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TextExpander by Subscription One Year Later

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 (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, 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 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.


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Comments about TextExpander by Subscription One Year Later
(Comments are closed.)

Rosemary Orchard  2017-04-07 16:17
> others cannot store their content in the cloud for policy or confidentiality reasons

This hit the nail on the head for me. Work provides me with a large WebDAV account for this very reason, I can sync things like that if it's on their servers. Of course, I'm using Windows at work so can't use TextExpander at all currently - despite being willing to pay them it can't work right now.
Bocaboy  2017-04-09 09:22
I'm one of those customers who became a subscriber to TextExpander (TE), but lately have been very disappointed in the product. It continually gets "stuck" on Secure Input and then can't be reset without a restart of the computer.

Smile's Tech Support says the problem is with Apple, but now having switched to TypeIt4Me, the problem no longer exists. The problem is clearly with Smile's engineering team.

One simple fix for Smile would be for the program to check if the PID that is being referenced actually is running. I've found that the program identifies a PID # that Activity Monitor shows is non-existent. If the PID doesn't exist, then there must not be a running process that is requesting Secure Input.

Because of all this, you can count me as a previous user of TE and what had been, up to now, and excellent program that I was happy to subscribe to. It's a great example of how superior engineering and tech support can make a difference to an end-user.
Greg Scown  2017-04-10 12:52
TextExpander filters keyboard input whenever allowed to do so by macOS. TextExpander checks the state of Secure Event Input at regular intervals and posts notices when Secure Event Input is detected as enabled. It is possible that a "false positive" notice is posted on occasion. This does not affect TextExpander's ability to filter keyboard input so that it can expand your abbreviations. Please feel free to follow up with our team if you'd like to explore this further:
Denis Ricard  2017-04-10 20:37
I was a long time TextExpander user but I switched to Typinator when all that happened a year ago and I'm very happy with the move. You could list alternatives/similar software and perhaps do a comparison of features. Or did you already and I missed it?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2017-04-11 09:52
At a basic level, they're pretty similar. The differences start to appear when you get to the more advanced features, with TextExpander's snippet sharing being the most obvious example.
I have one simple answer to subscription services, especially cloud/server services: NO WAY!. I am NOT going to depend on an internet provider to have access to my own files or rely on them to protect my security and confidentiality. Times & again users have been deceived by promises not to data mine their info but then find out later that it was distributed marketed or sold.

I am NOT going to pay for an app forever in order to access my own data. Should I find a better app I am NOT going to pay someone forever for the privilege of accessing my archived data with their retired app on my machine on the off change I my need it someday. Finally without a stand-alone local app, such the company shut down or the app be retired you data may be lost forever.

Companies are in business to make money and are unlikely to maintain an app that is not providing sufficient income to meet their needs.
Alec Kinnear  2017-04-11 16:08
Absolutely. In this specific case, Typinator has always been better technology. The Austrians and Germans are very good at this sort of mid-level utility. Bresink of TinkerTool, Peter Mauer of ManyTricks (Butler, Witch; amazingly he coded the original TextExpander before selling it to Smile), Markus Müller-Simhofer of Mindnode sping immediately to mind).

As a general case though software as a subscription is a pox on our world. Subscriptions need to be managed. Subscriptions need to phone home. Subscriptions expire. Companies go under (and don't count on the receivership company to do users any favours).

In particular, Adam, like me, would go bankrupt if he had to pay a subscription on all the applications he owns. Sure there is attrition over time of apps which go out of date or apps which no longer work on the current OS but it's a soft gentle attrition to which it's easy enough to turn the clock back. I've used a Mac OS 8 emulator, a DOS emulator and a Windows XP virtual machine all in the last year. I have work computers on both Snow Leopard and El Capitan. If I need to run a vintage program I can.

Any of these applications which were subscription based would be lost entirely. Subscription based applications is the choice of a fool. Fortunately for Adobe and Microsoft and Smile, there are fools aplenty in this world.
Eric Welch  2017-05-05 17:46
Funny this was posted. I was having trouble with a snippet hijacking me. I need to type the word controller (there it goes again!) and the second "l" keeps getting deleted. Turns out it's the TidBit's group snippet. Unfortunately, I can't turn that one snippet off! Please consider removing it from your group snippets.

On the subject of subscriptions, I was one of those who said no way. But after a year, I got tired of Typinator's flaws and gave TextExpander a try. And I could still get the discount for being a long-time user. So I switched back. I like it a lot, but sure wish there was a non-subscription option. I really don't like them, but the price is right, so I'll stay for now.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2017-05-05 17:07
Sorry about that typo in the TidBITS dictionary — I'll forward to the Smile folks since they maintain their version.