iOS Dev

The Day One App Goes Premium

I've written about the iOS app Day One before. It is a very powerful yet simple and elegant digital journaling app and I have been using it daily now for almost 5 years now (it will be 5 years in September). With 3 kids and a very busy life I have really enjoyed writing in my journal on a daily basis. Plus, it really helps me keep track of things I have done, places I have been and people I have met and interacted with. As I get older my memory fails me more and more so any help I can get is a win.

The folks at Day One have recently announced a new "premium" subscription service. Actually, saying they have introduced a new service isn't the best way to describe the change. Day One's revenue model has changed. Day One used to get their revenue from the sale of their apps (iOS and Mac) as well as their optional physical book printing service. But like many developers these days they have been struggling to make enough money to keep developing the application and to take it where they want to go with it. I have actually been worried about this for a while now. Since this is an app I use daily I really didn't want to see it go away and just the other day I was wondering how much longer the app would be around. Now, hopefully, I won't have to worry so much. Maybe...

The Day One ratings on the iOS and Mac app stores have taken a bit of a beating. There are obviously a vocal group of users out there that feel that an app like Day One should not be going down the subscription service path. I couldn't disagree more. Today's app landscape makes it very difficult for developers to create and continue to develop quality apps and at the same time afford to feed themselves. There have been way too many apps over the years that I have come to depend on that just vanish because their revenue dries up and they have to move on.

The Day One Premium subscription for me makes sense. In fact, right before I starting writing this article I subscribed to the service. I have nearly 5 years of memories locked away inside my Day One app I want to continue using the app for many years to come. I also currently use the app at work as well to keep track of accomplishments throughout the year so I have a record when it comes time for my annual performance reviews and I use the Mac app for that purpose. However, when version 2 of Day One came out I really didn't need to upgrade the Mac app. The Mac app is a bit more expensive and at the time I wasn't using enough features on the Mac at work to justify the expense. But now that I am a premium subscriber I get the $50 Mac app for free. And I have another future use for the Day One app as well. I intend to start using it as a beer tasting journal. I love trying new craft beers and I had originally been using Tap Cellar for that, but Tap Cellar couldn't bring in enough revenue in today's app environment and it stopped being developed. So I moved over to Untapped, but I have never been all that happy with the app/service. So I plan to start logging my beer tastings in a dedicated Day One journal. So between my daily personal journal, my work accomplishments journal and my soon to be beer tasting journal it is well worth it for me to subscribe to the premium service.

So how does this new revenue model for Day One work? Day One has a great FAQ page that explains all the details, but in summary here are the 3 main options for using Day One going forward:

Basic: This is for anyone that downloads the Day One after June 29, 2017. They are limited to a single journal, one photo per entry, no cloud services and no access to future app features. So this is essentially a demo or trial app.

Plus: This is for anyone who had already purchased the newer version 2.0 of the Day One app (back before it went free on June 29, 2017). Those users will continue to have access to all of the features in the existing Day One app. The app will also continue to get maintenance updates but you won't have access to new features as they are rolled out in the future.

Day One Premium: This is their new subscription service and is the main focus for the company going forward. With the monthly or yearly subscription service you get the following:

  • Unlimited number of journals
  • Unlimited photo storage
  • 25% off all physical book orders
  • The Mac app (a $50 value) for free
  • All future app/service updates like the ability to add video to your journal, audio clips and eventually Day One Web which gives you a web-based access to all of your journals.
  • If you are already a version 2.0 Day One owner you get a discount on the Premium Service (it is only $24.99 a year)

This new premium service won't be for everyone, but I think there are enough users out there like me that truly appreciate a full-featured and well polished app like Day One that they will get enough subscribers to keep the lights on for a long time to come. At least I certainly hope so.

