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Vesper, Adieu (daringfireball.net)
193 points by 8ig8 on Aug 24, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 217 comments

This latest shutdown inspired me to write a blog post in response[1] when I first heard about it. Although the reaction is understandable, it's a shame that developers feel compelled to adopt a scorched earth policy when they no longer wish to (or are no longer able to) support their products. These indie apps are often marketed as beautiful, wholesome alternatives to grimy corporate or open source software, but how could I possibly rely on these products for essential tasks like note-taking if they're just going to disappear out from under me in a few years? The idea that software has a lifespan controlled by the developer is, in my opinion, toxic to the market. It's just one of the many things pulling the App Store down, and one of the many downsides of living in a walled garden.

As time goes on, and as I see more and more apps simply disappear off the face of the Earth when developers deem them no longer worthy of their time, I find myself switching over to software that's either backed by large corporations or open sourced, regardless of how clunky it might be compared to "designer" alternatives. My hope is that we soon find a way to collectively monetize the latter. It's simply awful that an app can just "pop" and take so many years of developer and user time with it.

(None of the above is meant to blame Vesper or even comment on the sustainability of the app economy. It's just my sad reaction as a user and, um, app enthusiast. And props to Gruber for the introspective and humble post-mortem.)

[1]: http://beta-blog.archagon.net/2016/08/21/tool-reliance/

They should open-source the backend (and hell, the front-end, too). That way you could self-host, or someone else can provide hosting.

This. I'm surprised this is the only comment on here suggesting this. It's the most obvious way to gracefully sunset an app.

"This isn't making us any money, it's costing us money to maintain. If you still depend on it, here's the tools that will allow you to continue to depend on it"

I doubt open sourcing something moderately complex is as easy or cheap as that though, particularly if there are other technologies involved that you don't own.

It's one thing to say it should be open sourced but to put further effort into something that's already losing you money just for the love of it doesn't seem like a winning proposition.

They'd need to continue paying for their font license.

"The biggest factor is that we have recurring costs: the sync server and the licensing fees for Ideal Sans, Vesper’s typeface."

They'd need to continue paying for their font license.

I shouldn't have included the font licensing fee (and in fact have since edited the article to remove it). Our annual server fees are 15-20x the cost of the font license.

What I was thinking about was opening sourcing the app. If we do that, we'll have to replace Ideal Sans with another font. The obvious choice would be iOS's system font.

That's hardly a showstopper. They could easily remove the proprietary font when open sourcing. I doubt the heavy users of this app are using solely because the font is beautiful.

The font is not cheap either*. When you can barely get people to pay $0.99 for a industry leading app, how on earth can you justify paying so much $$ for a font. I mean switch to the closest google / open source version and call it good enough.

[1] http://www.typography.com/fonts/ideal-sans/overview/

It's $300/year from what I can see. Not free, but if you think it's a valuable part of your design, a small cost, unless you just don't have a viable business in the first place.

Or switch to a free font.

In Brent Simmons' second blog post about shutting down Vesper, he mentions that Open Source is being considered:

> Some people have asked that we make it open source. The request is getting serious consideration, but I can’t make any promises.

> The code is all Objective-C. It’s an iOS 6 app with just enough changes to keep it working on iOS 7 and beyond. It knows nothing about size classes, presentation controllers, and so on. Doesn’t even use auto layout. It’s not an example of how you’d write an app these days.


And indeed, six days later they announce their formal plans to release the code as open source


I think the other way around would actually be profitable: opensource the front-end to drive adoption, and charge for back-end access.

It's all a red herring anyway, you can't pivot without a single developer.

I use tt-rss as a feed reader, and I find it quite attractive that I own the open-source backend (which I self-host), but pay for the front end. I would be far more comfortable with service models like that, where I can know I can get at my data if needs be.

I doubt that's going to drive a lot of OSS support, if the backend is still proprietary.

I think the GitLab or Nylas model works better for open source companies: open source the whole thing (or most of it), but charge for a hosted solution if you don't want to figure out how to git clone make install.

The GitLab model is actually: open source the whole thing and offer some more exotic features in a commercial enterprise version. The hosting on GitLab.com is free and GitLab only acquired GitHost when GitHost was announcing going out of business.

Maybe you're thinking of Wordpress (Wordpress.com offers paid hosting)?

> Maybe you're thinking of Wordpress (Wordpress.com offers paid hosting)?

Yeah, I keep confusing Wordpress with GitLab. After all, both are MMORPGs. Thanks!

> I doubt that's going to drive a lot of OSS support, if the backend is still proprietary.

There is plenty of support for Google/Dropbox/AWS etc, all proprietary-backend-driven APIs. If the API is good OSS developers don't mind too much, and they can always clone it anyway.

I like the idea in theory but in reality the number of people who can get a somewhat complex backend running on their own is small and the reward (syncing notes) isn't really that compelling so I think it isn't a great idea...

Instead of sun setting the app I'd switch it over to use iCloud (free backend), make it free, and set up a public support forum. This way it'd work and there would not need to be any ongoing investment of time or money.

They should just do whatever other people want, regardless of how comfortable they are with it.

No promises, but we are looking into open-sourcing what we can.

Great, I wish you luck with it. I realize it can seem like a lot of work to do this, but this seems like something all of you loved working on, so it would at least be able to survive in some way or other, and keep some of your users happy.

Even something as simple as a basic code dump (with whatever needs to be removed, removed) would be better than nothing. I'm sure you'd be able to find a steward in someone for this project.

It's largely an artifact of the cloud dependency of mobile apps in particular. Every app has a bill someone must pay and a server or other cloud presence someone must maintain, patch, etc.

App stores also contribute in that an app without a dev account ceases to exist and can't be easily installed by anyone. So if the maintainer goes away so does the app.

In the PC era software could live forever. Even closed source PC apps can still easily be run today on emulators.

Yeah, cloud, app stores and breaking platform APIs. I know people who still use ATnotes on their Windows 7 machines, despite the fact that it was discontinued more than a decade ago.

Still, PC era shareware (the equivalent to these small apps made by a couple developers) wasn't immune to cloud dependency, particularly when they had online license validation mechanisms.

You could always crack those if need be (at least if it was even a remotely popular application). And even if for some reason you couldn't, at least you had the files locally.

If I were an indie app dev building a similar product, then in addition to all the questions of business strategy I would try to bake in graceful abandonment from the start. That is: make it a paid sync service (as Gruber would've in hindsight) but build the client such that the sync service could be easily overridden, and pointed at anything that would support a particular API. Then if I have to stop supporting the app, but I have users I still care about, I can just unlock the sync service override, publish the API spec, and give people some time to come up with alternatives.

Though I guess that doesn't solve the problem of fixing bugs in the app itself. Especially if I might not have time to babysit an open-source app.

Are there any examples, in iOS, of apps that were open-sourced and are controlled by some kind of committee or foundation and still kept up-to-date in the app store? What's the lightest-weight version of that that still keeps it totally free?

(I bought Vesper over a year ago and thought it was nice but it didn't become one of my regular-use apps. No biggie: I've long been a DaringFireball reader and I'm happy to throw a few bucks Gruber's way. Plus, I was really hoping the "quality paid apps" model would work, sigh.)

Software going out of fashion shouldn't be an issue if you take care to use applications that have open data formats, or can at least export their data to something usable by other software. Hardware became a commodity; software is on its way there too thanks to its face-paced nature and devaluation from "applications" to trendy, cheap "apps". But your data will likely always be valuable, so whatever you choose to use, make sure to have continuation plans.

There is no vendor lock-in if your data stays yours. Some inconvenience perhaps; the sort of inconvenience that comes with freedom.

And that is the reason I avoid most cloud-based solutions. I want my data to be in files on my drive, and not just in some database rows on a third-party server.

Personally, I store all my notes in plaintext org-mode files in a Dropbox-synced folder.

I think it's potentially underestimating the nature of the problem and OP's complaint to simply write off potential switching costs as "inconvenient".

For example if I've developed a whole workflow around keyboard shortcuts, APIs, whatever, for manipulating a set of data using an app, and then that app disappears, even if I have the underlying dataset it might take me quite a while to get up to speed with a suitable replacement.

