On The New TextExpander

Today Smile introduced a new version of TextExpander for the Mac and iOS along with a beta for Windows users. Along with the new apps came a major change to the platform. The team at Smile have built their own web application, hosted at TextExpander.com, that is the backbone for storing, syncing and managing snippet data. These new versions of TextExpander will no longer rely on third party applications like Dropbox or iCloud for sync.

I’ve been using the service in beta for a couple of months now and I’ve been very happy with the performance. I haven’t had any problems with sync or speed. In my experience, it just works. As someone who has to spend some time working on a Windows machine at the office, I’m especially excited about their Windows beta.

Having their own service means Smile can do much more with TextExpander in the future, and I know they have big plans. For now they’ve placed a emphasis on group sharing and support for teams. If you have a business, you can now setup your team members with a TextExpander account and ensure that a core group of snippets are shared and synced across your members, managed and updated by an administrator. As an attorney who works in an office with several people, all of them Windows users, I find the idea of having an office snippet collection to use for boilerplate language, letters and other correspondence a fascinating idea.

Changes in the platform also meant a change to the pricing structure and moving TextExpander to a subscription based service. Not surprisingly, that has been a very controversial decision. An individual plan costs $4.95 a month ($3.96 when billed annually) while a team plan costs $9.95 ($7.96 when billed annually) per user per month. Smile is offering a 50% loyalty discount for the individual plan for the first year for existing TextExpander users. All plans come with a 30 day trial. Additionally, previous versions of TextExpander continue to work, but future OS compatibility is not guaranteed.

There are many who are not happy about the move to a subscription service. While there will always be those who complain about paying anything for software, most of the complaints I’ve heard about this transition are from individual users who are not sure they can justify the $5 monthly price for the value the new TextExpander offers. T.J. Luoma, who was a guest on Mac Power Users discussing automation tools, including TextExpander, wrote a post today I think nicely summarizes some of the frustration.

In a post on Smile’s blog, Greg Scown, founder of Smile, explained the pricing decision:

Instead of license purchases and upgrades on an irregular schedule, we’ve switched to a subscription model where you pay monthly or annually for your TextExpander service. This lines up with the regular costs to provide an online service. It also frees you as customers and us as developers from the “upgrade treadmill.” We can offer our apps free of charge. We can deliver incremental improvements as they’re ready rather than wait and package them all into a new “big” upgrade release. We’re really excited about what this change will allow us to offer our customers, and we hope you are too.

Greg makes some excellent points. While the benefits of TextExpander.com may not be immediately obvious to individual users, it appears to be the necessary next step in Smile’s vision for the future of TextExpander.

There’s also another important benefit to the new model, Smile has a steady revenue stream with which to continue development of their products. If you take a look at the company’s “About Us” page, you’ll see more than a dozen smiling faces of real people who work at Smile and depend on the revenue their apps and services generate.

Personally, I don't like subscription models for software and I wish there was a better way. However, as someone who has used Smile’s products daily for years, I want to make sure this team is able to continue developing the products I’ve come to rely on.

I’m not a fan of this new App economy. While there’s no perfect solution to the many problems with App pricing and sustainability, I hope this is the year that Apple, the developers and consumers can find some happy middle ground.

Disclosure: Smile is a sponsor of Mac Power Users.