Stop “Sherlocking” Yourself

Back in the early days of OS X, Karelia Software had a product called Watson. At its time, it was one of the best apps for the new Apple OS and really showed the power of what was possible using the Cocoa frameworks and the new Aqua design language. It was so good in fact that when Apple introduced OS X Jaguar the new version of their Sherlock app looked to be an exact clone of Watson’s functionality.

And now you know where the phrase “Sherlocking” comes from.

Independent software developers can be both the smartest and dumbest people in their profession simultaneously. For some reason, developers are almost universally fascinated by building yet another todo list, notes app, weather app, or (most recently) a podcasting client. And what do all of these have in common?

If you’re answer is “Apple ships them with iOS” or “there is a ton of competition already” then give yourself a cookie. You are correct

I’m guilty of it too. My first OS X app was a todo list. My second a calendaring app. My main product on iOS has been a Markdown text editor since 2010. In my defense, the text editor market in 2010 was wide open. Today, I wouldn’t even consider trying to enter the market unless I was completely confident that I was building something that was lightyears ahead of the best product already in the market.

When dealing with such mature product bases, that’s really hard to accomplish for a 1.0. Add onto the fact that you’re also competing with free and bundled with the iOS device in the case of Reminders, Notes, and Calendar. It still drives me nuts to this day to see family and friends using the bundled Notes app over Elements, but it accomplishes 90% of what they want and is free. Hard to compete with that.

In this modern App economy, stop sherlocking yourself out of the gate and focus on harder problems than just another version of Elements or Clear with a different interface skin. Those markets are saturated to the point where you’re betting against yourself before you even ship 1.0. Look to emerging markets that have a need ready to be filled, or even existing niche markets that have a few products poorly executed.

There are still plenty of products to be made on iOS and OS X and plenty of money to be made from them. The todo app market is not one of them.

This post is a part of a series based on my keynote presentation at CocoaConf Columbus 2012.