December 28, 2017
Favorite Mac Applications for 2017
I am going to cover some of my favorite applications of the year 2017. I am primarily a writer, which means that the bias of the focus will be on apps which I use to write. Let's get started:
MultiMarkdown Composer Does Markdown Better
MultiMarkdown Composer reached version 4.0 and took over all my writing in Markdown. Customized for writing in MultiMarkdown. Full of little touches which make writing an absolute pleasure. Designed well, implemented perfectly, this is the product which made my 2017 exciting and fun. I wrote about it here.
Bear Conquers Note-Taking
If I was to design the ideal note-taking application, it would look a lot like Bear. It was my App of the Year for 2016 and over the year 2017 Bear has improved on the product to make it an ideal note-taking application. New themes, multi-word tags, infinite tag nesting, tag auto-completion, has enhanced the experience of note keeping in Bear. The only thing it lacks at this point? Typewriter scrolling. This is a feature which developers who write code don't seem to appreciate as much. For a writer, this is a must-have feature. There are two products I use which are constrained by the absence of typewriter scrolling, Bear and BBEdit. They both suffer from that.
iA Writer Manages Your Files and Introduces a New Font
iA Writer has upped its game with the ability to manage your text files in their assigned folders. iCloud support to facilitate the cross-device access to your text files. The ability to add images, and content blocks makes iA Writer an amazing Markdown based text editor. I have written about it here and here.
iA Writer is iconic. Defined by its use of a customized version of Nitti, and the blue thick cursor, the developers of iA Writer introduced a new font to the mix. They wrote In Search Of The Perfect Writing Font – iA, and gave the community iA Writer Duospace. Duospace is my working font in all applications which give me the ability to choose my own font, including iA Writer.
Ulysses Rides the Subscription Wave
Ulysses introduced subscription pricing and it's user base divided into two camps:
- Ho hum. Here is my money.
- You barmy?
The product continues to evolve. One of the best environments to write in, it is enhanced with the support for Paste from Markdown and Copy as Markdown. These two commands has made it easier to work in Ulysses if you are writing exclusively in Markdown.
One of the arguments for the switch to subscription pricing was the issue of product development. In the old revenue model, important features were held back to be combined into a compelling case for upgrade revenue. In the subscription model, there is no need for such restraint. Features big and small can be rolled into the product when available. I am awaiting table support.
Scrivener Upgrades to 3.0
If you are serious about writing, you have to try Scrivener. They recently introduced version 3.0. It brought with it, a whole host of features and improvements. For me, the important ones were:
- Completely redone compile.
- Amazing support for MultiMarkdown built in.
- Complete modernization and overhaul of the interface.
Scrivener is one of the applications which you can live in. Everything you do in the domain of writing can be handled by Scrivener. I use it for long form writing.
Keyboard Maestro and Alfred Keep Growing Up
Keyboard Maestro released version 8.0 and Alfred went up to 3.5. These are two products which make my computer run. I use them all the time and I can't imagine using a Mac without these two programs being installed.
Though these get a lot of use on my computer, I find myself struggling to explain what they do for me. It might be that they do so much that it is difficult to explain. They do everything. In no particular order these are only a subset of tasks they perform for me.
- Launch programs
- Open documents with particular programs
- Open a set of programs when I first switch on the computer. Open a different set of programs when I work on some other task.
- Open a set of URL's when I am in one project and open a different set of URL's when I am on a different project. Open a set of URL's when I want sports news, and a different set of URL's when I want political news.
- Select a set of files and perform some action on all of them at once. For instance, select a set of compressed files in the Finder, decompress them and then move to trash the original compressed files.
- Start a timer.
- Have a set of keyboard commands which let me write in Markdown irrespective of which editor I am using.
- Empty trash without leaving the keyboard.
- Use typed strings to perform actions in applications. For instance, in Ulysses, to switch to editor only view, I can type,
,edit. To show the library? Type
- Expand snippets of text into pre-set boilerplate text. Alfred and Keyboard Maestro handle all the text expansions which I used to use with TextExpander.
This is not an exhaustive or comprehensive list of things I do in Alfred and Keyboard Maestro. These two programs are essential to my workflow. They are improving all the time and the communities around the two are enhancing the product with macros and workflows which make life easier for other users.
