves looking at a release with limited functionality closer to early next year. (BTW – Part of the reason I’m talking about this is for you folks waiting eagerly for it – I want to make sure that any expectations we give you are real ones.)
2: Boatloads of Competition
Had we hit the August release date, ListPro would have been an early entrant into the list maker/task manager market. Now, list makers in the AppStore are as numerous as tip calculators. This “business issue” affects our customers indirectly. If we release ListPro and it fails to make enough money to maintain it, you’re going to end up stuck with version 1.0 and that will be that. Furthermore, ListPro is a huge investment to develop which means it has to do really well for us not to lose money on it!
3: User Interface Limitations
ListPro on other platforms makes heavy use of drop down menus, right clicks, sub-menus, and more. It relies on these to present all the needed tools for customizing lists. The iPhone doesn’t lend itself to this style of UI. We’re pretty creative over here so we’ve got some good ideas, but the overall experience is a bit more complex (in a full featured iPhone version of ListPro) than anything else on the device.
4: Synching is Vital
With eWallet, you made it clear to us that sync is a vital component of the software. Couple this with the iffy (but hopefully fixed in 2.1) upgrade process at the AppStore, and we have the potential for problems. This means that the project really MUST include some form of sync on the date of release.
We have two solutions that we’re looking at right now. What I’d like from all of you is your thoughts on these solutions as well as any other ideas you might have.
Solution #1: ListPro Reader
In this solution, we release a simplified ‘companion’ to the ListPro desktop software. Depending on the level of functionality, it might even be free. This application would allow you to:
- Publish lists from the desktop over to your phone where you can read them
- Check/Flag items on the phone
- Sort, search, and filter
- Click live URL links
- Changes would not sync back to the desktop and there would be no other editing tools.
Advantages: Besides the fact that it would be free (you’d still need to buy the desktop version), it would take a LOT less time to develop this. We’d still be looking at a release date late this year at best, probably early next year, but it would be ready a lot sooner than a full featured version. In addition, it would lend itself very well to the simple UI common on the iPhone. Finally, it doesn’t try to compete directly with the gazillion list makers out there. It’s almost a portable database reader.
Disadvantages:It isn’t a full featured list maker and it doesn’t have all the features of ListPro. Also, it might fail to bring any new users to ListPro. It might even confuse people. A new iPhone product can’t work if it doesn’t bring in new users as well as carry existing users over.
The Future:If the product does poorly, we can still keep it out there for long time ListPro users, offering minor updates as needed. We’d still take a hit from the development costs but it wouldn’t be huge. If the product does well, on the other hand, we could slowly expand functionality over time – perhaps even offering true list making tools in the future.
Solution #2: Full Featured ListPro on the iPhone
In this solution, we do what we’d hoped to do before – port ListPro completely to the iPhone. In addition, we’d include synchronization letting users sync their files back and forth.
Advantages: We could offer all the cool stuff that has made ListPro so popular over the years to a new audience. In addition, we could help all out existing ListPro folks make a smooth transition to iPhone. Finally, I could use all my personal ListPro lists on my phone! Woot! IF the product sold well it could become a major part of our business in the years to come.
Disadvantages: It would take a long time. My conservative guess would be middle of next year. Also, this would be very expensive to build. There is a very real danger that new iPhone users won’t care about ListPro’s power and want nothing more than a simple maker (half of which are free.) If this happened, we’d probably end up losing money. Finally, the app might be so complex to operate on the iPhone that all that power makes it unusable.
The Future: If the full featured version doesn’t do as well or better than eWallet, this would be the first and last version. We just couldn’t afford to continue development. If it does well, we’d have another great platform supporting ListPro into the future.
So there you have it…
Your first assignment! Let us know what you think. How would you handle it if you were the Product Manager here at Ilium Software? We really look forward to your input.