All of that might argue against investing heavily in developing expertise with a closed, indie, proprietary, or even an OSS app[1]. Ultimately whenever you invest your time in developing a skillset or workflow you are inherently also obligated to evaluate the future risks involved.

[1] Despite it being OSS, if it becomes unsupported and stops working on newer OSes/platforms and no one steps up to do the non-trivial work, or host the servers or whatever, you're still in the same boat.

In this case the reason is that not only the sync service costs money, but also the custom font they use costs money. So just letting it sit there would still cost money (on top of the fee for the app store itself).

I echo the sentiment and think there's misalignment between the value and the monetization strategy for many apps.

I wrote about it as well https://arielmichaeli.com/my-thoughts-on-vespers-unfortunate...

Ultimately a lot of the sadness comes from what looks like missed opportunity IMO, which is really tough to predict.

Reading your comment, I now wonder if there's a way to sell (formally transfer) these indie projects. Like how patio11 sold BingoCardMaker thru a broker.

Then someone like you could take a swing with a different business model.

Maybe a few dollars upfront and a tiered royalty model, to minimize risk for both sides.

I've seen a few platforms attempt to become brokers for such deals in the past but to my knowledge none were incredibly (or, at all) successful...

But I do agree that it's a possible "exit" strategy.

There is a market for "life support" level maintenance of companies if they get large enough. Look at companies like CA buying (and gutting) companies who have lost their mojo. I think there is an opportunity for people to do this with smaller tech companies.

I think you'd need a certain scale of market size to make it worthwhile. And if you didn't have the size to support continued development, will you have size to support continued maintenance?

On the other hand, if the devs have just moved on, there may be a sustainable company. See https://railslts.com/

This is the CA model. Gut and offshore the workforce. It's painful for both the employees and customers, but beats seeing a product get turned off.

I think you illustrated a key problem with proprietary software, particularly that which is used for practical tasks.

Free Software puts the user first. All other forms do not.

> Free Software puts the user first. All other forms do not.

If you look at it as a programmer, sure. To most people however, "how it works" is a lot more important than how it's licensed or even what it costs.

This is where the concept of source code escrow comes from. Maybe consumers should demand something similar.

The whole pricing/platform debate seems like a red herring.

> Brent took a job at the excellent Omni Group in September 2014, and from that point onward the writing was on the wall. We could have, and probably should have, shut Vesper down a year ago. But we loved it too much. Or at least I did.

> I even cheat, personally, and run Vesper on my Mac in the iOS Simulator

1. There was only one developer in the company.

2. That developer got a day job (quit).

3. Gruber and the musician partner are stranded with an app they can't update and a Mac app they can't finish on their own.

Gruber clearly loves Vesper. He runs it in the freaking simulator. I really doubt he needed to see huge financial returns to keep at it.

It sounds like the real lesson is: It sucks when your technical cofounder quits.

For a guy who opines all day about Apple, the fact that he can't maintain a pretty simple iOS app is telling. If you really care about the app and your users, you read the damn docs and get to work. I taught myself in less than six months, and my app is free. Although I don't have much time, I still keep it running out of respect for my 50 thousand or so users.

This especially annoys me after their enfillade of blog posts about best practices for UI and pricing of Vesper.

This is what drove me to abandon Ux in favor of a life-long dream of programming via a mid-life career shift. I was simply tired of relying on programmers to realize my visions AND being beholden to them if decided, for whatever reason, to jump ship. Luckily, I've been a lifelong programmer, but never professionally. The result is that I'm much happier and only have myself to blame if a product doesn't come to fruition.

This is true, but I was glad to see Gruber put his money where his mouth is and spend some time in an app developer's shoes.

But did he really? Did he have a development role in Vesper? Or was it just project manager-ish?

I feel like nobody's really obliged to do anything. Maintenance is work, after all. Though I think it's cool when things exist for the community.

If you're abandoning a project, releasing the source seems like a Good Thing To Do. But people should be allowed to walk away from things if they do not enjoy it as much anymore (modulo service contracts).

I think the point is that he likely quit due to financial reasons.

I've not followed the Apple scene for a while, but working for Omni seems like a great gig for an Apple-centric developer, so it's not necessarily about money.

I can confirm that; as a long time Mac dev, Omni has for over a decade been at the top of the list of companies I would want to work for, if location wasn't an issue. (It is, though, because I live in Tokyo and that's important to me, too; Omni, last I talked to them at least, doesn't do remote.)

But still, one of the awesome things about working at Omni is that they pay you.

A minimalist note-taking app that only runs on iOS — even if tastefully designed by famous-in-the-niche and well-liked programmer, and publicized by the most widely-read Apple blogger — not so much.

They say flat out that it didn't make enough money; I don't see any reason to second-guess them and develop alternate theories...


You're blunt.

> It sounds like the real lesson is: It sucks when your technical cofounder quits.

But I think you're right.

I made the jump to smartphones late, and I've always used Android, so I missed out on a lot of what iPhones bring to the table. However, I have owned an iPad mini since 2013, and got a few games and (vaguely) 'productivity' apps for it, all free (EDIT: nevermind, I paid for Angry Birds)

But reading contemporary accounts of what Vesper was [1][2], it sounds a lot like yet-another-notetaking app, like Evernote, and lately, Google Keep, albeit one with nice typography and pleasant UX. I sympathize that the price pressure on mobile apps is intense, but could it be that it just didn't offer a compelling enough value, or differentiation from better-known competitors? Perhaps the question is, is there truly space for a dozen different apps that on the surface appear to do the same thing?

[1] https://www.macstories.net/reviews/vesper-review-collect-you...

[2] http://drippler.com/drip/best-note-taking-apps-iphone-and-ip...

Agree 100%. I use the built-in Notes app on iOS with no problem. And it has a macOS app. Gruber is overthinking it -- his app simply wasn't compelling.

Keeping in mind, when Vesper was originally released, Notes was pretty kludgey, but it was dramatically improved. So, I halfways agree with you - Vesper became less compelling after Notes got it's major rework.

I still use Vesper as my preferred "really quick" note/scratchpad taking client, even though I'm an Evernote Plus subscriber, and basically run my entire life off that App.

I think that's the major problem for Vesper - the top end of note-taking is owned by tools like OneNote/Evernote, and Vesper was never going to be able to compete in that market. People are happy to pay $30-$60/year for a world class, secure, multi-platform note taking app, but probably not willing to pay that much for a scratch-pad note taking app, when the built in one is free, and syncs well across platforms.

Aren't better design and better UX a compelling value differentiator? Of all people, Apple users would have appreciated design more.

As per some other comments, I think the problem with Vesper is that it is too niche in a very well served market. The design is fantastic, but that doesn't matter if you can get more (functional) value elsewhere.

Stuff like this is why I try to avoid apps that operate their own syncing services. If Vesper had used some kind of file format you could just keep in your Dropbox, and used that for syncing, all the developers would need to do is stop paying for the proprietary font in order to have zero operating costs.

Obviously you can't avoid all problems this way (Apple and Google and Dropbox sometimes change their APIs, or discontinue them, e.g. Google Reader), but it goes a long way to building confidence that even if the company fails, people can continue to use the app.

Agreed. The timeline for Vesper is debatable but running a custom sync service is a dead end.

Only major cloud providers, Apple, Dropbox, Google, Amazon can be relied on to run a utility service on a long timeline.

The service needs to be effectively free, stay up forever and add new features over time.

This is not a hobby.

At the time Vesper was written, iCloud sync was not reliable. It's gotten better (good enough for many apps to proudly use it), but by that point Vesper had lost its dev.

There had also been issues around this time with Dropbox changing the way the SDK presented information. A small change, but one that ran afoul of Apple's In-App Purchases guidelines. Debate the merits of the conflict all you want; it was still an issue everyone wanted to avoid at the time.

Basically, you're not wrong, but I believe the devs made the best decision they could at the time they wrote the app.

So what would be a good way for me to implement sync nowadays if I also want to have a web app?

You could use the Dropbox API with oauth. The same files in Dropbox can be used to sync the web API, phone apps, and desktop apps.

You could also roll your own solution with S3 or something like that. The point is that you will be using fairly common and popular services which aren't likely to go away anytime soon, and aren't operated and maintained by yourself.

You could also take the approach 1Password does: operate your own sync service, but allow users to use Dropbox or iCloud instead. The onus is on them to make sure the files are in the right places, but they effectively have total control over the files, which a lot of people like.

