For a startup the biggest problem is almost never a competitor. The biggest problem is typically non-adoption.
Dan Moral rightly points out at StartupNorth that Apple introducing iMessage to the iPhone should help companies like Kik who up until now have been serving a space that only a small percentage of people likely knew or cared about, private messaging.
Nobody knows there is something better than texting available. Nobody knows that Kik exists. Well, Apple & iMessage are about to blow up the “private messenger” space. In an ideal world, as the market grows, Kik goes along with it.
This is a sound point of view contrasting the assumption that when Apple (or anyone with weight behind them) enters a market they destroy the incumbents. This jives with what we’ve heard from other app developers.
Here’s Marco Arment from Instapaper talking about Safari’s new ‘Reading List’ feature coming to iOS 5 and OSX Lion:
My biggest challenge isn’t winning over converts from my competitors: it’s explaining what Instapaper does and convincing people that they actually need it. Once they “get it”, they love it, but explaining its value in one quick, easy-to-understand, general-audience sentence is more difficult than you might imagine.
If Apple gets a bunch of Safari users — the browser that works best with Instapaper — to get into a “read later” workflow and see the value in such features, those users are prime potential Instapaper customers. And it gives me an easier way to explain it to them: “It’s like Safari’s Reading List, but better, in these ways.”
Daniel Pasco talking NetNewsWire with John Gruber reiterates this sentiment:
Safari’s RSS support is about as effective for serious information consumption as the notes feature in Apple Mail is for GTD.
What Apple brings to the table is mainstream awareness. And the more complex the problem they’re trying to solve, the more holes are left open for startups to tap into that awareness. In the case of RSS in Mail or Safari, there’s little doubt those tools do little for a news junky, particularly when Apple provides no means to sync these services to your mobile devices.
Apple’s foray into these areas is to serve casual users, not solve power user concerns. Once the average user is hooked on this basic functionality, then the opportunity arises for you to reach out and show them a more feature-rich app that helps them solve problems rather than just teases them as Apple is wont to do.
This is where it pays to understand when big players in the app space like Google, Apple, RIM, and Microsoft are looking to put their weight behind a particular trend or function.
A camera on every phone, with a very rudimentary Camera app opens up opportunities for apps like Instagram, and so on.
Safari’s Reading List is either going to have no noticeable effect on Instapaper, or it will improve sales dramatically.
Watch these trends. Solve big problems in smart, easy to use ways. Win at being a startup.