TextExpander as Subscription Software

TextExpander as Subscription Software

When Should Software Be a Subscription Service?

I don’t contest the fact that developers need income. I have gladly upgraded TextExpander every time there was a new version, even if the changes weren’t important to me. It’s important to support independent developers, to ensure that the Mac and iOS ecosystems have excellent apps. In addition, the race-to-the-bottom pricing that we’re seeing with the App Store model is preventing developers from making enough profits.

This blew up while I was still recovering from some minor surgery and so I missed most of it as it happened. Kirk McElhearn’s take on the pricing part of the equation is very nearly the same as mine.

Besides the huge increase in average yearly pricing that McElhearn laid out very clearly, I have three major problems with the subscription model:

  1. If TextExpander can’t connect to a server, will the snippets disappear until it can? If there’s no offline mode, TextExpander would be basically useless to me. One of the places I work has a very spotty internet connection. Even on my iPhone, I’m occasionally completely offline, but am still doing work that I would normally use TextExpander for.

  2. I have serious reservations about the security of Smile’s syncing solution. I do not have particularly sensitive information in my snippets, but I do have things like email addresses, physical addresses, and phone numbers. All of that will be stored unencrypted on their servers. They seem to be pushing toward an enterprise market, but the level of security Smile is committing to at this point is inadequate for an only moderately-concerned private user like me.

    In TextExpander’s manual they advise against using it to store anything potentially compromising, like passwords, but for many companies contact information or simply the names and positions of certain individuals in an org chart could be considered sensitive information.

    Usually, in enterprise-level software, companies want to run it on their own servers that they control, and they contract with the software provider for support service for their IT staff. I’m pretty sure most companies who might otherwise consider TextExpander would balk at Smile’s proposed syncing solution.

  3. This move offers zero benefit to me, the user. I don’t use Windows, and haven’t for about 15 years. If I did, I probably would be pretty happy about the announced support for that platform. I don’t work with teams and I don’t share snippets with a group. Having to use someone else’s shortcuts sounds like a special kind of hell to me.

    I have no incentive to “upgrade” other than the stick of eventual obsolescence when the old version breaks. While I could possibly justify the price, given how much I use TextExpander on both OS X and iOS, it’s still a significant jump. The announcement of the pricing change has prompted me to explore other options, and I’m sure I’m not the only formerly-loyal TextExpander user doing so, which can’t be good for Smile’s future sales.

One small misstep like this can drastically change people’s perceptions of your company. Apple can get away with taking away peripheral ports and eliminating optical drives because they generally get it right in the long-term, and sometimes offer temporary fixes in the transition.

Smile probably should have offered a two-tier pricing model: Basic users pay a one-time fee for major updates; “Pro” users pay an additional recurring cost for access to certain capabilities. Most people would have had no negative reaction to that model, and even basic users would have considered the pro upgrade to see if it fit their needs.

Unfortunately, Smile alienated a large section of their most loyal user base with an announcement that made it obvious that Smile’s future priorities and their customers’ priorities are definitely not the same. If it was their way of “firing” those customers in favor of a different user base, as some have speculated, Smile has definitely not put in the kind of work they need to successfully court the enterprise market, even though all of the announced features sound as if they were created for business users over individuals.

For me, ultimately, the problem isn’t the pricing. The problem is that I can’t count on Smile to continue making a product that works the way I want it to work. They’re solving problems I don’t have, and pushing features that make me distrust their future versions.

Apple Pay in Japan

A month with Apple Watch as my wallet

Tom Warren for the Verge:

It all started when I left my house without my wallet. I had ventured out to grab some lunch with no cash or cards to pay for it, only my iPhone or Apple Watch. I’ve used Apple Pay on my iPhone and Watch before, but this was the first time it was actually useful. I paid for a sandwich at my local store with my Watch, and thought nothing more of it.

via: The Loop

Meanwhile, in Japan:

Apple (日本) - Apple Press Info - Apple Pay、モバイルペイメントの変革に向けて10月20日より運用開始

The line at the top 「米国報道発表資料抄訳※—2014年10月17日」 translates as “Selected translation of report released in the US on Oct. 17, 2014”. Like it says on the tin, it’s basically the same text as the original English-language Apple Pay press release. That’s the first and last official news from Apple about Apple Pay that has been released in Japan.