WWDC 2017 Initial Thoughts

IMG_0362.JPG

Apple had an unusually large number of announcements at the WWDC keynote this past Monday. I can't possibly cover all of the new stuff (both hardware and software) that was introduced but I did want to cover just a few of the things that I am most excited about.

iOS Productivity:

I have been using an iPad Pro almost exclusively as my main computer for 18-months now. Despite how well this works (most of the time), there are still quite a few pain points with very specific tasks when using iOS. Apple is eliminating most of those pain points with iOS 11. iOS 11 will include three things that make complex tasks on iOS MUCH easier...a "Dock", "Multi-Tasking" and "Drag & Drop." I can't give these 3 new iOS functions enough description here to do them justice and even if I could it wouldn't mean much until you actually started performing these tasks yourself. Mac Stories has a very good in-depth article about these new features in iOS 11 plus many other feature, so I recommend you read that article if you want more details. You can sum up these 3 new features this way...it is now much easier and flat out enjoyable to perform complex data exchanges and operations between apps in iOS with these 3 new features. Because these are all gestured based actions you really need to get hands on to fully understand the potential, so most of us will need to wait until this Fall when iOS 11 is released. I can't wait...

iOS File Management:

The closest thing we have to file management on iOS today is iCloud Drive and it's just "ok." With iOS 11 Apple is introducing a dedicated file management app called "Files" that will work with iCloud as well as other 3rd party cloud services like DropBox and Google Drive. Also the Files app will (finally) bring tagging to iOS, so now you can tag files on iOS and on the Mac. For someone like me who is working mostly on iOS I wasn't able to take advantage of tagging on the Mac because it didn't carry over to the iPad. Now it will.

Apple Pay:

Two really important announcement by Apple concerning Apple Pay. One, Apple Pay will be a payment option at over 50% of US retailers by the end of the year. That is huge if Apple can actually pull that off. Right now Apple Pay is only a payment option for me at a small fraction of the places I shop. I also notice that several places I shop tell me they don't take Apple Pay but when I try it the payment goes through. Apple has a lot of room for improvement here but it sounds like they are expecting to make improvements. The other announcement concerning Apple Pay is that Apple will be rolling out a person-to-person payment option using Apple Pay via iMessage. So you will be able to use iMessage to send someone money using Apple Pay and that payment will be stored on an all new Apple Pay "cash card." Once you have money on your "cash card" you can then use that balance to make other purchases or transfer it to your bank. There weren't a ton of details about how this is going to be implemented or what if any fees will be involved but I love the idea of being able to quickly send money like this...its both secure and convenient.

Lock Screen & Control Center Changes/Enhancements:

Because of the new Dock in iOS 11 (which you activate by swiping up from the bottom of the screen...which is how you used to activate Control Center) Control Center access is changing. In iOS 11 Control Center will be accessed from the main notification (lock) screen which will be accessed by swiping down (like you used to do for performing a search). Recent notifications, all notifications, Control Center, Search, Widgets and quick access to the camera will now all be accessible from the notification (lock) screen. Apple is also enhancing the interface of Control Center and packing in more useful controls and taking advantage of 3D Touch to access even more controls. This is another set of features that is hard to really describe until you get hands on with it, but I'm optimistic that Apple made things easier to get to with these changes. But they are changes so be prepared.

Do Not Disturb While Driving:

Apple is extending its Do Not Disturb feature to driving. It is doing this by detecting when the iPhone is in a moving car and asking the user if they wish to enable this mode. When you are in the Do Not Disturb While Driving mode most function will not be available including receiving text notifications. For the most part your iPhone will be a black screen except for certain applications like Maps for driving directions. But Apple is being smart about this. For example, if you get a text while in this mode the sender will receive an automatic reply telling them you are driving and will get back to them soon. The sender can then choose to override the block if the message is urgent. You also have the option of setting up certain contact to ALWAYS break through the Do Not Disturb While Driving mode. And of course, if you try and access an app like Safari or a game while driving the phone will give you a message that those functions are disabled while driving, but it will give you an option to tell your iPhone you aren't driving (for example, if you are a passenger in a moving car). Distracted driving is a huge problem and I'm glad to see Apple at least giving people an option to be responsible and safe drivers. I just hope people choose to do so. They guy I passed on the highway this morning on my way to the airport sure wan't making the right choice...he was reading a book while driving on the freeway!

watchOS 4:

The next version of the Apple Watch operating system, watchOS 4, comes out this Fall as well and there are quite a few exciting new features there as well. All of these features look to be available to all Apple Watches. The features I am most excited about are:

  • An all new Siri watch face that uses machine learning to automatically adjust the style and information on the watch face based on what information it thinks you need at that time
  • An upgraded Apple Music interface on the Apple Watch, making it much easier to jump into Apple Music and start listening to music right from your Apple Watch. The real audience for this feature are Air Pod owners.
  • An upgraded Workout interface including the ability to quickly switch from one type of workout to another and support for high intensity workouts
  • The Apple Watch will now have a safety feature you can enable while running at night which turns your Apple Watch into a blinking light

Those are the things that most excited me about this past Monday's announcements. I'm sure we will be getting more details as it gets closer to the Fall release of iOS 11 and watchOS 4.

How to Buy Super Mario Run for the Whole Family

If you are part of a super geeky gaming family you have probably already heard about the newly released iOS game called Super Mario Run. This is the first major Nintendo game to come to the app store in a "console-like" game. The unique aspect of this game compared to other Mario games is that it was designed specifically to be able to be played with a single hand (in portrait mode on your iPhone). This makes it a great game to play when in line at the store or while killing a few minutes in a waiting room.

But just like other major Nintendo games, Super Mario Run is not cheap. The initial app download is free, but if you want to play more than the first 3 stages you must buy the full game via in-app-purchase (which is $9.99 in the United States). From what I have played of the game so far I would say the game is well worth the $9.99. But if you have an entire family that wants the game it will set you back a bit more. The reason why is that in-app-purchases are not shared between family members utilizing Apple's Family Sharing. This means that each member of your family that wants the full Super Mario Run game is going to have to pay the $9.99.

Why did Nintendo do it this way? In my opinion, they didn't do it as a money grab. They wanted to get Super Mario Run in as many people's hands as possible and the best way to do that is by offering a free game. That way people get a taste of what to expect from the full game and are more likely to pay the $9.99 and unlock the full game. If there was no way to download a free version of the game then quite a few less people would risk buying a comparatively expensive game like Super Mario Run without having played it first. Now, Nintendo could have offered 2 different version of the game...a "lite" version for free and a separate "non-lite" version that was the full $9.99 asking price. This would have allowed family members to share the Super Mario Run game with the entire family and only have to purchase it once. To be fair though, most major developers have pretty much abandoned the whole "lite" version of apps and have instead just offered upgrades to the full game via in-app-purchase. After all, if you develop a "lite" version of the app it does take extra development resources.

So what if you want to avoid having to buy multiple in-app-purchases to appease your gaming hungry family? All is not lost. I have two options for you...

Share the Old-Fashioned Way

The easiest way around this issue is to just buy the full game via in-app-purchase on a single device and then share that device with everyone in the family that wants to play the game. Each person in the family can have their own Nintendo account and log in and out of that single device. This is not an ideal solution, but honestly how long will everyone in the family be playing this game. You will probably beat it in a few weeks (or days or even hours depending on just how much time you spend gaming) and then you will be done with the game.

The Complicated Work-Around

There is another way to get around having to buy Super Mario Run multiple times and that is to log out of the iCloud account of each member of your family's device and login with your Apple ID. Assuming you have already made the in-app-purchase of the full game with your Apple ID you can then restore your purchase on their device and then logout of your iCloud account and back into their's. Its a rather complicated workaround and you must follow the step exactly otherwise you risk making multiple purchases anyway. I am not detailing the step here because I really don't recommend doing this. For one thing, this option is a hack. Since Apple doesn't allow in-app-purchases to be shared within family sharing this method is circumventing Apple's intentions. This means that at any time Apple may patch this hole and do an additional check on the current logged in Apple ID each time you fire up the app and this workaround will stop working. Also, this method is complicated and involves logging in and out of Apple ID/iCloud accounts and any time you do this you take a slight risk at data loss. But it does work. So if you have the patience to follow a long set of steps and don't mind taking a bit of risk...be my guest. Just do a search on "Super Mario Run family share" and you will find several articles detailing the process.

