Oh dearie me. I do get a bit annoyed when companies I’ve been doing business with for quite some time lose the plot. And that’s what seems to have happened to Smile, creators of the actually very good TextExpander apps for OS X and iOS.
TextExpander, for those not familiar with it, is, as its name suggests, a utility which lets you store blocks of text and have them typed in for you at the press of a shortcode – before I had a Mac, I used something similar on Windows, and it’s one of those things I really like to have. TextExpander was an ideal solution for me, and it was one of the first apps I bought for my Mac Mini back in early 2008.
Since then, I’ve been happy to buy an upgrade every couple of years. It’s one of the essential things I install when I get a new Mac.
It can do clever things with variables, so you’re not restricted to fixed bodies of text – I use it for my daily report titles, so I just have to type a code of my choice to get the title filled in with the current date, which saves a bit of time, and avoids typos, me forgetting the date and other such things. It does a lot more that I don’t need, but that’s fine – it does what I need it to and it’s been reasonably priced. It happily syncs all my bits with Dropbox, so I have the same setup on the iMac and the MacBook Air, which is just how I like things to work.
But it seems the developers have decided that they don’t want to do that any more. The new version 6 is now tied to a subscription. You no longer buy software updates, you’ll just get them as they’re ready, so long as you’re a paying customer. This is all tied up with a new website, the ability to share your snippets with other subscribers (not something I need, and I suspect not something most home users particularly need). And while there’s an initial discount, the basic price of this subscription is on the order of $5 a month. With the general volatility of exchange rates, you might as well call it £3. Now that’s not a huge amount of money, but let’s do a comparison with some software I currently have on subscription:
Adobe Creative Cloud Photographer’s plan – that gives me Lightroom and Photoshop for £8.57 a month. This is actually good value, and much less painful than paying for full upgrades every year or two.
Microsoft Office 365 – gives me the latest versions of Office for all my Macs, and I can also install on Windows and other devices, all for £7.99 a month, which is again much easier than paying the eye-watering prices Microsoft used to charge for the full suites.
So, is TextExpander worth a third of Lightroom and Photoshop? Or Nearly half of MS Office? Well, no. Not even close.
It looks like they’re hoping that their even more expensive business package will catch on with businesses who want their users to share text snippets. Perhaps they’re right, and there’s a huge untapped market for this, and they’ll Smile all the way to the bank. And perhaps not…
While Smile have said they’ll continue to support the current version on OS X 10.11 and “the next release”, I’ll be looking for alternatives. I’m quite happy to pay moderate amounts for useful software, and to buy the serious expensive stuff by subscription, but I can’t see that a subscription model makes any sense for an easily replaceable utility.
It’s also worth noting that if you do go for the subscription, your data lives on their servers. If your subscription lapses, it seems the app won’t even let you see the data you’ve entered. That’s not very friendly at all.