An alternative to look at is the Couchbase Mobile stack. The stack in includes the Couchbase Lite database (NoSQL), Sync Gateway, which enables syncing and more, and Couchbase Server. All open source. It's pretty easy to run all yourself, or on something like AWS. The db runs on many platforms, both mobile and desktop.

Disclaimer: I work for Couchbase.

> Ultimately, what we should have done once we had versions of the app for both Mac and iOS is switch to a subscription model. Make the apps free downloads on all platforms, and charge somewhere around $15/year for sync accounts. That’s where the industry is going.

I'm not sure how realistic it is to expect users to pay a subscription fee for productivity apps like this. There's been a ton of backlash whenever developers, even small ones, announce subscription pricing (see 1Password[1] and Pushbullet[2]). I get the impression users are starting to feel nickel and dimed every time one of the apps they use switches over to a subscription model and they start looking for alternatives instead of being willing to pay the subscription cost. Simultaneously, obviously maintaining a sync service has a recurring cost and there needs to be a way for the developer to cover those costs, otherwise you end up in this situation where you simply have to shut down.

[1] https://www.reddit.com/r/apple/comments/4vziyr/1password_lau...

[2] https://www.reddit.com/r/Android/comments/3t5mrb/pushbullet_...

What users want is the same thing consumers of products have wanted forever: to pay the least and get the most they can.

The whole "free with in-app purchases" model was driven by users' unwillingness to pay for apps. So in some sense this nickel-and-dime thing is a self-inflicted wound. On the other hand, (we) developers ought to be smart enough to figure out how to handle that.

Evernote does well, because it offers ongoing value for that subscription fee. That's the key - are you offering a lot of value? If so, then subscription fees are fine. If not, then you feel like you are being nickle and dimed. Other obvious candidates (some of which don't charge) for valuable subscription are Economist, NYT, WSJ, gmail, whatsapp.

And then there is that third class of App, the ones where subscriptions don't offer much value, but honestly, we use the apps so often, we're happy to pay to support them (Overcast, Tweetbot, MyFitnessPal are ones I would put in this class)

I'm not sure Evernote is actually doing that well. I find their product useful but they did lay off about 20% of their workforce and closed 3 of their offices.

They're also facing stiffer competition from Microsoft with OneNote and this year's Evernote importers for both Windows and Mac they released which seems to be quite popular, which they might've made worse themselves by clamping down so much on their free users and the relatively limited data quota's on any of their subscriptions. 6$ a month is a lot of money, for barely 3$ more I can get a full Office 365 subscription including a truck ton of Skype credits and a TB of storage with OneNote providing a fair amount of the functionality Evernote provides. I wonder how long people will continue to be willing to pay for it, especially considering it doesn't seem to be evolving much as a product.

The people that I know who use Evernote, basically use it for everything - Taxes, Accounting, Receipts, Note Taking, Journaling. For those people, $72 a year is nothing. It would be nice to see a bit more development in the product, but in the core of the product -things like searching.

Agreed that Office 365 is a serious competitor to Evernote, but the existing dedicated customer base of Evernote is unlikely to go anywhere. Kind of like those people who paid AOL dialup fee's for 10 years after the Internet came online.

Exit might be to just sell off the business/customer base to Microsoft, and have them all folded into Office 365 - until then, I'm happy with what they offer.

OneNote is just awesome. I use it for everything... I own and mac and use android.

> And then there is that third class of App, the ones where subscriptions don't offer much value, but honestly, we use the apps so often, we're happy to pay to support them (Overcast, Tweetbot, MyFitnessPal are ones I would put in this class)

The problem is most indie apps fall into this category. Useful, but not necessarily useful enough to pay a subscription.

If you think that you will attract enough new customers that you will make more money under a subscription model than a traditional paid model, there is no reason to keep the existing users happy -- if they leave, they have already paid you all they were ever willing to pay, so you aren't missing out on any money from them. (If they aren't willing to pay for a subscription, they probably wouldn't have paid a one-time fee for the next version of the product either. These are the kind of people who buy once and don't upgrade.) Even if they switch to a competitor's product, it's not like you lost any money you would have gotten from them.

I disagree with your statement about paying users who will not pay for a subscription. I am one of them. I hate Utility Apps as a Service for a litany of reasons. I am, however, eager and willing to pay as much as or more than a subscription price to own software that I use. I don't want to open my notes app, text editor, TextExpander, or password manager one day and find out it is not working. I want to know that if my system never changes, I can continue to use the current version of software without worrying about it not working because I didn't pay my rent.

This is the analogy I use: if I am drilling holes every weekend for three months, I am going to buy a drill, not rent one evey Saturday and pay as much in rent as I would to own it. And when I own that drill, I expect it to work for at minimum 12-18 months (warranty/devleopment) and at that point, if something goes wrong (massive OS changes) or there is a fancier drill, I will buy it if that is worth it to me.

The peace of mind of owning software is more important to me than a reduced cost / continual upgrade of renting it. I will always look for software that sells me a license over one that doesn't.

You make a good point, although I don't think I would necessarily agree that just because a user isn't willing to pay a subscription, they also wouldn't be willing to pay for an upgrade. Presumably, a new version of a product has new features that act as an incentive to pay the upgrade cost. A subscription, which is recurring and indefinite, does not, and is therefore a much harder pill to swallow.

It wouldn't be an issue if existing customers were grandfathered into staying in the original free plan, and only new customers had to pay.

The issue here is that a user that paid for your app many years ago continues to use up sync resources without providing any additional revenue. Maybe you'll be able to convert enough new users to subsidize the cost of the existing ones, but maybe not.

I think the alternative of issuing regular paid upgrades makes more sense for productivity apps. You get recurring revenue, but it's tied to an incentive (new features) to pay the upgrade cost.

The only problem is that the App Store doesn't really have a great method for issuing paid upgrades. You basically have to release a whole new app.

In hindsight, I am now convinced this plan was fundamentally flawed. The market for paid productivity apps for iOS is simply too difficult.

When even a stalwart Apple partisan like Gruber will concede this you know things have gone horribly wrong in the iOS app market. The bulk of the blame here lies with Apple and their stewardship of the app store. They can push the iPad as real productivity device all they want but until they do something to make selling anything but games on the appstore worthwhile they're wasting their time.

> The bulk of the blame here lies with Apple and their stewardship of the app store.

Uh, maybe the app just wasn't that good, or someone made a better/cheaper one.

The only reason this is even being talked about is because of who the author is.

    >The only reason this is even being talked about is because of who the author is.
It seems to me that post mortems of shutdowns and discontinuations of apps, be they web or mobile, show up quite regularly on HN despite the relative fame of the author. People love to armchair quarterback this kind of stuff.

Is it really just the iOS App Store though? People expect everything to be free nowadays: news, email, productivity apps like Google Docs, games. Don't think you can pin this problem on Apple.

I think it would be entirely reasonable to suggest that the App Store dynamics contributed to that expectation. Along with the rise of browser based apps and services (also a cause here, granted) the App Store has been one of the biggest factors shaping the market for end-user software over the past decade.

Fully agree. Before the App Store was launched, people were used to pay an order of magnitude more for software. The App Store didn't have a time-limited free trial option, which meant that every purchase was a gamble. You don't take a $20 gamble, but maybe a $2 gamble here and there won't hurt so much. So the only way to make money on the App Store was to be priced so low that people dared click "buy".

If you ask me, this is completely nuts. Apple could've easily quintupled their App Store earnings if they'd just have a "try" button next to the "buy" button from the start. People would've owned fewer, better apps that they'd use more intensively. (for all its faults, the Windows Store does this right. but hey, too little too late)

Apple wants apps to be free/cheap complements to expensive hardware.

I'm not convinced. If you invested $200 into apps over the course of a few years, you're not going to switch to Android.

You could just as easily 'invest' $150 in freemium apps over the course of a few years...

    > People expect everything to be free nowadays
It's less that I expect things to be free, au contraire. It's more that it's exasperating to have all these many, many minor services that most of the time are not vital to me each ask for money individually.

