February 9, 2012

Competing with "Free"

My company has spent the last two and a half years developing what we think is a kick-ass publishing tool (authoring tool) for apps in general, and school book apps in particular[1]. About a month ago iBooks Author was launched by Apple, with no cost for the product itself.

Having a competitor launch a free product, aimed right at the niche where you have invested thousands of hours, is seldom good news. And when the competitor is possibly the world's most admired for innovation (I for one find it absolutely stunning that they still grow almost like a startup and with profits the size of Google's revenues!), and at times the most valuable company in the world, is all lost? As it turns out: No.

I will freely admit that I was nervous before the product launch, given the rumours (which were true). And five minutes into the launch video, I was scared. But five hours later, some analysis helped calm the nerves. I created this little matrix, you can click to enlarge it, showing that the lunch was clearly not free this time (either):

So for the time being, I see the launch as positive. The product and the marketing around it clearly highlights the need for innovations in apps for school books (and maybe broader in learning) and with the product's current shortcomings, it is not that hard to still try to sell "an expensive alternative". But if iBooks Author's output products ran smoothly on Android with no restrictions on the content produced, I would probably go back to being scared. Or maybe just work even harder on the online-collaborative angle. Go David against the innovation Goliat!

[1] - This sketch, again click to view larger version, shows the principle of how the system works:

A more technical version is that the core is HTML5-based. When building the app we pull out the HTML5 content, wrap it with a set of native extensions (using PhoneGap) and build for the relevant iOS (mostly iPad, but also iPhones for books for children) or Android platform.

The response of a potential customer being shown it live in a meeting previous week was "Magic!". I smiled.