TextExpander 6 Subscription Model

Don McAllister
Apr 6, 2016 · 5 min read
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I’ve used TextExpander since the very early days. In fact, I used it before it was called TextExpander.

It’s always been my go to app for text expansion and I’ve recommended it to ScreenCastsOnline viewers many, many times. I’ve covered it several times on ScreenCastsOnline, usually when major new releases came out, the most recent being TextExpander 5. In the early days, some of the shows were sponsored by Smile, but the latter shows were produced independently. I’ve also covered other Smile apps such as PDFPen.

Yesterday, Smile released the new version of TextExpander — V6.

I was not aware of the new version until the day before the launch date, and I have not had any exposure to the beta or the released version.

TextExpander v6 is a complete re-write of the application and introduces a new Cloud based syncing service, to replace DropBox and iCloud. It also introduces a new sharing feature as well as a beta release of the app for Windows. The biggest change however is the move to a subscription based service, rather than the traditional buy and upgrade model.

To say that this has not been received well is an understatement!

I watched in absolute horror on Twitter yesterday as the amount of bad feeling towards this change escalated, and all the goodwill Smile have built up over the years seemed to be evaporating in front of my eyes.

The uproar appears to be mainly over the subscription model and more importantly, the way it is being implemented.

Before examining some of the issues surrounding the controversy, I should say that TextExpander v6 for teams and businesses seems to be a great product, and the new sharing feature should be a perfect fit for teams or companies.

It’s how the new subscription service impacts individuals or casual users of TextExpander that has caused such bad feeling.

  • Firstly, the existing apps and syncing via Dropbox and iCloud will continue to work, but there will be no further development on the current apps. In the short to medium term, this means people can continue working with the current app and existing syncing mechanisms. In the longer term, there is no guarantee that a future OS release will not break the app or the syncing mechanism.
  • Secondly, to move to TextExpander v6 you need to adopt the subscription model. There is no Freemium option for people with casual or limited requirements. A large percentage of the people complaining on Twitter seemed to either think the subscription cost was too expensive, or that the app did not warrant a subscription service — they would prefer to buy the software outright as well as control the syncing themselves. The overwhelming feeling is that people are being forced to move to an overly expensive subscription model. This is perceived as a money grab by the developers and an unnecessary move for a utility application.
  • As far as the improved feature set is concerned, the primary improvement is sharing — many individual users do not consider this to be of sufficient value to move to a subscription based service.
  • Many people also have concerns about security and encryption issues by having the snippets now stored on a central server out of their control. Personally, this isn’t an issue for me as my snippets do not contain any secure or sensitive information.

If TextExpander v6 was launched as an upgraded app for a single upgrade cost, lets say for $20, I’d just buy it. I make so much use of TextExpander that it would pretty much be a no-brainer for me. I like the product and I like the company, and I want to support them.

But even as a business owner who can purchase software or services as an ongoing business expense, the thought of paying $48 per year for a utility app caused me to evaluate the proposition more carefully.

It’s certainly not a no-brainer.

After 24 hours, I’ve had time to reflect on my position.

As an existing customer, I get the first month free and a 50% discount for the first year — that brings the cost down to $24, roughly what I would have had no issue with paying for an annual update. What happens after the first year is up for debate, but I’m sure Smile will take on board the outcry and make some adjustment for future years. But that’s a gamble.

A correctly priced subscription model does offer some advantages to both the developer and the customer.

  • It allows for the customer to receive continuous improvements and updates in a timely fashion. With the more traditional model, any new features have to be bundled up in major releases, which can add delays of months or even years before new features are released.
  • The major benefit to the developer is that it smooths out their revenue stream and allows them to plan and more effectively manage their business.

However, the launch of TextExpander v6 could have been implemented in a much less damaging way.

To effectively remove the current syncing arrangements and replace it with no other option but a paid service (even if discounted for the first year) was always going to cause friction. To not have an option for casual users is a definite mistake.

In hindsight (and hindsight is a wonderful thing), it might have been better for Smile to follow the 1Password approach and just launch the subscription service for teams who would absolutely benefit from the new sharing functionality. Once the web based service was established, they could then build out the new service with more functionality before optionally extending it to individuals.

But it’s not for me to presume how to tell them to run their business. Smile is a team of very smart people, I’m sure that they considered many alternatives and this may not have been feasible. Or they may have other reasons why they needed to take this dramatic step.

Either way, the damage is done and I’m seeing lots of people moving away from the TextExpander platform. Many of these people would have upgraded to TextExpander v6 had it adopted a more traditional approach, for around the same costs for the first 12 months. The uproar has brought alternatives to TextExpander front and centre, all of them cheaper and without the overhead of the subscription service.

So what am I going to do?

As an existing customer, I’ll take advantage of the free trial and 50% discount for the first twelve months and hope that Smile listen to the outcry and address it in some way. I’ll monitor more closely my usage of TextExpander over the next 12 months and see if I do actually make any use of the sharing service. I’ll see if the new centralised service takes away some of the friction of syncing snippets between all my Macs. I’ll just try and evaluate if it’s worth it.

Just saving time by using text expansion isn’t enough to justify the expense anymore as there are real alternatives.

I wish Smile well in their endeavours, and I hope they retain enough customers to make the subscription service work, I just wish they’d handled its implementation differently.

Originally published at My Own Reality.

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    Mac, iPad and iPhone Video Tutorial Producer - ScreenCastsOnline.com

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