Imagine you were sold a car not as one, but piece by piece. Need a steering wheel with that? A seat belt? Another seat belt? Oh you need a rear bench too? Another tire, maybe? A few more screws? Brake light too? Or the OS: Would you pay for calc.exe? For the file explorer? The desktop manager?

To me the main problem is that there are way too many minor pieces instead of a whole.

How about - and this is wishful thinking since it would require several big companies to work together, individually it would not help much - if there was ONE big service subscription, let's say $199 annually, and I can use everything (apart from enterprise stuff, that's more). Every piece of software - and also media! - out there. The system checks what I use and how much and distributes the money to the people who made the software and the media.

What those people who think "capitalism!" forget is that the whole process of purchasing is heavily loaded, psychologically. The more individual purchasing decisions, the more you cut it into pieces, the less people buy. The paradox of choice. Decisions decisions! So many more options to make the wrong one! You cannot make the decisions more and more numerous and expect humans to follow into the "perfect market society". "Buying" has a price in addition to the money.

The current system favors those who can offer larger packages. If we had a system and organization who could organize for everyone getting paid from a lump sum and remove the psychological obstacle), this would greatly reduce the disadvantages of smaller players and lead to a much more even playing field. So having a "government" and a "tax" would actually be good market capitalism. The decision would not be "do I buy this" but "do I use this" (but with payment!).

This is especially for things that are not essential, when having to make the decision may (and does) prevent a sale. Since we do have a lot of free alternatives this is what most people turn to.

When it comes to news there's an additional problem: Who reads just one news source? I read very few articles per newspaper, but a lot across many very different sources. There is no payment model for that even if I wanted to.


I first came up with the idea while thinking about how open source projects could be paid. An additional thought is that this increases "market activity" by lowering the entry requirements: No need for a full business organisation, pure developers don't need to become (as) business savvy. If they can assure there stuff gets used that automatically leads to income. Also an opportunity to ensure successful projects don't stop, because there is a stream of income associated with heavily used projects - and that without a sales and marketing department. Now this is really just a very rough thought, I saw no use in refining it since I can't make it happen anyway.

Imagine github had a payment model. In this case it wouldn't be so much for "use" as for "support". Imagine people pay a lump sum for library support, and money gets distributed to people creating code and patches and answering support questions. Something that won't ever happen except on a tiny scale driven by very few people when people have to give voluntary contributions to individual projects, the threshold is just too high. This includes merely knowing that the threshold is high, it's self-reinforcing: You know that library doesn't make the developer any money, so you know unless it's a really big package picked up by industry and supported by thousands of people it will probably die within a year even if it looks good and is good quality.

Now going wild (me and my ideas):

I think if we want more capitalism we need to make the entrance easier. Selling something is HARD these days. I say "these days" because I don't think it was so hard 50 years ago when there was less stuff (and more optimism among the populace too?). If basic income is too controversial, how about starting small with such a project? It has the advantage that following this proposal you know that people receiving money actually did something useful, and it would get people paid who today go without, and it would benefit individuals much more than corporations.

I think we need something big, keeping capitalism but tweaking some of the basics for the changed environment we live in. We need to keep incentives to "do something". I see more chances for this to both be accepted and to actually succeed compared to universal basic income.

> ONE big service subscription (...) and I can use everything

This is an intriguing idea. Contributor [1] by Google is an implementation of this concept for content websites. Netflix is an implementation of this for television syndication. Amazon Prime is an implementation of this within its own diverse consumer-facing ecosystem. The MPEG-LA licensing pool or the HDMI licensing pool and various trade associations are implementations within their respective fields. In their respective circles, these work well. So well, in fact, that everyone wants their own slice to control.

I believe that's where the idea of an overarching meta-subscription breaks down: the incentives don't align. When a BigCorp can (theoretically) establish a horizontal and a vertical, and offer a smattering of products for every need while at the same time producing a family-tree of highly integrated offerings (see: Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, AT&T+DirectTV, Comcast+NBCUniversal, Verizon+AOL+Yahoo), the remaining players are fighting over pennies of the pie. It's not worth it for them, and it's not worth it for the big players, because they already have the presence, the lock-in, or the content worth paying for.

[1] https://www.google.com/contributor/welcome/

> How about - and this is wishful thinking since it would require several big companies to work together, individually it would not help much - if there was ONE big service subscription, let's say $199 annually, and I can use everything (apart from enterprise stuff, that's more). Every piece of software - and also media! - out there. The system checks what I use and how much and distributes the money to the people who made the software and the media.

I'm not necessarily disagreeing with your point, but there is some irony in suggesting bundling app services together when the HN crowd (me included) is so vehemently opposed to bundling in other media, e.g - cable television.

The bundling you are talking about is to create an oligopoly - bundle some things to the exclusion of all others. I think that's very different to my idea. It's something else.

Bundling is more top-down, this is more bottom-up. Bundling is decided by "politics", and this is what you get. In my scenario everything ("the whole world") is included, it is not just a bundle made by someone. And there is raw competition below that layer: People's actual usage determines who gets paid. This also avoids the issue of market distortion (and therefore wrong signaling) of software and/or content that is paid for but not actually used (recent headline: 37% of Steam games that were purchased were never played).

Traditional bundling takes away control, my suggestion is supposed to actually give us more market, at least in my obviously limited and individual mind.

One thing that needs heavy thought and tweaking is the level of granularity. Looking at the two extreme ends:

- World government, all income goes to it and underneath is that proposal. (It would not be "communism" though - money is still there and distributed depending on use.)

- The other extreme: You buy everything piecemeal, even more decisions as today, see care example. Both are obviously extreme.

The optimum is not "somewhere in the middle", it's n-dimensional space, not a linear one.

It's hard to counter what you're saying because you keep editing your comment :) There was even something about Universal Income for a while there! (edit - sorry - I may be getting confused with your parent comment which mentions it)

Suffice to say, whether you're suggesting bundling (a la cable), or now something that seems more like Spotify (revenue share depending on usage), be aware that a market, by definition, will be driven by market forces, and every player will act in their own best interests. You can try very hard to make it very egalitarian with regulations, but the power players will always come out on top.

I only added, I didn't remove anything. The UBI stuff still is there - in the top comment. Note that I'm not voting for or against it, I merely mention it for comparison. I also clearly mark that section:

    > Now going wild (me and my ideas):
You write:

    > now something that seems more like Spotify
No it doesn't. What I speak of does not exist.

As for your second paragraph, I have no idea what possible connection those trite generalities have with anything I wrote. It seems to me you just like being argumentative, or you like reading into other people's ideas. I don't have the feeling that your response is a response to me - but to what happened in your own head when you read my comments.

    > egalitarian
This supports my suspicion that you actually respond to yourself, i.e. to the interpretation in your head, instead of my comment. "Egalitarian" isn't part of my comment or idea.

My apologies. I was just trying to understand your point. I've obviously failed. Let's move on.

- A fixed price means that light users subsidize heavy users. Why should someone who only uses apps for a couple of minutes pay the same as someone who uses them all day?

- Mobile OSs are already intrusive enough, but your system requires that everyone be spied to record how much they use each app, and can't allow the user to disable or tamper with that.

- Many people I know are struggle to pay for Internet access; they certainly can't afford to spend $200/yr on "apps". Should they be cut off altogether?

- Right now, if I make a more complex app for a niche market, or one that requires expensive backend support, I can charge more to compensate. Under the bundling model, my app will get the same per minute as a flashlight app (and probably less overall, since complex apps are usually used less time, despite often saving more time). How can you convince these app developers to continue to develop them?

    > A fixed price means that light users subsidize heavy users.
That is an orthogonal problem that we already have and it has nothing to do with my idea. You can solve it individually by choosing a different pricing model, just as we already do. The point is not to charge for each tiny piece but in bulk, and to distribute the money according to actual usage. The pricing is something entirely different, I have nothing at all to say about it. The $199 was an example.

The monitoring argument is valid, but it is no different from what we already have, nor do I see the difficulty - just add an opt-out and let individuals choose to go with the "pay for each item separately" model. No big deal, choice is good. I have no desire to establish "the one system (to replace them all)". Competition between ideas and systems is IMHO essential, I would not want a system that is imposed on everyone, but one that can be chosen.