Despite the lack of stated support for Apple Pay in Japan, Touch Lab, an Apple enthusiast site, tested out Apple Pay in February of 2015 to see if it would work with existing NFC terminals and payment systems. Sometimes features aren’t officially supported in other countries, but work anyway. This wasn’t one of those times.

今回試した中では3件中1件で使用できましたが、そもそもEMVコンタクトレスの端末を置いているところがほとんどなく、結局「現状Apple Payは国内でほぼ使えない」ということを再確認しただけでした。

国内では既にFeliCaが普及していることもあり、国際規格であるEMVコンタクトレスの普及が他国より遅れ、日本だけApple Payが使えない状況にならないか心配になります。


My translation:

At one of the three sites tested at this time it was able to be used, but there are almost no EMV Contactless terminals, so in the end the statement, “Apple Pay can’t be used inside Japan”, has to be reaffirmed.

In Japan, FeliCa has already penetrated. The international standard EMV Contactless is penetrating much more slowly than in other countries, so it is worrying that possibly only in Japan, Apple Pay may not be able to be used.

At the Olympics to be held in five years, it is expected that there will be an increase in visitors from overseas. In order to prepare, hopefully terminals [that can process foreign payments] will be increased.

In other words, while elsewhere Apple Pay has been hailed as possibly the best thing about the Apple Watch, a game-changing implementation that might actually bring NFC payments into the mainstream, in Japan it’s a nearly-useless non-feature. Apple has not been able to either work out deals with market incumbents, or push the adoption of systems that integrate with Apple Pay in the year and a half since its US launch and worldwide announcement.

This is not surprising. Despite Japan’s image overseas as a country that is at the forefront of technological progress, it is an often hostile market for foreign products, particularly those that compete with any incumbent technology, and is bewilderingly behind the times in some ways. There are still many places even in Tokyo where you must pay cash; no credit or debit cards are accepted.

The apparent head start Japan had by implementing contactless payment systems, starting with train passes over a decade ago, has stultified, as all too many products developed for the Japanese market do. Japan has a tendency to be first and best with a technology that is quickly superseded, and then are unable to change course due to massive investment, or create an overspecialized version suited only for the peculiarities of the domestic market.

Desiging for the the Japanese market first and foremost has even led to the coining of a phrase, gara-kei (ガラケー) or Galapagos handset, which I mentioned in Why Apple isn’t Japanese nearly four years ago, and explained in more detail in Mobile Internet in Japan a couple of years before that.

While the phrase was first applied to Japan’s overloaded “feature” phones that quickly seemed inferior to “smart” phones, the idea has been applied to other technology. FeliCa is, in my opinion, one of these technological cul-de-sacs that is well-suited to the domestic market, but unlikely to be adopted overseas, and actively interferes with any adoption of international standards. Technology Nazi[1] says, NO APPLE PAY FOR YOU!

  1. Soup Nazi reference provided because I’m old and can’t trust that whippersnappers will get an allusion to a comedy that went off the air around the time they were being conceived.  ↩

Amazon’s Anti-Theft Practices

Josh Eidelson and Spencer Soper writing under the oh-so-Gen-Y title, Amazon’s Story Time Is Kind of a Bummer

Security experts say Amazon’s anecdotal warnings are a natural extension of older corporate loss-prevention tactics, such as frisking employees as they leave a store. “There are people who will never steal. There’s a certain percentage of people that will always steal,” says Pat Murphy, the president of LPT Security Consulting. “You’re always trying to influence that middle group by reminding them there is a high probability they will get caught, and if I get caught, these are the consequences.” Murphy, who spent two decades in retail security after leaving the Dallas police force, says that while the psychology of Amazon’s flatscreen messages is familiar, he’s never heard of anything quite like them.

