Sunday, July 22, 2012 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Sparrow and Google

Dom Leca:

Now we’re joining the Gmail team to accomplish a bigger vision — one that we think we can better achieve with Google.

Thomas Houston quoting Leca (via John Gruber):

We will continue to make available our existing products, and we will provide support and critical updates to our users. However, as we’ll be busy with new projects at Google, we do not plan to release new features for the Sparrow apps.

Rian van der Merwe (via Drew Crawford):

This is the core of the disappointment that many of us feel with the Sparrow acquisition. It’s not about the $15 or less we spent on the apps. It’s not about the team’s well-deserved payout. It’s about the loss of faith in a philosophy that we thought was a sustainable way to ensure a healthy future for independent software development, where most innovation happens.

I’m not sure how much we should generalize about this, though, since e-mail clients are a weird market. It’s difficult being boxed in between both the platform vendor and the Web.

Dave Winer:

Go to top of program. Repeat loop.

What Rian’s post says to me is that we’re coming close to the point where everyone gets pessimistic and thinks it’s going to suck forever.

So keep your eye open for something cool and fun that doesn’t really work but has shitloads of potential.

Update (2012-07-24): Kyle Baxter quotes Guy English in 2010:

“Apps” is fun. It’s fun to say, it sounds unthreatening, it’s a word sufficiently abbreviated that it takes on a life of its own without dragging to the forefront of peoples minds the more sterile and technical sounding “application”. Apps are not Applications – they are their own things. They are smaller. They are more fun. Apps are treats atop your technological sundae. They are not potential time sinks. They are neither burden nor investment. They each represent a nugget of fun, of fleeting amusement. Apps are gobbled up in the millions by people who would never rush so willy nilly to buy desktop software. Apps are Pop Software writ large in blinking neon lights.

Are Apps good business? No, they’re not. From a small developer’s perspective the App Store is a total disaster.

And continues:

There’s something important to learn here: since the App Store’s primary customers are mass-market, they don’t yet value apps very much, and are therefore only willing to pay a pittance for apps. For them, apps are simply entertainment, sometimes a bit more, but not much more. Perhaps that will change as these mobile devices increasingly replace the PC, perhaps not. But what’s also clear is that trying to sell a focused, obsessed-with-the-details app for mass-market prices probably isn’t going to work.

David Barnard:

But taking that money was a blessing and a curse. It enabled the company to accelerate the pace of development, but completely changed the yardstick by which financial success would be measured. Sustainability was no longer the ability to provide a decent living for 5 talented people, they also had to provide a return to their investors. And by that new measure Sparrow was still a flop, even after the much anticipated release of their iPhone app.

[…]

The thing is, the entire software industry is changing. Computer users used to spend hundreds of dollars for great software and pay again every couple years for upgrades. But over the past couple decades people have grown accustomed to getting more and more value from software while paying less and less for it. The web has played a huge part in that, but the trend was accelerated by the App Store and Apple’s management of it.

4 Comments

I don't get van der Merwe's angst, and I've said as much. Customers don't support vendors. They buy their products. Vendors make products, in the end, to make money. I think it is safe to assume the folks at Sparrow figured they could make more money at Google than they would hawking their one product. The benefits are probably better, too.

And now they don't have to worry about Apple changing their world by releasing a mail client, that, Hey!, looks a lot like Sparrow.

Be disappointed, sure. But, elevating spending a few bucks to buy Sparrow to the point of being a philosophy seems kinda odd to me.

"I’m not sure how much we should generalize about this, though, since e-mail clients are a weird market. It’s difficult being boxed in between both the platform vendor and the Web."

Quite true.

But separately, it's always worth remembering that if you're building a business dependent on Apple's app store, you've already sold out your business to Apple. You work for them. You don't get benefits, but you do work for them. They dictate what you can write, what code you can use, what content you can employ in your product, and not to mention, they can fire you for any unspecified and arbitrary reasons they choose. You are a genuinely a freelance contractor to Cupertino in this brave new world.

I'd rather work for Google as a real employee, were I in those shoes.

[...] the news about Thunderbird and Sparrow, this has not been a good month for Mac e-mail clients. And now it seems there’s something [...]

Baxter writes:

There’s something important to learn here: since the App Store’s primary customers are mass-market, they don’t yet value apps very much, and are therefore only willing to pay a pittance for apps. For them, apps are simply entertainment, sometimes a bit more, but not much more. Perhaps that will change as these mobile devices increasingly replace the PC, perhaps not. But what’s also clear is that trying to sell a focused, obsessed-with-the-details app for mass-market prices probably isn’t going to work.

I will note that just because there is a huge new market for $4.99 limited function one-off apps does not somehow imply that the market for focused, obsessed-with-the-details software at a far higher price point has suddenly disappeared.

I'll happily shell out $29 to upgrade my Little Snitch family pack license from v2 to v3 once it gets out of beta, and I'd probably have paid twice that amount, were that the price. (Note how the dev maintained Snowy support since they understand that some of their customers might still prefer Snowy over the more recent OS downgrades.)

Folks like me are assuredly fewer than the folks downloading Angry Birds: Vice City, but we're still a niche with non-insignificant purchasing power.

I generally don't agree with Marco Ament, but I did find his The Mac App Store's future of irrelevance less disagreeable than usual, and it fits well within some of the issues you've been bringing up in this post.

My favorite pullquote:

The Mac App Store is in significant danger of becoming an irrelevant, low-traffic flea market where buyers rarely venture for serious purchases.

He also talks about how how he's suddenly decided that if a software product is available in both MAS and direct developer versions, he'll follow Rentzsch's advice. He's also suddenly noticed that the sun rises in the East. (I actually go further and have put at least a temporary hold on even buying direct developer versions of apps and upgrades from devs who are wasting their time with MAS versions.)

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