    > Many people I know are struggle to pay for Internet access;
That too is no different from the problems we already have on all levels of society and also worldwide, and the same solutions (or just not solving it, as we often do) apply. The concept as I laid it out has no "social" component, only one that increases commerce. Not because I don't care about social, but that's just something my idea can't tackle.

I did read; if I misunderstood, I apologize, but I still don't see how my objection is invalid.

You talked about having "ONE big service subscription, let's say $199 annually" which gave full access. How can such a fixed-price bundle not lead to light users subsidizing heavy users?

> Imagine you were sold a car not as one, but piece by piece. Need a steering wheel with that? A seat belt? Another seat belt? Oh you need a rear bench too? Another tire, maybe? A few more screws? Brake light too?

This is exactly how it works nowadays. You're sold the basic version of a car for a price and everything you want on top costs. A lot. Better headlights? Electrical trunk opener? Auto-adjusting curve lights? You can basically spend twice as much on every car if you get it in its luxury version.

> The system checks what I use and how much

So, how would you solve this: I have a small utility app. It provides value that is not tied to the usage time. On the contrary: It is designed to be used only a few minutes per day. I'd make much less money than, say, the Netflix app, which you'd consume hours upon hours every day.

The only solution I see is: Value based pricing. And this is exactly what's happening right now, since value is a highly emotional and subjective thing.

> if there was ONE big service subscription, let's say $199 annually, and I can use everything (apart from enterprise stuff, that's more). Every piece of software - and also media! - out there

That is kind of what http://www.solu.co/ has been trying to introduce.

There is no single company that can do this, and definitely not a small one. This has to include "most of what is", either in a category (like "software") or across several (like "software, multimedia, news"). One party alone doing it is something else, and having one company at the top distributing money to people doing the work is not different than what we have and what is the dream of founders, to "own (and milk) the platform".

That's an interesting idea, basically the cable company model. Pay one subscription fee and get a number of complementary apps delivered.

Professional PC productivity software sells just fine

Console games sell just fine

It's only web and mobile where this becomes a problem, so why is that? The web I understand because it started out free, the App Store certainly didn't though.

Professionals actually buy based on features and what they need, not what looks entertaining.

Ditto for console gamers. It's a more informed audience that's concentrated in a small group of people with far more disposable income than a regular smartphone user.

Apps are a victim of regular people's expectations. They aren't used to paying hundreds for Photoshop. They're used to everything being free. Apple certainly hasn't helped developers in this regard, as it's encouraged commoditization of apps through its inaction against the proliferation of free-to-play and the race to the bottom.

> a small group of people

We're talking about games that regularly sell 20+ million copies (65 million for GTA5) at $60 a pop. It's really not that small.

Most people probably only buy one or two full-price games a year, but that's still way more than others spend on apps in the same time period.

It's large in absolute numbers but nothing compared to the mobile market.

Maybe if Gruber hadn't been such a huge voice for reform of the app store, I'd share in your glee that a "partisan" was proven wrong in some way. But he's been consistently on the side of developers while acknowledging that Apple will always put its interests first.

I'm not sure if you actually read Gruber, but he's been critical of Apple when it comes to the app store on a number of fronts over the years.

The bulk of the blame here lies with Apple and their stewardship of the app store.

I'm totally unclear how you made the leap from a difficult market for productivity apps on iOS to this being a app store problem.

Well, the app store is a pretty big mess.

Search does not work and Apple doesn't curate apps.

It doesn't help that you make an app people want to use and pay for if they can't find it.

I don't disagree that the app store is a mess, but it doesn't seem any more of a mess than other markets for media. Think about trying to discover good indie films, video games, or music. It's not that easy. No central authority "curates" them and the main avenues of consumption barely recognize them. Basically, you have to subscribe to blogs, magazines, and independent reviewers that rate and rank them. This seems exactly the same for apps in the app store.

Sure, but Apple is that central authority that both provides the store and the search functionality. They could do better.

You're incorrectly attributing the failure of paid productivity apps to the app store's structure, when in fact it is entirely unrelated. It just so turns out that the market for paid productivity apps on iOS is small, no matter what Apple does with the app store.

It sounds to me like the point is that the market could be much larger if the transaction value were clear to consumers.

In the current app store, with the methods that consumers are used to spending money on their phones, for whatever reasons, it's not.

It's like when you'll easily spend $30 on drinks on a Friday night, but suffer a shitty note-taking system for years when you could have many of your problems fixed for $5 one time just because you don't know the possible transaction exists.

People often say 'the discoverability [in the App Store] is horrible', which, I believe is inexact wording, but largely results in the outcome you raise.

It's not so much discoverability as in 'stumbling upon an arbitrary app', but more of learning about what that app does, and why it's something you want.

Once you learn about a solution to a problem you may not even realize you had, you'll be a lot more likely to make a purchase. This is why app makers jump to be featured in compilations like 'top 5 note taking apps for iOS'; other options are word-of-mouth, bundling, or being promoted somehow out-of-band.

Most anyone with something to sell will claim it is the cure for what ails you.

What kind of changes would you like to see made to the app store?

Discoverability is horrible, searching for the exact name of some apps doesn't return that app in the first page of results sometimes. Likewise, why are apps with 2 reviews ranked above apps with 2000?

I've completely given up on using the app store app for finding apps, I just google and then hopefully there is a direct link to the app I'm looking for in the app store.

Not op but I think the app store needs trials and paid upgrades.

There's a lot of low-hanging fruit there. They could copy some Play Store features such as:

* Auto-refunds if you delete the app within 15 mins (this de-risks the app purchase)

* Suggestions for apps that your friends have used

* Better search

Other non-play store often-requested ideas:

* Don't disincentivise upgrades by zeroing out your reviews when you upgrade.

* More reasonable app reviews.

* App subscriptions instead of up-front fees (eg pay $1/month for each month where you use my app more than N times).

* Better curation of the app store (eg don't only feature games).

* Before allowing 1-star review, suggest the user should contact the developer and give 24hrs for a response.

* Allow users an option to either post a review or submit a public question.

For reviews, we tried a more checklist-like model in the Maemo Downloads store back in the day. You had yes/no questions like "does the app do what it claims to do".

There seems to be a negative reaction to apps using IAP as a paid upgrade, though.

I, personally, like the business model as long as the app is very clear about what is offered with and without the IAP, but I have rarely seen a review mention this practice favorably.

IAPs do not share within a family. That's a big problem maintaining five or ten devices.

It already has paid upgrades via in-app purchases. Upgrades, both one-time and subscription are explicitly supported. Trials are a bit of an issue, though, but it's quite possible for an app to offer the upgraded experience free for a limited time.

True, but conceiving and building the right IAP structure takes substantial time and money. If there were some sort of trial system that all customers could use to try out any app, then some app devs (not all) could ship apps much more quickly. I know we spent a ton of time figuring out what we should offer for free, what we should charge for, and how we should draw a line between the two. If there were a 15-min trial we would have just used that and not worried about it. (And if you're wondering why we didn't simply implement a 15-minute timer in our app, it's because people would have thought it was weird, since pretty much no other iOS app uses that. But if it were standard, this wouldn't be a problem.)

I suspect trials would lower revenue rather than increase it, all those impulse purchases would go away.

I think this is an important factor. I am quite willing to pay $3 for an app that looks cool enough that I want to try it out, but wouldn’t pay $30 without trying it first unless it comes very well reviewed.

Is it better to have the revenue for one $30 purchase after a trial or 10 people who impulse purchased it for $3?

Trials might be important for apps that need to cost $100 or $500, but for more reasonably priced apps it is not totally obvious that they would make a huge difference. Maybe for some categories of apps like those targeted at kids who would need to convince a parent to approve the purchase, and in fact games tend to be free with IAP.

Easy paid upgrades seem like a bigger deal.

I'm sure that the AppStore could be improved, but I doubt it could have the effect people imagine (i. e. doubling revenue or more). Most of the software people used to buy can now be replaced for free (i. e. google docs, and.. nope that's it). If you adjust for that, I'd guess the software market is actually larger than it has ever been.

Pardon me while I go off on a bit of a rant. I've played with Vesper and it is a fine app. It is also the perfect example of the power of the web.

There isn't anything that Vesper is doing that can't be done on the web. You could even write Vesper as a single-page app, and use a ServiceWorker with Firebase or PouchDB or whatever to run the sync. The infrastructure to do all this is very, very easy to do on the web.