Outlining with OmniOutliner
OmniOutliner with version 5.0 decided to appeal to much lower price points. $9.99 for the Essential version and $59.99 for the Pro version made it possible for the product to appeal to a broad swath of consumers. Feature rich, extremely customizable (more the Pro than the Essential), and dedicated to outlines in all their glory, this is a deep product which is always launched on my machine. I love lists and OmniOutliner is where I create them.
OmniOutliner helps me think through things. Decisions have different elements to them and an outline helps me put it all together and evaluate different courses. Which brings me to the next application.
Curio Helps Me Think Things Through
Available in versions ranging in price from $59.99 to $139.99 Curio is an unique program. Mind maps, Lists, Index Cards, Tables, Stacks and Pinboards are all tools which are available in Curio. This is the program which does it all.
I live in Curio. I use it whenever I have to think things through. I use it when I find myself stuck. I start thinking in it, and having no clue where I am going I start putting the random thoughts in my mind in to Curio. Over time, the picture clarifies and if I am lucky, a path comes out of this exercise. There are times when I am not stuck but it is just the opposite, I have too many ideas. It is as harmful to my productivity. I use Curio to show me the way. I start writing in it, I don't think too much, I use the tools to get into Curio the random ideas in my head. The act of writing them down in Curio, clarifies them, simplifies them, helps me break it down to the essence and that gets my mind sorted out and gives me direction and clarity.
Curio is better than a mind map solution like MindNode or iThoughtsX because it does more. It doesn't restrict me to mind maps only, it gives me tools like lists, tables, index cards and others to fit my thinking into. That makes the process easier for me. I can make lists in Curio, I can make mind maps in Curio. Sometimes what I am thinking about is better handled by a table. No problem. Curio does that for me. I love Curio. I wrote about it here.
However, if you are looking for a mind mapping application both MindNode and iThoughtsX are very decent solutions for that need.
myTuner Radio Pro Keeps Me Connected
myTuner Radio Pro is a radio/podcast application available from the Mac App Store. I find myself listening to radio from England and India in it. It reminds me of the shortwave radio I used to listen to in my youth in Calcutta. I had to turn the dial and catch snippets of whole programs from the BBC, or the VOA, commentary on cricket test matches played in Barbados, Wellington, or Melbourne. It was exhilarating hearing sounds from far away, and accents which made my sing-song Indian english appear strange even to me.
myTunerPro is the modern day equivalent of the shortwave radio. You don't need to have minute control over the dial, the antennae need not be powerful, myTunerPro just sits on the menubar giving you access to 40,000 radio stations from 200 countries. It also gives you access to podcasts from all over the world and is always playing something on my computer.
SuperDuper! Lets You Be Safe and Clone Your Hard Drive
I use SuperDuper! to clone my internal hard drive to an external one. It has been working like a charm and gives me the ability to have a bootable backup of my system always available.
People I trust tell me that Carbon Copy Cloner is also very good at this task. I use SuperDuper!.
Both of these programs do the same thing. Gives you the ability to create a bootable clone of your hard drive. After you clone the hard drive the first time, you have the option in both programs to do incremental backups. Incorporate into your clone all the changes that have occurred since the initial clone. This takes a fraction of the time of a full backup. Both of these programs are heartily recommended and are a necessary component of my backup strategy.
We are lucky in the macOS space to have such great products available to us from some good developers. I thank them for making my life better.
Thank you all.
macosxguru at the gmail thingie
December 17, 2017
MultiMarkdown Composer Is My Markdown Based Text Editor
Product: MultiMarkdown Composer v4
Price: Free, Standard Edition: $14.99, Pro Edition $29.99
In the crowded field of Markdown based text editors, MultiMarkdown Composer (Composer) is a differentiated beast. For one, it is based on MultiMarkdown or MMD. MMD is a superset of the Markdown syntax, originally created by John Gruber. It adds multiple syntax features (tables, footnotes, and citations, to name a few). In addition, it outputs to various formats including HTML, PDF (by way of LaTeX), OPML, or OpenDocument (specifically, Flat OpenDocument or ‘.fodt’, which can in turn be converted into RTF, Microsoft Word, or virtually any other word-processing format). The original Markdown only outputs to HTML.
iA Writer is another product which supports MMD, with a few tweaks.
Secondly, Composer is designed for more than the individual document creation that most of the minimalistic Markdown based writing applications specialize in. This is an application which lends itself to the production of long form documents with images, tables, footnotes and citations if you so wish. It includes math support, automatic cross-referencing, glossary entries(LaTeX), and document metadata when you need it.
Conceptually, Composer is a Markdown based text-editor for writers who want to go beyond the constraints of the Markdown designed by Gruber.
