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Rhymes With Diploma TextExpander 6 (Or: How NOT to launch your SaaS)

The problem is that I just don’t understand why I should pay $4-$5/month to use TextExpander 6.

Today, Smile Software released version 6 of TextExpander, and announced that it will be a subscription service with a monthly fee. While I understand why Smile wants people to sign up for Software As A Service (SaaS), I have no idea why I would want to pay them a monthly fee for TextExpander.

Let me be clear: I have been a TextExpander user for a long, long time. In fact, I was a “Textpander” user before there was ever a TextExpander. That was 10 years ago. I talked about TextExpander on MacPowerUsers, and I wrote about it. I replied to people who said “Why is it so expensive?” by saying that it was worth it for something that I use every day.

But as soon as I read about the subscription service, my reaction was simple:

Dear @TextExpander: I love you & have used you since “Textpander”, but there is no way in hell I’m paying $5/month.

Judging from my replies, mentions, and iMessages, there are a lot of people who feel the same way. Searching Twitter for “TextExpander” showed a lot of unhappy users.

But is this just another case of “Users are cheap and don’t value developers’ time?” I don’t think so. I happily signed up for 1Password for Families which will eventually be $5/month, although I could have gotten away with using the app as I have previously. There’s no question that this will be (slightly) more expensive for me in the long term, but after using it for a few days it was obvious that 1Password for Families was going to save me time and frustration. In fact, it was so good that I even said to a few people “I could imagine using 1Password for Families even as an individual, just for the bonus features.”

There’s the rub for Smile and TextExpander: I don’t see anything that I really need in TextExpander version 6. I’m not using it with a “team” and my family members probably have no interest in sharing a group of text snippets with me. Yes, I realize that Smile made their own syncing service, but I have used iCloud, Dropbox, and BitTorrent Sync, and they work fine for TextExpander. Creating their own syncing service was solving a problem that I didn’t have.

Compare this to 1Password for Families, which does solve a problem for me (managing multiple vaults of passwords for multiple family members), and it is completely optional, and I can see why 1Password would benefit from steady income; namely, they have to keep working on maintaining and expanding compatibility with _every website on the internet that uses a login form. Oh, and encryption.

Why does Smile need steady income for syncing text snippets? 1Password does something for me that I could never do myself, and does it far better than I could ever come close to doing. On the other hand, TextExpander makes things a little easier, which was enough to justify the initial price of TextExpander and upgrades, but not a monthly fee. Office 365 is $10/month, so I tend to compare any other monthly subscription to that. Is TextExpander worth ½ of Office 365?

To be clear, I’m not saying that the Smile folks are bad, evil, mean, money-grubbers or anything like that. What I am saying is this: as an experienced power-user of your software, I do not have the slightest clue why you decided to make this service mandatory when it seems to offer very little for individual users, and I have no idea why I should pay a monthly fee for something that has worked fine before. What problem does TextExpander 6 solve for me?

I can’t answer that question.

And if I can’t answer that question, Smile has a big problem. They may be 100% right and I may be 100% wrong, but they’ve done themselves a grave disservice in the way they handled this rollout.

Since people have been asking about alternatives:

  1. Personally, I am moving everything to Keyboard Maestro, which can do everything that TextExpander did, and more. There’s no automated process for migrating these, so I’ve just turned off TextExpander expansion, and whenever I find something that doesn’t work, I make a Keyboard Maestro equivalent. Keyboard Maestro is $36, which is less than TextExpander’s previous price. However, since I already owned it, the effective price was $0.
  2. aText - Text macro utility for Mac. will import your TextExpander snippets. You might have to do a little editing, but otherwise it works really well. And it’s only $5. The only downside for some will be that there is no iOS component. That’s not a big deal for me. I plan to keep using the older version of TextExpander on iOS for as long as possible.
  3. TypeIt4Me has Mac and iOS versions, for $20 and $5, respectively. I’ve never used this but I’ve heard a lot of people who like it.
  4. OS X and iOS Text Substitution: This is the cheapest solution, since it is baked into the respective OSes, but it does not handle anything complex, and sync can be unreliable. In fact, someone on Twitter said that he uses this and then said that he didn’t even realize that it was supposed to sync.

Update (12 April 2016): Smile has adjusted their mind about this.

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