This is not rocket science-- this is how far the web has come in a very short time. The UI could absolutely be the same as the iOS native app and while you might have a bit of scrolling hesitation on the interface, it would be perfectly accessible.

Suddenly you're on every mobile device, Android, iOS, iPad, desktop, whatever. The absolute hardest and most time-consuming endeavor would be to get the Stripe account set up for the one-time "in-app" payment to get sync working.

John and Brent and Dave made a fine app in 2012, but I would certainly hope that the next Vesper starts out life as a web app.

Unfortunately, I don't think I've ever used a web app that feels anywhere as good as a native app. You can feel it in every interaction.

You say "a bit of scrolling hesitation". I say that... and janky button taps... and broken back/forward navigation... and browser chrome always getting in the way... and random divs constantly getting selected along with text... and mistakenly-tapped links taking me who-knows-where... etc. Plus: if the developer decides to shut down their web app, it's actually done, forever, with no recourse.

What you're seeing are apps that aren't optimized for mobile. Once you start moving application logic, network IO, and anything that doesn't involve the DOM off the main rendering thread via a cached ServiceWorker, mobile web app performance jumps by an order of magnitude.

Every single performance issue that you're talking about can be seen in native apps; check Twitter, for example, or Facebook. There is a definite lag there caused by the network sync being front-and-center. That's unavoidable, but for an app like Vesper where you're not looking at a huge data transfer, running the sync in the background is absolutely viable.

Your "very, very easy" proposal just got a little more complex. For instance, ServiceWorkers only work in Chrome and Firefox, which means no iOS support for your web app.

I currently work on a web app written with AngularJS and PouchDB. We're constantly facing issues that would have been easy to deal with in a native app.

I'd argue it's just as hard writing a good web app as writing a good native app. It's just a different set of challenges.

Vesper had one market - Daring Fireball readers.

Ultimately the only people who can differentiate between "Generic Notes App #138" and Vesper, are people who have been trained to care about details that most people don't care about, and that's a very small market. Most people care far more about the fact that an app syncs to Dropbox, or lets you set a background picture, than one that animates screen transitions in exactly the right way.

I'm sad to see another indie Apple-ecosystem developer close down, but I saw this coming as soon as Vesper was announced, and I'm not in the least bit surprised. Unfortunately too many of the Mac/iOS old-school community go for the "I know best" + waterfall development approach, rather than trying to figure out the product-market fit. I say this as someone who has worked in both an old-school Mac OS company, and startups who have been far more agile.

That's what you get when your app design/development philosophy is based on Steve Jobs.

This is one of the most annoying things about the Apple ecosystem. People have heard that Steve Jobs was proven to know better than everyone most of the time. They've heard that Jobs didn't care what was popular, he just knew what people would like before they even realized it. Apple fanboys like to fancy themselves similarly.

I don't think the myth was true for Jobs and I definitely don't think it's true for Random Apple Fanboy #2,764,241 (and yes, John Gruber is included in this, though his number may be slightly lower).

It's really irritating when developers approach their audience as sheep to be led rather than customers to be pleased.

I wouldn't say that Gruber et. al treat their users as sheep, I think Jobs was infamous for taking it 'too far'. I think it's just that the level of thinking about design that Apple puts into things is neither necessary nor sufficient for a successful product, but it is treated as such by the old-school Apple developer community.

I think there's still a need for a simple/practical notes app. Apple's built in app has improved tremendously since so it's hard to judge but IMO there's still a big enough market that extends beyond John's followers.

But... an app that has monthly expenses but only charges a one time fee can't really be sustainable. It's completely misaligned, and that's why it failed.

I blogged about it here https://arielmichaeli.com/my-thoughts-on-vespers-unfortunate...

I don't think the monthly expenses should be much of an issue for an actually successful app, I think Instapaper proved that, it was (and still is?) a good business that did not require subscriptions.

I think Apple Notes is fine for the majority of uses, Simplenote is great otherwise, Evernote is popular... I'm not sure there's a need for another, unless you're the kind of person who cares about the particular class of UX problems that John Gruber cares about.

I believe Instapaper also had a developer product they charged for, though I'm not sure how big of a share that had of revenue.

Instapaper did not have a developer product that I'm aware of. It was a one-man product run by Marco Arment, and as I understand it, a successful one, but not successful enough to start employing a team of any real size.

It made most of its money through app purchases as the app was never free, and a small amount through subscriptions for a full text search feature that sold to a small group of the most active users.

I may be wrong on this, happy to be corrected. I'm going mostly off what Marco has said on his podcasts "Build & Analyze" and now "The Accidental Tech Podcast", which I have listened to on and off for a number of years.

Yup, they certainly did. Marco made Instapaper but eventually sold it to a different company (Beta Works) which built a team around it and monetized it via the developer api (https://www.instapaper.com/api). It was recently sold to Pinterest so that developer product is being sunset, but that's irrelevant in this example.

I'm the sole developer of InstaPDF (https://instapdf.com) and have been so for 4.5 years. It's a completly self funded project that I am working on in my spare time. Even then, my cost do not exceed $35 a month.

However the things I've learnt during building and maintaining it have been invaluable and helped me in so many other projects.

I don't get how running a sync server or adapting the product with in-app purchases would require too much time. When it is a labour of love and you still use it every day - why shut it down? Is he going to reverse his decision once it gets all the attention with the news of it shutting down? How can it cost so much when all it does is sync text? Why not hook into CloudKit for sync?

These are questions I would much rather prefer that he addressed

As mentioned elsewhere, the developer left. I think we developers tend to forget how seemingly simple things to us can be real barriers for others.

I don't think the developer left - he's a part owner. He wrote a whole blog series about sync. Here's his latest entry about Vesper: http://inessential.com/2016/08/21/more_notes_on_vesper

With all the effort going to export - he could have added CloudKit.

And here's the link with the complete series about syncing http://inessential.com/vespersyncdiary

OT, I'm always reluctant to sign up for products/services that hide their pricing. I looked for it on your website and found nothing. You should fix that.

Thanks for the suggestion - I will. It's free so there's no pricing table but I'll add some information. Here's why https://instapdf.freshdesk.com/support/solutions/articles/16...

That's helpful, thanks.

I have now downloaded your app.

> Even then, my cost do not exceed $35 a month.

And how about the opportunity costs of working on your project?

One of the big selling points of Vesper was the design aesthetics. There's a very real cost to that in the form of license fees for fonts.

So sure, they could replace the fonts with free fonts, turn off sync, and keep distributing the app. At that point it's a different product, one that they aren't proud of.

>the sync server and the licensing fees for Ideal Sans, Vesper’s typeface. We’re losing money every month.

Okay, what's the cost/benefit for buying a custom font for an app? I'd never even have considered it as something I should do.

Honestly, I'm blown away that 1) people would pay monthly for a custom font and 2) that someone who loves their work so much would see their app close before scrapping the custom font to lower expenses in an effort to salvage the app.

I feel like this is a statement about iOS development in general; that perceived design is more important than the continued functionality of an app.

Or, maybe I'm just reading it wrong and the custom font was a one-time purchase.

someone who loves their work so much would see their app close before scrapping the custom font to lower expenses in an effort to salvage the app.

I don't think that's strange at all. The look and feel of an app -- especially a simple tool like a notes app -- is a large part of what makes it valuable. There are many people who don't care, but they were never going to pay for an app in a category that has so many free alternatives. Those who are willing to pay are exactly the sort of customers who are delighted by the attention to detail that is exemplified by using a custom typeface.

No no, it's a monthly fee. I bet it's not small, either. But if it really makes the design that much better then it's probably worth it.

I reckon that even if they removed the font and somehow reduced the syncing costs, it still wouldn't be worth it to keep the service running.

It makes more sense if you think it that way that the application is also a way for showing your skills as developer or designer. If you need to cut down on things you feel important and can't be proud of the work, then it might make more sense to just kill it.

It's $299/y I think?



If so, kind of surprising that's of an order of magnitude to be an issue.

Having a custom sync server and a custom font are both surprising decisions to me. I suppose they both have to do with a certain design quality they wanted with the app.