If you look at the market of text editors, the two main categories were:
- Full featured text editors like BBEdit, Sublime Text 3, TextMate, and Atom. These products through extensions and plugins have the ability to handle every flavor of Markdown that you can throw at it. These are capable but complicated beasts.
- Minimalistic Markdown based text editors like iA Writer and Byword. These products support a subset of the functions of a text editor. Geared for writing Markdown, they concentrate on providing an optimized environment for writing in Markdown syntax with keyboard commands and syntax support being the focus.
We have a new category populated by MultiMarkdown Composer. With keybindings, macros and completions, Composer is in the middle of the two categories. Not as feature rich as the archetypical text editor, but not as feature deficient as the minimalistic text editor. With a detailed system of preferences, support for MathJax and CriticMarkup, text completions, and keybindings, Composer is positioned between the two extremes. The only competitor who might challenge Composer is Typora when the later comes out of beta. However, the wait for that seems interminable.
Changes in the Workflow
Readers of the blog know that my workflow consisted of writing and editing in iA Writer and managing files in Sublime Text 3. There have been two changes to the workflow. I have given up on managing my text files through a text editor. Don't need that. The Finder does a good job of that. So, iA Writer became the mainstay of my writing. It is a great Markdown based text editor. But Composer is better at certain things and has now joined the workflow. I now write in Composer and the final edit is done in iA Writer.
Composer provides the following advantages over iA Writer:
- Composer deals with multiple open files. Thanks to its support of the system tabs feature, I can have multiple documents open in tabs in a single window. Reduces clutter and makes it possible to have multiple documents easily accessible.
- Composer is more extendible than iA Writer. In fact, iA Writer by design is not extendible at all.
- Composer supports CriticMarkup.
- Composer supports Table of Contents (TOC) in its sidebar. This makes navigation simpler for large documents. Makes it possible to change the order of sections in documents by dragging and dropping sections into the desired order.
- Typewriter scrolling can be set for the spot you desire. iA Writer doesn't let you customize this.
- Text expansions make it possible to write with less effort.
- Composer keybindings let you make changes to existing keyboard commands and add your own keyboard commands.
- Theme support makes available other options beyond dark and white.
What are the advantages of iA Writer over Composer?
- One program. You can both write and edit here. Living in one program has certain advantages.
- Narrower focus. Which means a shorter learning curve.
- Editing component. Grammar check helps people like me write a tad better.
- Less options necessarily means less tweaking.
- Swiping to access the directory structure and preview is even easier than keyboard commands.
So, I switched the writing function to Composer. I have been writing in it for about a month now and I must say that I am falling in love with the application. It feels like an application designed by a writer of Markdown. And it is. Fletcher Penny the developer is also the man behind MultiMarkdown. He designed the markup language with inspiration from Gruber and he wrote the application MultiMarkdown Composer to write in it. There are little touches across the program which make it easy to write in Markdown and it is a pleasure to live in.
What Makes Composer Special?
What does MultiMarkdown Composer version 4 bring to the genre of Markdown based text editors that make it special?
You get to see the output of the file you are working on in real time. For those of you who are new to Markdown, this will show you exactly how your finished output will look. You can use custom CSS for the preview. Additionally you can turn off the MultiMarkdown Composer preview and use Marked 2 for previewing your document.
MultiMarkdown Composer supports themes and ships with a collection of themes. You can learn how to customize or create your own themes at MultiMarkdown Composer v4 Themes.
You can also go to my github repository of Composer themes, to download the initial work in progress on an iA Writer Dark and Light theme. I am going to post themes in this repository as I finish working on them. Keep a lookout for those.
Math and Other Esoteric Elements
When you type the first part of the syntax for Markdown, the application automatically completes the pair. You can also select text and type the first character of the Markdown syntax and the application surrounds the highlighted text with your Markdown code.
This is difficult to explain, so, I am going to quote from the MultiMarkdown Composer website:
"Years ago, Nick Gravgaard created a project that provided better tabstop support for certain editors, and that concept is supported in MultiMarkdown Composer. Rather than assigning a fixed number of spaces to a tab character, or a fixed width, tabs represent “columns” of text. Contiguous lines of text are examined to ensure that the columns are wide enough to contain the text in each line. This allows you to easily see your text the way it is meant to be seen, regardless of whether you use a monospace or proportional font."
You can learn more about Elastic Tabstops.
