The TextExpander subscription snafu

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Smile switched the TextExpander business model to a subscription plan last week, and the response was close to vitriolic from the community. I decided to hold off on saying anything until I had a bit more info.

Let me start by saying Smile is a current and long-time supporter of both my blog and my podcast, Systematic, and I’m a long time user and lover of Smile’s software. I will avoid bias as best I can, but a tilt in favor of Smile and its developers is going to be hard to avoid. Fortunately, there’s great news that I’ll get to in a moment.

The major mistake in the announcement of the new model was a failure to explain the benefits of it, or to provide any major new features along with it that would be relevant to individual users. The touted benefit of the subscription model was group sharing, which is really an enterprise feature, and it felt like individual users were being forced to pay for something they didn’t require.

TextExpander users have been quite satisfied with the current Dropbox/cloud sync for their snippets. What Smile left out of the marketing was that the current system had hit some limitations, and the move to a hosted service opened a new world of possibilities for feature development. Easy sharing and updating of snippets between users (without having to have a hosted URL) is only the first benefit; it also makes possible improved compatibility between platforms (Windows version in beta), things like Zapier and IFTTT integration and automation, and a host of new features they’re excited about (but can’t share yet).

The new model also ends the repetitive upgrade system. Once users are on the subscription plan, updates will come seamlessly, frequently, and without extra charge or major version bumps. Most of us have been upgrading regularly at a cost that comes out to about the same as a year-long subscription.

At face value, the switch was a jolt to me as well, so I understand the anger from current users. I think that a clearer explanation and a slower upgrade path would have made things much smoother. Apparently Smile, in retrospect, thinks so as well, as they’ve just announced an update to the release.

Previous customers gets a 50% lifetime discount on a subscription plan, and can opt to do a monthly plan at $2.08/month while deciding whether to invest in the yearly plan.

TextExpander 5 for Mac and TextExpander 3 for iOS (standalone, Dropbox/iCloud Drive versions) will be available (and supported) on a continuing basis.

With a small pricing change and the promise of continued availability and support for standalone versions, I think the door is open for a smoother switchover. Once development based on the new sync platform begins to offer more compelling features for individual users, I hope that the subscription model will become attractive—rather than upsetting—to those who already love TextExpander.