I'm not that familiar with the features of the app, but the reason I question the former is that the Day One journaling app has had a great sync model that uses Dropbox from the get-go. No custom server needed. For simple notes, it seems trivial to be able to piggyback on an existing file service like that. (I do note that their comments mention wanting to use iCloud but it not having everything they needed.) For fun, I'm writing my own task management app and I made sure to avoid my own cloud service just because I know I didn't want to pay or maintain it.

The custom font decision is also interesting. They must've been fairly certain of their profitability level to go down that route.

> the Day One journaling app has had a great sync model that uses Dropbox from the get-go. No custom server needed.

Agreed. Unfortunately, they're not the best example as they then withdrew the "Classic" app from all stores, and released a new app that forces to use their custom sync servers.

They also include really misleading text about the nature of the encryption being used, and whether or not they can read your data.


> In its currently available form, Day One Sync encrypts the data “at rest” on our servers and securely transfers the data from our servers to the Day One app (the same level of security that Dropbox and iCloud provide). Following our 2.0 release, our 2.1 update will provide full end-to-end encryption. Our encryption features will utilize the user’s private key to encrypt all entries before they reach the server. In short, the server will have no access to the user’s unencrypted data. Neither iCloud nor Dropbox currently provide this level of security (see: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT202303 and https://www.dropbox.com/help/28, respectively), thus making Day One Sync even more secure than these other sync/backup methods.

Translation: We currently encrypt your data after you send it to us, so we can read it. We may offer pre-transmission local encryption in future, and only for our own service, and this makes our service superior to the alternatives that we could (but have chosen not to) offer this level of encryption for too.

So yeah, they're a terrible example to use, unfortunately. Their original app was beautiful too. I didn't get around to buying the Mac app before they withdrew it, so my options are either manually extract my data, or risk giving them a copy (and pay them for the privilege).

Massively disappointed in Day One.

Double-edged sword. 1. Running your own sync service [can be, is] expensive. 2. Relying on [Google Drive, Dropbox, Box.com, Amazon Cloud Drive] is less expensive but devastating if they vanish.

So many iOS developers jumped on Dropbox that when iCloud Drive finally appeared it had a lukewarm response. Dropbox has been in startup mode since 2007, with plans to IPO, but what if Amazon/Microsoft/Google were to have killed it?

Good point about it being a double-edged sword, but I think strategically it's better to rely on an existing service (allow use of multiple services to diversify the risk). If the services disappear, yes, you're a bit SOL but I'd deal with that when it happens. Better to get something working first and get customers and not worry about running a sync service.

This is all under the assumption that your app doesn't require something beyond basic file sync, of course.

Depends totally on the licensing cost – some are very cheap, but anything from Hoefler & Co is going to be very expensive, probably prohibitively so.

There is a lot of price pressure on iOS apps, people expect them to be free or at least under $2. At that price you need to sell a lot of apps to make a profit, and probably very few apps reach that level. I've tried the opposite, selling a higher priced app and accepting the much lower sales numbers, and I think it has resulted in a better return than going low cost, but it's still not earning enough to grow. I do look at the prices that desktop apps get with envy, so maybe it is time to go back to that market? The idea about designing for mobile first though, that makes a lot of sense.

John mentions having to redesign for iOS 7, but the reality that there are many of these events that mean that you have to keep developing. New iOS versions, new screen sizes, WatchOS, (tvOS), new input methods, updating UI, all add up to quite a bit of work just to stand still feature wise.

I think the days of making money on the App Store are gone.

Price elasticity also depends a lot on the type of app and marketing. I've seen the sales numbers for an app where increasing the price from $0.99 to $1.99 and ultimately to $2.99 had corresponding drops in sales where the revenue was actually kept the same. This app is very popular through word-of-mouth and blog recommendations which is the key. If you're relying on sales through search results and rankings it might be more price-sensitive.

Would you not build a web version first? I mean, you can use that on both a phone and a desktop.

While I'm reading this I can't help thinking that this is a great example of a bunch of developers who are more interested in building an iPhone app and are using a product idea as as excuse to do so.

But hey, if you don't try you certainly fail. I have been there too. Live and learn.

> Would you not build a web version first? I mean, you can use that on both a phone and a desktop.

And provide an inferior experience on both. I'm just one user, but I would have been reluctant to buy it.

Agreed. I think the only web "app" I've bought, ever, is Pocket Casts' web version. (It was nine bucks and saves me a bunch of battery life--easy decision.)

It is interesting to me how someone who is so knowledgable about Apple could make such basic mistakes about his own app strategy. Lots of people make apps that are not popular but Gruber is someone who has seen them all come and go and yet he built something that was just not compelling.

This project always felt to me like him wanting to prove that the App Store was still a place for the classic sort of high quality artisanal app you associate with the Jaguar to Leopard era of OS X (or the first 12 months or so of the App Store before it started the race to the bottom).

Think it's time for even die hard Apple fans to accept that the App Store is now the same low quality garbage dump of low income crapware that for many years they claimed the Android ecosystem was.

Also interesting is that someone with such a large and relevant audience on tap couldn't maintain a level of sales that could pay for the font and cloud service. That's a huge leg-up on what the average developer can work with. And while their roadmap might've been off, it wasn't insane - you can make a $5 productivity app work.

We have an iOS productivity app (at the same pricepoint) of which Gruber was very, very complimentary. We elected to advertise it on Daring Fireball (not cheap) and saw a reasonable return. It's a focused audience for someone with an iOS app.

Personally, I think they should've swapped out the font and maybe sold the app to someone who thought they could get it on track.

Nice app, but he nails the issue with not having a desktop app. I guess mobile first cannot mean mobile only (yet?). Lots of other Markdown-enabled note taking apps that work with Dropbox that allow you to use one app on mobile and another on desktop. I like nvALT on desktop and Drafts or 1Writer on iOS.

> In the pre-iOS 7 era, building an iPad app was like building a second app.

You know, it's funny Gruber was bitten on the arse by this when he was amongst the people who flung poo at Android on tablets for not forcing people to rewrite applications for the tablet form factor.

Does it strike anyone else as weird that one of the two costs driving them out of business was the licensing costs of a font? Jeez man, I think good design is important too but make a compromise somewhere.

Also, fixed cost sales vs unbounded maintenance costs is just a doomed business model from the start.

It doesn't surprise me only because I've followed Gruber's blog over the years: he's a typography and font geek in the same way that many of us are tech geeks. The use of a licensed font was a design conceit on his part but hardly fatal at $300/yr. The ~$3,600/yr for servers seems pretty high for what they're doing, but again far from fatal. What likely doomed them was that the market of discerning customers is much smaller than they estimated (yes, even in the Apple ecosystem) combined with a large number of competitors (especially at the crucial price of 'free'.)

Expenses didn't drive them out of business, the lack of revenue did. Sure, they could have switched to a free/built-in font and saved $300 and maybe switched to a cheaper hosting provider and maybe saved $1-2k... then what? At best they're now keeping an additional $1-2k per year (split 3 ways), for now, from an app that they need to keep running on the platform and backend services to keep going 24x7... there's better ROI to be had working the drive through window at a local fast food restaurant.

Your point about one-time revenue vs. ongoing expenses is valid, but that can be fixed via new products / subscription pricing down the line. However, before that happened it sounds like they determined that they lacked the customer critical mass that would make it worth putting any more effort into it.

Yeah, I think that's what sat weirdly with me—the article felt like a 'it was bleeding me dry!' kind of thing, but I have a hard time seeing how that could be the case with those kinds of expenses. It feels more like a "this isn't fun anymore" kind of shutdown.

So that doesn't seem like a show-stopping kind of cost to me... Its not nothing, but does point to the sync server being the main cost there. Wonder what the pricetag on that was.

The author states "I’m a firm believer that you always need some good luck to succeed. We would have been luckier, timing-wise..."

This is probably not a good thing. Video by Louis Rossmann: "Believing in luck compromises the influence we have over our own life."


I play poker, and if there is one thing poker has taught me, it's that success is almost always a mix of skill and luck. In the short term luck dominates skill. In the long term it's the other way around. The kicker is that bad luck in the short term can preclude the long term skill effect from kicking in, because if you go bust you can no longer compete.

Is there really a market for a note-taking app, that cost $20 on the desktop?

That sounds quite difficult to market and sell, when there are many alternatives, like Evernote, or OneNote that are close to free.