Easy Line Shifting
Menu commands with assigned keyboard commands lets you move highlighted lines of text up/down/left/right.
Easy Line Shifting
Conversion Between Markdown Block Types
I don't think any of the other Markdown editors do this.
Markdown Block Type Conversions
You can take any text and easily add or remove Markdown markup. You can convert any instance of Markdown formatted text to Blockquote, or a Ordered List or an Unordered List, and so on. A convenient and useful feature.
Clean Up Imported Text
Composer has a slew of commands you can use to clean up text, as well as commands to clean up the formatting of Markdown and MultiMarkdown structures. This is another feature which I haven't seen in any other Markdown editor.
Clean Up Imported Text
Composer helps you write by providing some formatting help. If you are writing an ordered list, Composer takes care of the numbers. If it is an unordered list, the bullets are taken care of by Composer. Have a link on the clipboard? Highlight the word you want to attach to the link and press ⌘V. Turns into a formatted Markdown link.
Composer generates a Table of Contents (TOC) sidebar from the headings in your document. Clicking on a heading takes you to that section in your document. You can search/filter based on content of the heading. Most importantly, you can drag and drop headings in the TOC sidebar to rearrange your document. Reminds me of Scrivener and its Binder.
Composer goes against the accepted ethos of minimalistic text editors in its handling of preferences. Most of the competition strive, sometimes going to extraordinary lengths, to keep its preferences to a minimum.
The logic being that if you give writers things to tweak, they will tweak things and not write. Composer shows a lot more respect to writers and gives you a full set of preferences to tweak and set up your text editor the way you want. It is a window into two facets:
- Composer supports MultiMarkdown and the MultiMarkdown specification is more comprehensive than Markdown.
- Composer is designed for the "serious" writer. And various incantations of said "serious" writer. It supports MathJax, and syntax highlighting for code on the one hand and then also supports CriticMarkup, and Table of Contents (TOC) on the other. It is a full-featured writing environment and not just a sheet to write a blog post in. The technical writer can use it to write github readme files and the non-fiction science writer can use it to write journal articles. The blogger can write in it and the novelist can write in it. The target audience is broader for Composer than its immediate competition.
Theme, Font, Typewriter Scrolling Point
Composer supports themes and you have the ability to control fully the user experience of writing in it. Two things I would like to point out that I am fond of. Composer lets you use your own font. I appreciate that. I like writing in DuoSpace and having that accessible to me in my text editor makes me happy.
Composer gives you the ability to specify where exactly you want the typewriter scrolling to be situated on the page. Most applications stick it in the middle. Ulysses gives you a variable spot and Composer lets you choose the exact spot you are comfortable in. Makes it a pleasure to write in.
Typewriter Scrolling Point
Smart Pairs and Title Case Capitalization
The editing preference pane shows some nice features. Smart pairs lets you type the opening character of a pair and the application completes the pair. This is something I have in Sublime Text 3 but don't have in the minimalistic Markdown editors like iA Writer or Byword. Composer also lets me apply "Title Case" capitalization to headings automatically, giving me one less thing to worry about.
Smart Pairs and Title Case Capitalization
Adopt MultiMarkdown or Stick to Original Markdown
Composer lets you choose to stick to the Original Markdown specifications when you are writing or adopt the full suite of MultiMarkdown.
MultiMarkdown or Plain Old Markdown
Choose Your Syntax
You get to, in Composer, choose the nature of the syntax you want to use for bold, italic, list markers and specify the behavior of tabs. Lets you stick to the syntax you are used to and not dictate a syntax to you.
CriticMarkup was designed and developed by Gabe Weatherhead and Erik Hess with a lot of help.
CriticMarkup is a way for authors and editors to track changes to documents in plain text. As with Markdown, small groups of distinctive characters allow you to highlight insertions, deletions, substitutions and comments, all without the overhead of heavy, proprietary office suites.
Having it included in Composer makes it accessible and usable. It is a great system for tracking changes and incorporating editor comments.
Having the ability to use Marked 2 to preview the document is much appreciated. The built in preview is great but for those of us who use Marked 2, the integration with it is a favorite feature.
Marked and Synchronized Scrolling
Another feature which I am fond of is Synchronized Scrolling. Specially useful in long documents, it helps to be able to see the finished document exactly where I am editing.
You have the option of adding headers and footers when you are printing your document. Makes the final printout look professional and neat.
Footers and Headers
Auto Save and Versions Support
Composer auto-saves your documents. So, that is one less thing for you to be worried about.
