The Department of Product


Thursday, 05 October, 2023

Google Docs' new competitor, AI wars, App industry benchmarks Plus: Airbnb's ML patent, DoorDash's swipe for restaurants and Uber expands to returns

Hi product people 👋, 


Zoom took a big step towards becoming a workplace productivity powerhouse this week with the launch of its own Google Docs competitor, Zoom Docs. The new product comes with all of the traditional features you might expect from a Docs builder along with unique features like embeddable meeting transcripts that Zoom hopes will become its defensive moat.

Another doc app we came across that’s worth exploring this week is Reflect. Designed by a small, independent product team, Reflect is a rather beautiful new way to capture your notes, thoughts and ideas. Features include networked note taking, voice transcriptions and integrations with calendar tools like Google Calendar and Outlook.

Speaking of which, Microsoft has revealed it is developing a new feature for Outlook that will allow users to keep track of any meetings they can’t attend in person. According to the company’s transparent product roadmap, the ‘follow’ feature will allow users to receive information about what happened on the call, without having to attend. It certainly sounds like a valuable feature but since we’re usually overloaded with meetings, what if everyone chooses to follow instead of attend?

Meanwhile, the battle for AI dominance continued this past week with announcements from two giants, Anthropic and Amazon. In a press release, the two companies unveiled a partnership designed to address AWS’ perceived strategic weaknesses in AI. Amazon will invest up to $4 billion in Anthropic, giving Amazon a minority ownership in Anthropic and in return, Amazon developers will be able to incorporate Anthropic’s generative AI capabilities into their work via Amazon Bedrock. Anthropic’s LLM, Claude 2, is proficient in a range of tasks, from dialogue generation to detailed instruction and has very high scores in GRE exams, scoring 76.5% and beating ChatGPT’s 50.3%.

There are also rumours that Anthropic is in early talks with other investors with a view to raising an additional $2 billion. 

Finally, if you’re looking for salary benchmarks ahead of a potential career move, check out these free reports

Enjoy the rest of your week!


Essential reads for product teams

The latest from the Department of Product Substack

📈Chartpack: Mobile app trends and industry benchmarks Q4 2023

If your team is currently considering building a mobile app or indeed if you work on an app, getting some solid insights on how your app’s performance compares vs competitors is essential.

In this chartpack:

  • Product strategy and mobile apps: 3 ways product teams build apps

  • Top apps and categories 

  • Industry benchmarks on retention, engagement, monetization

  • High growth opportunities: what are the fastest growing app categories?

(Department of Product)

UX – How to design accordions on mobile

Accordions conserve space on mobile but they can also cause disorientation and too much scrolling. Easy design fixes improve the usability of these UI elements.

(NN Group)

Case studies – How Lyft’s engineering teams preserve data quality

High-quality data is necessary for the success of every data-driven company. It enables everything from reliable business logic to insightful decision-making and robust machine learning modeling. Lyfts engineering teams explain how they do it. (Lyft engineering)

Tools you can use

  • MagicSlides – convert YouTube videos, topics and URLs to PowerPoint slides

  • DoNotPay – fight legal battles and protect your consumer rights without spending a fortune on lawyers

  • Emoji creator  create a brand new emoji from just a text prompt

Strategy – Why you can’t hack product positioning

“All software companies taste like chicken. They’re selling different products, but 80% of what they do is pretty much the same.” If we keep to this metaphor, we know the critical place to focus is that 20% differentiation. During these difficult economic times, it is more important than ever to frame your product in a league of its own. This is the only way to create outlier companies. (Felicis)

Interview – Why Tech companies are now investing in growth

New product features, launches and announcements this week

Airbnb has filed a patent for “cross-listed property matching” which uses machine learning to detect listings that are cross posted on multiple platforms at the same time.

Spotify is launching a new audiobooks service with over 150,000 titles. Premium subscribers will have limited access to 15 hours of audiobooks included in their subscription each month. With its podcast strategy failing, it’ll be interesting to see if this shift to audiobooks works. 

AI wearables announced this week:

  • Humane’s AI Pin, unveiled in Paris, is a wearable that projects its interface onto nearby surfaces

  • RewindAI ‘s Pendant, priced at $59, records conversations, transfers them to phones, and provides a searchable database of audio

  • Meta’s updated Ray-Ban smart glasses now allow users to chat with an AI bot beyond just basic voice commands

DoorDash is testing out a new feature that rewards its users for dining out, not ordering in. Customers in the test group are invited to swipe in at a participating restaurant to earn credit rewards that can be used for future orders. It’s an interesting strategic move for DoorDash since it doesn’t directly impact their bottom line on first glance, but by improving restaurant discovery and margins, DoorDash appears to be betting that it will strategically benefit them, their restaurant partners and users in the long run. Second order thinking at its finest.

Uber is expanding its offerings to include a new use case: ecommerce parcel returns. The service will be offered at a flat fee of $5.

Arc browser has unveiled a series of new AI features that go beyond the instinctive ‘build a chatbot and throw it into the UI’ approach we’ve seen some other companies adopt. Instead, the company has thoughtfully considered which use cases might actually be improved with AI. These include: renaming tabs for easier readability, quick summaries on hover and ChatGPT integration in the command bar. Despite my best efforts, I haven’t been able to connect with Arc’s vertical navigation sidebars personally, but I admire their thoughtful and considered approach here.

📈 Product data and trends to stay informed

The median one month retention rate for gen-AI apps is 42% vs 63% for more established social apps. Full report

According to a new report, around 50% of 11- to 17-year-olds receive at least 237 notifications every day.

Disney+ lost 11.7 million subscribers in the last quarter. A password sharing crackdown is said to be in the works.

40% of Gen Z reports having a close friend who they interact with only online. Almost half of Americans say they have 3 or less close friends, down almost 50% from the 90s. What does this mean for product builders? Full report on the loneliness epidemic.

Blue Apron is set to be acquired by Wonder Group for $103 million — a 95% discount from its $1.89 billion IPO price in 2017.

A new app is for Uber drivers in Brazil has exploded in popularity, growing from 87,000 to 250,000 users. StopClub uses screen reading technology to allow drivers to calculate the cost of pick ups. Uber took the company to court and lost.

Other product news in brief

Twitch is reportedly laying off more workers ahead of its Las Vegas conference.

Spotify’s CEO has urged UK regulators to show leadership after claiming that Apple and Google have a monopoly on the internet.

Google’s whiteboard app Jamboard is shutting down.

All yours, all free. Enter your email to receive your briefing.

Product Briefing – July 27, 2023

Shopify’s $1600 meetings and Netflix’s ad-funded success
Plus: a tool to free your mind, how to use developer tools and a summer reading list

Product Briefing – July 20, 2023

Microsoft fights AI fatigue and Roblox’s vision for a new economy. Plus: a new tool for task automation, TikTok’s new music app and Google Docs gets a notebook

Product Briefing – July 13, 2023

Gmail and Stripe punish no shows and Twilio’s new API. Plus: YouTube gets screen locks, DeepMind’s CEO talks and a note taking ‘studio for your mind’

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