I was in a software strategy and roadmap review meeting the other day when something happened.  Something that, in my 20+ years in the tech business, I’d never seen before.  In order to determine how to prioritize new feature development and investments one of the PMs in the room put up the iOS app store on the room projector and started reviewing all the customer comments.  Now I’ve been part of hundreds of hardware and software products over the years and consider myself a relative expert in the gathering, prioritizing and solving for customer pain points along with the art of developing a value proposition, but never have I seen such a simple and immediate way to gather product feedback.  While it makes perfect sense to take to heart the comments from the very end users who have taken the time to download previous iterations of your software, I was simply surprised that I had never considered the App Store as such an immediate and easy way to gather this feedback.

For me, App Store customer feedback has been the place to go — as an end user — to see if the product was worthwhile my dollar; to determine if it was worth my time.  I hadn’t considered the impact on product management and development.  Of course it was a place for end users to publicize bugs and gaps.  I’d just never considered it a go-to place for prioritizing customer feedback for next generation roadmap development.  But there I was, reviewing line after line of customer feedback — bad grammar and incomprehensible comments included — trying to figure out how to best address every gap and potential new feature.

The App Store may democraticize software development as much the same or perhaps even in more ways as Open Source has.  It provides a smooth and transparent mechanism for any user to quickly and easily provide feedback and suggestion to the very developers writing the code.  And, you know what?  It appears, at least from where I’m sitting, that developers are actually listening.

This has a significant benefits and drawbacks.  By shortening the cycle between end user feedback and developer escalation, bug fixes and next generation features can quickly find their way to market.  However with a limited pool of feedback it’s possible that an over reliance on App Store feedback can highlight issues or features that don’t have broad appeal.  More importantly — particularly for product managers — it may exacerbate the fundamental PM challenge:  aim at where the market will be not where it is.  This is the hardest challenge in developing and updating software.  However, in this regard, the App Store may present another benefit.  It becomes a whole lot easier to quickly identify your competition and outline values and drawbacks in the competition.

Like most in the business, the big market opportunity impact has yet to occur.  While Apple has set the tone with the introduction and success of its iOS store — replicated now in virtually every other developer community — we are all eagerly waiting for Microsoft to take the initiative in launching a Windows app store.  It’s only a matter of time and the opportunity for the thousands of Windows developers will almost guarantee a thriving ecosystem for ISVs and their product developers.