Auto Save and Versions Support
Along with auto-save, Composer supports the built-in macOS feature of Versions. That gives you the ability to go back to any state of the document you prefer. This is a feature it shares with iA Writer.
This is the kind of feature which shows the developers intention with the product. TextExpander is an application which lets you type in little snippets which get converted into stock text you have set up. It is a product which is probably the market leader in its space. It has the added advantage of being cross platform. Supported on both macOS and iOS it makes it possible for you to have the same expansions on all your devices. Composer introduces its own implementation of text expansion. It is not as full-featured as TextExpander but it lets you share expansions between devices (when MultiMarkdown Composer comes out with its iOS iteration). Another feature which is unique to Composer.
I use basic expansions from Alfred and detailed or form-filling expansions from Keyboard Maestro. I am looking forward to building my own expansions in Composer to increase my productivity when I am using it.
This is another feature which distinguishes Composer from the rest of the competition. Custom Key Bindings and Macros gives you the ability to string multiple actions together into one keyboard command. Through tweaking the .json files, this feature lets you change the default keyboard commands built into the application. It also lets you add your own commands which are not built into the application. To get a basic idea of what is possible in Composer, check out this github repository.
History Mode Undo
Composer goes beyond the system undo feature giving you something it calls History Mode Undo. History Mode Undo allows you to move backwards and forwards even if you typed something new in the meantime. In other words, it keeps all changes to the document until the document itself is closed. This is a great feature when you are editing your document.
History Mode Undo
The pricing of Composer is explained here.
Basically, the free version is somewhat hobbled. The Standard version removes these constraints and the Pro version includes automatic text expansion, custom keyboard shortcuts and custom macros, the ability to share configuration files, History Mode Undo and the ability to limit depth in the TOC.
Areas of Improvement
Composer is a mature product which makes writing in MultiMarkdown a breeze. However, it still has some areas it can improve:
- Give us a menu choice and a keyboard command for footnote. Even a completion macro will suffice. (Update: Fletcher Penny, the developer addressed this with Key Binding To Insert Footnote at End of Text. Thank you.)
- The help files need to be updated. There are elements presented which are not there in the application any more. For instance, the Assistants Preferences.
- Built in the grammar checking that iA Writer uses.
- History Mode Undo needs to have an UI to be perfectly usable.
This is the best Markdown based text editor in the market. If you are looking for a full-featured tool to address your text editing needs and you live in Markdown, you need to consider this product.
If you are not particularly geeky and are happy to avoid excessive customization, the Standard edition should suffice. But if the idea of total customizability along with History Mode Undo strikes you as features which you want to explore the Pro edition is recommended.
The developer provided the author with a free Pro edition for efficient bug-hunting during the beta phase of this product.
Composer is recommended without reservations. It is the editor I live in.
macosxguru at the gmail thingie
November 1, 2017
Be Kind. Stop with the Leather Sleeves.
Leather Sleeve for 12‑inch MacBook - Saddle Brown - Apple
Why do we need to skin animals to make sleeves for our gizmos?
You want to create a great impression? Try carrying your MacBook in a case/sleeve which is not a byproduct of the killing of another living being. Why is that difficult? Thousands of years of evolution and this is the best we can do?
The world's best technology company and this barbaric behavior doesn't offend them?
We need to do better.
macosxguru at the gmail thingie
October 30, 2017
Juicing Up the iMac With an SSD
Product Category: OWC SSD Upgrade Kits for 27-Inch iMac 2011
Product: OWC DIY Kit for 2011 iMac's factory HDD: 1.0TB... at MacSales.com
I work on an old iMac (27 inch, mid 2011). Few years ago, I upgraded the memory to 16 gigs. It is a great machine and has been chugging along without any problems. I love the big screen. It is probably the best Mac I have used. I am aware of the age of the machine and have been a little anxious, expecting something to fail soon enough.
It did. DiskWarrior 5 started giving me a warning. The gist of the message was that the hard drive was running hot and I should be careful. I started looking for a replacement drive for the machine. Internal hard drives are cheap nowadays and I was starting the initial research when Chris, my co-host of the blog, entered the conversation with a terse, "Get an SSD."
