For many years now I have been an avid user, and eager evangelist for, a Mac app called TextExpander. TextExpander allows you to create snippets that you can invoke with shortcuts, and those snippets can range from the simple to the very complex, as in the URL conversion snippet I blogged about recently.

TextExpander has worked really well for me on all my Macs. I have it configured to sync my snippets over DropBox, and it just works. I have years of problem-free text expansion under my belt now with TextExpander. From my point of view, there was no problem to be solved – the app just worked!

The app was sold as a standard app – pay full price once, then pay a reduced price for future upgrades. I bought in at version 3, and have paid to upgrade to versions 4, and then 5. I’m in Ireland, so I do everything in Euro, so after currency conversion, my total spend on TextExpander for the last five years is a little under €65. Not a €0.99 app by any means, but a reasonable and fair price IMO.

Yesterday, TextExapnder 6 was launched, and it comes with an unexpected surprise – a whole new business model! The app has gone subscription – all syncing is now through their private cloud, whether you like it or not, and, you have to pay a monthly fee to use the app. If you pay the monthly fee annually you get a bit of a discount, so you can get the app for $47.52 per annum. Existing users get a 50% discount for one year.

So – is this a positive development for long-time and very happy users like myself?

If it Ain’t Broke …

There is an old adage – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. From a user point of view, TextExpander was not broken. It was not missing critical features. It was not even missing ‘nice to have’ features IMO. It worked perfectly, and like every other TextExpander user I know, I loved it.

What’s in it for me?

What advantage do I get from this change? NOTHING!

I had syncing that worked perfectly, and on my terms. The whole app in fact worked perfectly. My wish-list for new features was empty. It was as close to perfect as any piece of software I have ever used.

What do I lose?

What disadvantage do I get for all this?

I now lose control of my data. I have no choice but to trust Smile’s in-house and utterly un-tested cloud. It MIGHT work perfectly, but it was built by humans and is brand new, so odds are it wont. Maybe it’ll just be buggy, but, it could very well expose all my data due to some as yet on discovered bug.

I use DropBox. They have earned my trust, and critically, it was my decision to trust them with my stuff.

Smile (the makers of TextExpander) have taken that decision out of my hands with their new model.

The other obvious disadvantage is price. Total cost of ownership for the last five years was a little under €65. Given current exchange rates, including the 50% discount for the first year, and, ignoring VAT*, the TCO for the next 5 years will be about €190 ($213.84).

That’s an approximately three-fold price increase!

* Ireland changed its VAT rules in January, so I did not pay VAT for the last 5 years, but I will for the next 5, and that’s not TextExpander’s fault, so it would be unfair to include it.

Are Smile Stupid?

A great app like TextExpander was not built by idiots, so, clearly, there is something else going on here. I think this decision is stupid, but I don’t think the people that make up the company are. Even smart people can, and do, make spectacular errors of judgement.

I tweeted Smile to ask them why they were doing this, and, their reply was that the fancy new teams product they have would not have been possible on DropBox. This new cloud makes their new product for teams possible.

OK – so, the new service needs its own cloud. That service is of no value to users like me. The new service is presumably designed to expand the customer base by attracting a whole new demographic.

That’s no bad thing. And, for the teams product, the Software as a service model makes sense. That product is even more expensive than the personal product I described above, so I’m not sure it will sell TBH. Is the syncing of snippets really as valuable as the entire Microsoft groupware suite? Why do I ask such a ridiculous question? Because their pricing implies the two are of equal value!

Running your own cloud is expensive – so you have to charge people for it. Microsoft have scale, Smile do not. So, Microsoft can offer their entire groupware suite for about $10 per person per month, while Smile need to charge that much for just a snippet sharing service.

It sucks to be the small guy!

It’s also possible that the cloud service would need to be even more expensive for teams if they were the only users. So Smile may need to suck us regular users into their cloud, just to make it float. I’ve not seen the books, but I do understand the economics of scale, so this bit is just informed speculation on my part.

All that is irrelevant though – I would argue that making things actively worse for your existing users in the hope of attracting new users is a dumb move!

Not Smiling

So – I get nothing new of value to me, I lose control of my data, and, I get to pay three times as much for the pleasure – NOT HAPPY!

As an existing customer, I feel Smile Software utterly misunderstand me, my concerns, and what it is about their product that I like and don’t like. When you’re out of touch, you do dumb things, and IMO, this is a very dumb thing that show Smile don’t understand their existing customer base very well at all.

This all reminds me of the time EverNote ruined their whole UI to bring in an alarms feature no one asked for or wanted. They had to back-peddle and put back the three-pane view so many people like me wanted.

When software companies are mistaken about the things their customers value, they make poor decisions.

If anyone from Smile reads this – I know you are good people. I just think you made a bad decision, and I really hope you have the courage to re-evaluate it before you drive long-time customers like me away.