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.