As I write this, it has been one year since Smile introduced TextExpander 6 for Mac and TextExpander 4 for iPhone and iPad, along with the bombshell news that the new versions would be free but require a paid subscription at textexpander.com (see “TextExpander 6 Adds Teams and Subscription Billing,” 6 April 2016). The mandatory subscription model provoked cries of dismay among many users, and within days, Smile had responded as we described in “Smile Brings Back Standalone TextExpander, Reduces Subscription Price ” (13 April 2016). Full disclosure: Smile is a longtime TidBITS sponsor, and I have written books about both previous versions of TextExpander and Smile’s PDFpen.
Although I had worked closely with Smile while writing about TextExpander and PDFpen, I was as surprised as anyone when I heard about the subscription model and the tethering of TextExpander to a cloud-served snippet library. At the time, I thought that Smile had put itself into an awkward position: in order to defray the costs of running the TextExpander cloud service the company had to charge a subscription fee, but all Smile could offer customers at the service’s introduction was the promise of more frequent app updates and vague hints of new capabilities. Were there enough people willing to sign up for the plan? Was there really a demand for shared typing shortcuts?
As it turns out, there were and there was. According to Smile, about a third of the TextExpander customer base has moved to the subscription service, which gives Smile the income to pay for continued app updates and to keep the lights on in the server room. And the promised frequent app updates have come: Smile delivered 17 updates to the macOS app last year compared to only 7 the year before.
Shared snippets have also begun to blossom. For TextExpander users who are not part of a team or organization, textexpander.com currently offers almost thirty shared snippet groups, including text shortcuts for the names and birthdates of Renaissance composers, for Apple trademarks, for Keyboard Maestro clipboard history scripts, and for accessing parts of a self-hosted WordPress site. The regularly updated TextExpander Blog provides users with tips and information about new shared groups.
More interesting, and boding well for TextExpander’s future, is that the TextExpander service provides the management capabilities to build snippet-sharing teams in businesses and organizations. Such teams share common snippet libraries, turning the TextExpander service into something of a low-rent content management system through which, for example, all the members of a customer support team can have access to textexpander.com-hosted support documents and links literally at their fingertips. Smile reports that a typical team is about 12 people, but it hosts teams that have nearly 1000 members. The enterprise attractiveness of Smile’s TextExpander service was further enhanced by the successful introduction of TextExpander for Windows.
All that is driven by the utility of TextExpander. Smile estimates that enterprise team members generally save 4 hours of time per month by using the service, and it’s not uncommon for active TextExpander users to save double that, or a full work day per month.
Meanwhile, the single-user, non-subscription edition of TextExpander continues to be sold, satisfying the needs of those users who have no interest in a hosted snippet-sharing service. For some, it’s simply overkill, whereas others cannot store their content in the cloud for policy or confidentiality reasons.
From an undeniably rocky introduction, Smile seems to have accomplished what it set out to do: offer a subscription-based software utility at a fair price and develop the infrastructure and hosted content to make it attractive to both individuals and enterprises.
It also seems that subscription services for productivity apps are here to stay, with TextExpander joining the likes of Adobe Creative Cloud, Microsoft’s Office 365, 1Password Teams/Families from AgileBits, and MacPaw’s new multi-app service SetApp. Subscriptions aren’t appropriate to every situation, but they do show the utility of monthly recurring revenue for software companies that need to escape the inherent spikiness of a model that relies solely on new sales and (sometimes) paid upgrades.