In summary, I would still recommend buying the in-app-purchase and then sharing the device your made the purchase on with other members of your family. You might also want to wait until Dec 23-27 when iTunes Connect goes down for the holidays and many app developers will choose to put their apps on sale. Its possible Nintendo will reduce the price of the in-app-purchase over the holidays as a way to spur more sales. But that's a big maybe. With an app that was just newly released they may not need a lower price to drive more sales. But just in case you might wait until Dec 23rd...it might save you a few bucks.

Raise a Pint for TapCellar

IMG_0143.PNG

TapCellar is no more. It has been pulled from the app store like so many apps before it that just couldn't turn a reasonable profit. I wrote a review of TapCellarquite a while ago. For several years it was was beer logging app of choice. Ultimately I ended up switching over to a more social app, but I more than got my money's worth out of the app and really enjoyed using it.

The guys behind TapCellar also do a podcast called Nerds on Draftwhere they talk about a wide variety of nerdy things all while enjoying some really tasty beer. In their latest episode, "Blood Lust and the Death of TapCellar", they talk about the process they went through to create the app and what lead them to ultimately take the app down off the app store. If you at all interested in what it takes to put an app up for sale on the app store or are interested in the craft beer industry, this particular episode of Nerds on Draft is not to be missed.

I think ultimately the whole economics behind being able to make a go of small independent app development will work itself out, but not before it kills a lot of really good and unique apps like TapCellar. TapCellar was created by a couple of guys are craft beer aficionados, and more specifically for people who have a real passion for craft beer. If you are at all into craft beer then you already spend a pretty penny each time you spring for this refreshing beverage. Somehow you have convinced yourself that the premium cost of a craft beer is worth it. But many of these same people (people who are willing to spend anywhere from $5 to $20+ on a pint of craft beer) were absolutely outraged at they had to pay a few bucks for TapCellar app (an app they could use almost daily for years compared to a pint of beer that would last maybe an hour). Somewhere along the line society was brain-washed that all mobile apps should be free. Well, there is no such thing as free. Take a listen to this podcast and you will hear about the blood sweat and tears required to make an app, much less the relentless money suck of items required to make it all happen. Hopefully as society goes more and more mobile that perception of value will change, otherwise we are going to be stuck with crap apps from large app developers that make money by pimping your personal data to the highest bidder.

TextExpander and the Trend of Subscription-Based Apps

Smile, the makers of TextExpander for Mac and iOS are the most recent app maker to make the jump to subscription-based application development. Some of the larger companies like Microsoft and Adobe did it quite a while ago. But TextExpander is a utility and Microsoft 365 and the Adobe line of products are behemoths. So as you might expect there had been quite the public outcry on Smile's move to a subscription based service.

First a little bit about TextExpander for those who aren't familiar with the application. TextExpander is a utility that allows you to create text-based shortcuts for commonly used words, phrases or even large blocks of text. Then when you type this shortcut, the TextExpander app expands the shortcut to the full text. So if you find yourself typing something over and over again, this handy little utility can save you a lot of time. But the application does even more than that. It also has the ability to design in fill-in-the-blank or multiple choice style inputs into a text expansion so that you can essentially create a template for large blocks of text like emails or even documents.

Now on to the controversy. Until just a few days ago TextExpander was a standalone app (both on the Mac and iOS) that you paid for once and used as long as you liked. I use TextExpander on more than one Mac, so I opted to get the family pack of licenses for my Macs, which was $45 and another $5 for the universal iOS app. Smile updated TextExpander last year, so last October I updated all of my devices with the latest version, TextExpander 5. Before that I had owned TextExpander 4 for several years and paid about the same amount of money for that version of the apps. So up until now I have had about 5 years of TextExpander usage for around $100, or about $20 a year.

Enter the new subscription model. Smile is now shifting over to a new service where all of the applications are free to download, but in order to use the new versions of the applications you must pay the yearly subscription fee (which gives you access to any snipits you create and store on their servers...the new versions of the app does not have DropBox as a sync option). There are several different subscription options, but the one targeted for most individual users is the "Life Hacker" subscription, which is $3.96 a month (billed annually, which is $47.52 a year). Smile just updated their pricing based on customer feedback and the 50% discount off the 1st year for existing customers is now a lifetime discount. See the Smile Blog for all the details.