One of my first non-family jobs was working in the mall. In the year or so that I worked there, we had at least two “loss-prevention” seminars where we were threatened with firing and probable jail time if we stole, including anonymized examples of employees who had been caught. We were encouraged to inform on any employee we saw doing anything slightly dodgy. Almost as an adjunct, we were taught how to spot shoplifters. The reason for the scare tactics and their zealousness in prosecuting was that they reportedly lost more from employee theft than from outside theft.

I later worked for the post office and during our training we were told about the postal inspectors, who we were told had a conviction rate higher than 90 percent. The intended message was: if you do something wrong, you will get caught. This was partially because of universal and pervasive surveillance. Post office centers are built with private passageways[1] set with loopholes that allow inspectors to overlook the entire building, especially the sorting floor, from various vantage points. Employees are never sure whether they are under observation or not. At both places, as a condition of employment, you had to sign an agreement that permitted you, your person, your belongings, and your car to be searched at any time, for any reason.

I had these jobs about 20 years ago. Back then, they used posters tacked to a bulletin board. Now, Amazon uses monitors. This is nothing new. Honestly, I found the medievalesque post office observation practices much more creepy than this seems.

  1. Oh, look, there’s a YouTube video of them!  ↩

What is the Internet?

Leo Mirani for Quartz: Millions of Facebook users have no idea they’re using the internet

Remember this, from earlier this year?

AOL still makes most of its money off millions of dial-up subscribers

In light of the number of people who are still using dial-up access through AOL, even though there are almost certainly better alternatives available1, the lack of awareness many people worldwide show about what constitutes “the internet” should probably not be surprising.

For millions of Americans in the 90s, AOL was the internet, and considering the subscription numbers reported in that article from early 2015, it is almost certainly still considered the internet by those users. And this is in a first-world country with relatively affordable access to data and at least some formal education about technology. In parts of the world with less access to data, where Facebook actively subsidizes internet access through their portal, it should not be shocking that many people don’t draw a distinction, because for them there may not be one.

Facebook’s strategy is surprisingly similar to AOL’s, but much larger in scope. AOL sent CDs with free software and trial codes to everyone in the US. Facebook is doing the contemporary equivalent by subsidizing data on mobile in developing countries. Facebook stands to gain a huge audience worldwide for generations of user adoptions. It’s a very smart strategic use of resources, and seems to be beneficial for everyone involved.

At least for right now. Unlike Google, Facebook has never adopted an aspirational mantra, and we see how well that whole “don’t be evil” thing has been working for Google. Even the best of intentions erode over time.

  1. Maybe not surprising at all, considering how hard it seems to be to cancel an account

Open Voluntary vs. Minimum Mandatory

Mathias Meyer at Paperplanes: “From Open (Unlimited) to Minimum Vacation Policy”:

I was horrified reading this, and it dawned on me how wrong we’ve approached our internal vacation policy. This text sums up exactly what’s wrong with an open vacation policy. People take less time off, and it’s celebrated as a success of giving people more responsibility.

Uncertainty about how many days are okay to take time off can also stir inequality. It can turn into a privilege for some people who may be more aggressive in taking vacations compared to people who feel like their work and their appreciation at work would suffer from being away for too long.

From my experience living and working in Japan, this would be viewed as a feature — not a bug — in most Japanese workplaces. Quitting time and time off are both on an invisibly-adjusted sliding scale, modified by seniority and other opaque social cues. The result is that you are never sure about when you can go home from work. You are never sure about how much time you can take off. You explicitly have only a maximum amount of time you can take off. No one wants to violate social norms and be considered a selfish piece of shit, so no one ever, ever takes all of the time off they are theoretically entitled to.