The hope is the take advantage of his blogger presence to sell the idea of a well designed, trendy, premium to his audience.

I'd say a $20 desktop note taking app is an easier sell than a $10 iOS note taking app.

I really like open source projects for certain things, especially these productivity apps that may bring their little twists and design flair but ultimately end up holding a ton of user data. I'm pretty sure Vesper users would love to be able to easily move their data to a less beautiful (bye Ideal Sans!) but still functional alternative right now, without a massive conversion/migration process.

I ran into this with todo.txt on Android. The flagship app (https://github.com/ginatrapani/todo.txt-android) was basically abandoned, but it is open source and some time ago was forked into what became an active--and better--alternative (https://github.com/mpcjanssen/simpletask-android).

> The biggest factor is that we have recurring costs: the sync server and the licensing fees for Ideal Sans, Vesper’s typeface. We’re losing money every month.

The costs of running the server I can understand, but if the app had value then surely changing the font to a similar but free alternative would not have made customers stop using it?

I find this part somewhat surprising: "iOS 7 was introduced at WWDC 2013, just a few days after we shipped Vesper 1.0. [...] So we spent the summer of 2013 not building a sync system, but rather building an iOS 7 version of Vesper."

Didn't they know, before the launch, the look-and-feel of iOS 7? I don't believe Apple would have launched iOS 7 without telling developers beforehand the changes required to make their apps compatible with the look-and-feel of iOS 7.

Disclaimer: I'm not an App developer (either iOS or Android). Please correct me if I'm wrong.

WWDC is the developer launch event, so that's the first time any non-apple developer would have seen the new UI.

It generally isn't released to the public until september-october ish.

Although to be fair it was just a visual refresh they honestly didn't have to redesign anything. They could have built the sync system then redesigned.

Rather than shipping then starting a rewrite just days later.

That was the "before the launch"... iOS 7 was announced June 10, 2013, and was released on September 18, 2013...so it makes sense they spent the summer updating it to iOS 7.

iOS is always revealed at WWDC in June, and launched in September, so you're both right.

I think commenters are missing the most important lesson from this story, which is that most businesses fail. Even if the product works great. Even if it finds it's intended user. Even if the team is completely committed and sticks with it for years on end. (And even if you have free access to one of the most popular websites for your target base.)

Entrepreneurship is hard, and the big success stories everyone likes to focus on are always the exception.

I read [1] a few years ago about an idea for using IMAP as the storage/sync backend for a notes app.

Added bonus of the notes I write are in my mailbox so no worries about a company shutting down and losing my data.

[1] http://www.haystacksoftware.com/blog/2013/10/please-build-a-...

Isn't this how Apple Notes worked until recently?

Yes. As well as the Reminders functionality.

Reminders sync using CalDAV, not IMAP.

My take on a better path (of course, hindsight is 20/20, right?):

(a) free iOS app (b) paid sync service _with open API_ (c) let other people build web+MacOS+Linux+Android+whatever apps (d) free artisinal, handcrafted MacOS app

Also, could have skipped the complexity of building sync infrastructure by using Firebase.

Also, I know using an inferior font would pretty much invalidate everything that made Vesper Vesper, but it's painful to see a recurring cost there…

> the licensing fees for Ideal Sans, Vesper’s typeface

Ideal Sans, $199 (currently on sale): http://www.typography.com/fonts/ideal-sans/characters/

Lato, Free: https://fonts.google.com/specimen/Lato

"I can’t prove that, of course. I could be wrong. But I’m pretty sure I’m right."

Daring Fireball in a nutshell.

That he allows for the possibility that he's wrong? Yes, it's a good trait to have.

> With “Vesper” we were thinking things like beautiful, smart, clever, strong. In the end, the name was more apt than we knew, because it also carries heartbreak.

That was sad and beautiful. I shed a tear after reading this. Man, this guy can write!

Is that a Bond reference? Apparently Vesper is also the name of a cocktail? I've only seen it as meaning "evening" (in German I think it typically refers to a cold dinner).

That explains it. I've kinda been in denial that there were any Bond movies after Brosnan so I thought this was more of a 70s era Bond reference than '00s.

Vesper Lynd broke Bond's heart, the committed suicide. The cocktail is named after the character.

The conclusion that building an iOS app second as an enhancement to a pre-existing offering matches my own.

If you want your App to be more then just another lottery ticket, it needs to be additive. It needs to augment a pre-existing product.

If you look at your phone now, how many third party apps are app first products (besides games and camera apps)?

Here's my list: Instagram, Waze, HeartRateFree, Uber. 4 out of 72 apps.

Not sure if anyone is still reading this, but I wrote a helper to get your Vesper notes into Trello: https://rajington.github.io/vesper-trello/

There are so many cheap hosting solutions, I do not understand why he does not keep this project as a hobby project in a kind of zomby state.

All the clients will be very sad that their (paid) application stop working.

From the article, he still has to pay for font licensing.

Gruber later mentioned on Twitter [1] that in some months they're paying more for servers than they're spending on the font in an entire year. (The font licensing is $299/yr [2], suggesting server costs around $3600/yr.)

[1] https://twitter.com/gruber/status/768302562030202881

[2] http://www.typography.com/apps/

Curious. You should be able to run an (evidently not that popular) text sync service on a Hetzner box for a fraction of that price. I wonder what was costing them $3600.

I'm not certain if it's still the case, but Vesper Sync was originally written using Azure Mobile Services.


During many Azure ad spots on The Talk Show, it had also been mentioned that Vesper used it.

Substituting the paid font(s) with freely available alternatives shouldn't be a big deal, no? Less pretty, but still usable.

I would imagine so, but he didn't mention that option in the article.

He says he would have made more money with desktop apps but I think people buy even less apps on the desktop appstore. I download apps on the iOS appstore all the time and sometimes even purchase iOS apps (including Vesper), but I would have never bought vesper if it was a Mac app (I wouldn't have bought it even if it was $5, but he's saying he would have put the price at $20....)

I agree with you that I am, for some reason unknown to even me, more likely to spend $20 in increments on things I will never use on iOS than I am to spend any amount on the Mac App Store.

On that note, however, Mac Apps do seem disproprotionally more expensive for similar functionality but that is a different topic.

Mac apps, even without any updates usually run on the OS 8 years+ later

Same can't be said for iOS apps. It's just a much better investment.

Is that really still true? I know most apps I use have either required purchasing an update or have simply been replaced by OS functionality.

And there's something about committing to a Mac app when you're not sure if, in a week, one you like more will be available as opposed to iOS apps, which are basically disposable.

Of course all of this is tempered by my desire to support the products I use and the people who develop them.

Anyone want to estimate the monthly server/font licensing costs?

I have no idea why it's hard-coded to 11pt font - disabling that makes it far more readable. I also tried to make it less skinny - #Main has width set to 425px, if you disable that it's a little bit better still. If you start screwing with the margins things get weird though...

Why did they target all the apple devices? What drives a decision like that?

Don't you want to target the largest demographics first? I would imagine there's a ton of Linux and windows and Android users?

Maybe you want to target the most profitable demographic?

iOS stopped having this privilege a few years ago. Android and iOS are about equally profitable these days.

And even if they were not, you will get about five times as many users on Android than you will on iOS, there are many ways to monetize these users once you reach such a volume.

Part of the failure of Vesper was due to Gruber's infatuation with Apple (on top of the fact that a note taking app is just not that compelling enough in 2016).

> Android and iOS are about equally profitable these days.

This is really only true for games, i.e. Candy Crush is not terribly different on iOS vs Android so it makes sense that the revenues are similar. But if you consider paid productivity apps, iOS sales still dwarf Android sales.

Have you got data to support that? Last data I read (2015) disagreed with you.


His audience is almost entirely Mac/iOS users.

However, something called "VSEPR" is impossible forget: "valence shell electron pair repulsion" theory. Ah, high school chem ...



What's fascinating to me is that despite claiming hindsight and knowing now what went wrong, Gruber still completely fails to see that not even considering developing the app for Android was certainly a factor in the failure of his product.

I'm not saying that their app would have succeeded, just that you're pretty much doomed from the start if you don't develop for both markets these days.

Besides, making a whole business on a note taking app in 2016... seriously.

This is what happens when you let emotions drive business decisions: failure.

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