So there lies the rub. For most users, the subscription model is going to end up costing them more. If you are an existing user then your first year is 1/2 off, so only ~$24 and then it will be the full $47.52 a year after that. So for me even with the price increase the app is still worth paying the subscription for and here's why. TextExpander keeps track of the number of snipits you have used and the number of characters you have expanded and calculates the time saved by using the snipit shortcuts. Below are my statistics:

 You can see I didn't use TextExpander much while on Spring Break in late March... 

You can see I didn't use TextExpander much while on Spring Break in late March... 

As you can see from my stats I have saved about 27 hours of time by using TextExpander. Do I type faster than 80 words per minute, probably but I haven't logged my typing speed since high school. Let's just say for argument sake that I've only saved 20 hours of my time. That's half a work week...nothing to sneeze at. In my current job, I used TextExpander quite heavily but that has only been the case for last couple of years. But let's just evenly divide my 20 hours of timed saved over 5 years evenly, which comes to 4 hours per year. Before taxes my hourly rate is around $50, so saving 4 hours per year is the equivalent of $200. If I just leave it at that simplification alone then it is well worth the $50 a year for me to save 4 hours of my time. But it really isn't that simple, because TextExpander ends up saving me a lot more than time...it saves me a lot of frustration. While my job is quite technical (engineering), it is also very email and data intensive (everybody loves email right?). So if I am having to run off to a meeting and I need to just get one more email out and that email is my monthly status email, instead of having to put it off until later TextExpander makes it fast and easy enough for me to quickly dispatch that I can get it done before I have to run. That saves me from having yet one more task to do when I get back from my meeting. It also makes a very repetitive task like regular monthly status emails so much more tolerable. Annihilating frustration is worth it's weight in gold, so it makes that $200 a year savings a secondary factor...at least for me.

This whole switch to subscription-based applications is something that we did to ourselves. I can't even begin to tell you how many people I talk to that end up uttering the phrase "oh, it's not a free app." They are all excited about hearing what an app can do until they hear they actually have to pay for it. The iPhone and the iOS App Store brought with it a scale of available applications that was not even imaginable just a handful of years ago. The large iOS user base and the metric shit-ton (and I use that exact term for a reason) of applications out there has lead to the rapid decline of the average selling price of mobile applications into the proverbial basement. So if people aren't willing to buy applications anymore (or least expect to buy them once and then receive free updates to that application for the rest of their natural born lives), then developers are really only left with two options. Either find an alternative way to make money from the app, like In-App-Purchases or advertising revenue. Or, get around the whole (I paid for that app 5 years ago, what do you mean they are charging for version X of that app now?) by switching to a subscription model. I find In-App-Purchases a bit annoying and can't stand ads, so given the choice I would pick a subscription based model any day. But then again I have no problem paying for an app over and over again if the major paid-for app release schedule is reasonable and the updates are substantial (and of course I heavily use the application). The important thing is, that the app developer has a sustainable business model so they can continue to hang around and keep developing the app I have grown accustomed to using. See my "Saying Goodbye to Circus Ponies Notebook" post to see what happens when a developer doesn't have a sustainable business model.

So you have to make your own choice about what apps you find valuable enough to pay for. If you have been trained to appreciate the vast expanse of free apps littering the landscape these days, then enjoy those free apps. Hey, I like free apps too. But I also like apps that don't disappear into the ether just about the time they get firmly entrenched into my workflow. There is nothing wrong with looking at Smile's new subscription model and determining that it's just not worth it to you. That's ok. For many people this will be the case. But there are many free "TextExpander-like" options out there. Also, you can continue to use Verison 5 of TextExpander, probably for quite some time yet, before running into operating system compatibility issues...so there really is no need to jump ship just yet. But I suspect there will be more than enough of us that still find the utility that TextExpander provides worth the price of admission to keep the lights on at Smile for a bit longer.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.