I honestly would consider killing for a job where the people in charge of the company thought like this:

Starting in 2015, we’ve implemented a minimum vacation policy. Rather than giving no guideline on what’s a good number of days to take off, everyone now has a required minimum of 25 (paid) vacation days per year, no matter what country they live in. When people want to take time off beyond that, that’s good, and the minimum policy still allows for that. But it sets a lower barrier of days that we expect our employees to focus on their own well-being rather than work.

This policy is not just a guideline for our employees, it’s mandatory for everyone, including the people who originally founded the company. As leaders, we need to set examples of what constitutes a healthy balance between work and life rather than give an example that life is all about the hustle.

… instead of the normal Japanese model, where you are expected to show your dedication by working more than everyone else, taking less time off, working longer hours, and do all that extra work without demanding any overtime pay.

Trust Your Designer

… We understand that it’s hard sometimes to let go of the familiar. For instance, we recently had a client that was having a hard time letting go of their preconceived design expectations for their website. They were set on a particular color and typeface that didn’t necessarily appeal to their ideal audience. They were hesitant to allow “white space” (empty space for design purposes) on their website and were adamant about filling up every open spot with their company tagline.

This reminds me of a video I saw recently, featuring an engineer talking to business people. People who don’t know what they don’t know are particularly tiring to deal with. Very few people besides actual designers have any training in design, so nearly every conversation about design must feel a bit like that.

Part of hiring professionals is letting them do their jobs. Presumably, you’re hiring someone to do something you recognize you are unable to execute well, or in some cases at all. Believe me, anyone who isn’t laboring under a cognitive bias recognizes quality when they see it. They also can see when that Dunning–Kruger effect is in full effect by how their eyes bleed from the horrible appearance of a web page and the curses stream from their mouths after their sign-up password is rejected for the third time under previously undisclosed criteria imposed by an incompetent design.

Other fun things for a designer are being told how to do their jobs by someone who would probably not comprehend how anything in my previous links applies to them — but who would oh, so very much benefit from any slight amount of understanding — and being asked to work for free. To the latter, there is only one reply.

To all those who hire professionals and actually trust them to do their work, THANK YOU. The world needs more of you.

Google Ads Everywhere

While Barbara Hambly is no futurist, she nailed this one in Knight of the Demon Queen. She portrayed a slightly more technologically advanced alternate universe in which people have ads playing all around them all the time in order to offset their living costs. Only the well-off can afford to have anything resembling privacy by disallowing advertising.

For the medieval-world character who gets temporarily stuck there, it’s a version of hell. And it appears to be coming to our future. Ain’t technology grand? Remember: at Google their product is you.

Some Games Need to Be Buried

The collapse of Atari as a creative force, and the collapse of the wider industry in the early 1980s, is inevitably a complex tangle of individual failures. If I could personally only draw one scarlet thread out of it, though, it would be this: the people who sold video games no longer respected them. They had no restraint, and they got to a point where they were shipping bad games in ridiculous quantities and expecting idiot punters to continue to buy them. A lack of respect only spreads, and that’s what happened. Those punters weren’t idiotic after all, and they tired of sorting the good stuff from the bad. Atari and its ilk treated games as a gold mine and eventually, as is often the case, as a strip mine. You can make decent money off a strip mine right up until the moment that you suddenly can’t chisel anything more from it at all. And, even at the best of times, nobody wants to actually live next door to a strip mine.

This, in a single paragraph, is what is going wrong with game companies right now. Wil Shipley’s analogy about running a software company was similar: mining vs. farming.

I have a friend who works in the industry. His company doesn’t even start working on a game before they have a monetization model. In other words, they don’t care about what kind of game it is, they start thinking about extracting money before anything else. It’s short-sighted and self-limiting, but it looks good if you’re only thinking about tomorrow.

The backlash is already starting. People who care about games are increasingly becoming soured on mobile platforms. It’s not that you can’t make good games there; the existence of games like Oceanhorn, The Walking Dead, Year Walk and Monument Valley show that it is possible to create good games on iOS (which is pretty much the only place anyone is actually making money, and where developers have more of a chance to make money from direct purchases instead of having to rely on a freemium model).

Cash grabs, like the mobile version of Dungeon Keeper, are destroying what little credibility mobile has left. If this trend doesn’t change, it won’t be long before anyone who actually likes games will give up on mobile completely.

Streaming Music Services Aren’t a Thing in Japan

Why I can’t really get excited about the streaming music services that seem to be all the rage with kids these days:

  • Pandora: not available in Japan
  • Spotify: not available in Japan
  • iTunes Radio: not available in Japan
  • Beats Radio: not available in Japan
  • Google Play Music: missing from the Google Play Store
  • Rdio: not available in Japan

The two streaming services that are available are solidly Japanese-oriented: Sony Music Unlimited and Recochoku.

Sony Music Unlimited

Sony Music Unlimited

レコチョク (Recochoku)

レコチョク (Recochoku)

Yeah, I know, I’d never heard of them either, despite living here.

In an article from last year, Recochoku was featured in the Japan Times in an article about streaming services. It was originally only available for Japanese feature phones from the surprisingly “ancient” (in ’net terms) time of 2001, per The Bridge. Recochoku is an affiliate of Avex Group, a holding company for multiple entertainment subsidiaries (Japanese-language page).

Sony and Avex alone represent roughly 18% of all Japanese music sales, and I wouldn’t expect either organization to voluntarily participate together in a unified streaming service unless there was an enormous upside for them. And they’d still probably insist on running their own competing services.

Given how the Japanese market usually works, and particularly how Sony chooses to operate, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for any foreign incumbent to make inroads in the market. The only one that might have a chance is Apple, and that only because of the popularity of the iPhone and existing deals with distribution through the iTunes store to provide leverage. Beats music alone would have been a total non-starter in Japan. With Apple’s support? It probably still won’t be available for years, if ever.

Sweden to Test 6-hour Workday

How will that work out in productivity? Probably pretty damn well. Sweden’s GDP per capita is better than Japan’s. If you were to divide by hours worked — even by the official numbers, which are bald-faced lies — Sweden’s economic efficiency would look even better.

Meanwhile, in Japan: Unpaid overtime excesses hit young, a Japan Times article from last year. (Spoiler: nothing has changed in a year. Shocker.)

This bit is particularly quote-worthy:

It is also hard to get a realistic grasp of the abuse because workers often fail to log their OT for fear of being penalized by their employers, who are leery of exceeding the 80-hour limit and risking litigation.

Bullshit. Workers are explicitly told by their employers not to log their overtime hours, or they are on salary with no overtime provisions and their hours are not actively tracked. I have no source of inside information to draw on, but this absolutely could not happen on such a widespread — nearly universal — scale without government collusion. In my native US, the companies would have been shaken down by the IRS for blatantly cheating on their taxes if for no other, more humanitarian reason.

In addition to forced unpaid overtime, many companies are increasingly using contract workers (契約従業員 keiyaku jyûgyô-in) in lieu of hiring regular employees (正社員 seisha-in) because they can pay them less, and can quickly cut their workforce whenever they feel like it by simply not offering a new contract at the end of the term. While karôshi abuses were typically suffered by regular employees who had loyalties to the companies to exploit, as well as the Damoclean sword of a pension to hold over them, “black companies” are using the dynamics of the job market and the active lack of enforcement of existing labor laws to vigorously and enthusiastically fuck ahem, exploit an entire generation of Japanese in a way that is arguably even worse than the previous generation was abused.

It’s really no wonder that many young Japanese, particularly men, are actively turning their backs on having a career and instead are viewing contract and part-time jobs as a minimal investment to pursue a solitary and frugal life, without the pressures of attempting to gain anything resembling the previous generation’s mostly-illusory promise of lifetime employment. Sôshoku-kei don’t have ambition, families, or a pension as a handle for their employers to exploit, and they’re apparently completely uninterested in acquiring any of those accoutrements of traditional Japanese society.