Chris is a mild, soft-spoken, gentle soul who manages to see both sides of every argument. Bugs me no end. This was a lot more emphatic than I have seen Chris in a while. I pointed out to him that the two options were not price competitive, I could get a lot more drive for a lot less money. He was oblivious to all arguments. "Get an SSD." He proclaimed again. He is a new father. I reasoned that the child must be keeping him awake and sleep deprivation might be the underlying cause behind his taciturn response. I picked up the phone and called him. Before I could get too many words out, he growled, "Get an SSD. Goodbye." He hung up.
Must be sleep deprivation on a massive scale, I thought. But I listened to him and started researching my options on an internal SSD. I don't know much about the technology. But I had heard good things about Other World Computing. So, I looked at their offerings. I was surprised at the ease of navigating to what I was looking for. They had an offering specifically designed for my machine and they had videos to show me how to get the drive swap done. The reviews were good and I couldn't find any user comments which were severely critical.
I got a 1TB SSD with their installation kit and it cost me about $400.
The package arrived and Chris showed up as requested. He is more efficient with hardware than I am. The package had a couple of suction cups, a couple of screwdrivers, and a bracket for the SSD. He took the front screen of the iMac out and then unscrewed a bunch of screws. The magnets in the iMac made this a delicate task, but everything went smoothly. Chris is a lot more patient than I am. He removed the actual display and then unhooked the hard drive and put in the new SSD and the additional bracket into the space that held the hard drive. He connected the thingies which needed to be connected and the job was done. My iMac looked the same, but it had a brand spanking new SSD as its main drive now.
I rebooted off an external system drive (Thank you, SuperDuper!), and proceeded to install High Sierra on the internal drive. I migrated stuff from the external drive and the whole process took about six hours. Most of the time was spent on the migration. I had about 500 gigs of stuff to move and the bootable external hard drive was on an USB 2 connection.
On the iMac, restarting was a pain. I have a bunch of programs which launch automatically on restart and the process used to take a long time. Nearly ten minutes. That meant any required restart usually was accompanied by a trip to the coffee machine for a refill. Frankly, I hated restarting. When application installs made me go through a restart, I was always quite unhappy at the intrusion.
It restarts now in about 30 seconds. The first time I was aware of it, I was looking at the screen waiting for it to finish, before I realized that it was ready to go. The indicator is always Alfred. I have a ton of snippets which are in Alfred and it takes the longest to launch. I knew I was ready when the butler icon of Alfred showed up in the menu-bar. It is now practically instantaneous. You have no idea how much pleasure that gives me.
List of things that launch automatically on restart:
- Little Snitch 4.
- Short Menu.
- VPN Unlimited.
- Tomates Time Management.
- Keyboard Maestro.
- DEVONthink Sorter.
Launching apps is instant. I issue a keyboard command, through Alfred, and the app is ready to go. Some apps required more time before and those are the ones which are the most improved. Sublime Text was always quick, but BBEdit 12 was not. It is now. Ulysses? Instant. OmniOutliner? Instant. Curio? Instant. You get the idea.
Most of the new machines from Apple come with SSDs or Fusion Drives. They are fast. Older iMacs have regular hard drives. If your machine is something you want to keep and are willing to spend some money to upgrade the machine, the SSD is a great upgrade. It will feel like a new machine.
I don't do things which are processor intensive. I write. I read. I browse the web. I watch the occasional YouTube video. I write a lot. These are not processor intensive tasks. I don't need a new machine. In fact, I would be happy to get three more years of use out of this one. I am hoping that the SSD is going to make that possible.
If you are looking for an SSD upgrade check out the MacSales folks. I am happy with the kit they sold me. The videos made the scary task of opening up the iMac seem easy and it lived up to the demo. This was a great upgrade experience.
macosxguru at the gmail thingie
October 18, 2017
Anand Sanwal Shares Some Insights
Video: Anand Sanwal, CB Insights: Don't Do These 68 Things in Your SaaS Company - YouTube
I came across an interesting talk given by Anand Sanwal of CB Insights. I wanted to add my comments to the content of the talk. Give it a listen, you are going to get something out of it.
Don't take advice from non-customers
I am noticing this in the case of Bear - Notes for iPhone, iPad and Mac. Bear is a note-taking application which has a subscription model. If you pay $14.99/year you get syncing, themes and exporting options. The non-subscription version is perfectly usable if you don't care for the added benefits from subscription. It is a well-designed application which can fulfill the note-taking needs of most users.
I am following the Twitter hashtag #Bearnotesapp. There is a continuous stream of people asking for features from Bear as a condition for subscribing. It takes the form of "I would subscribe if you added the feature…" The developers of Bear should ignore these folks. They have developed a basic application with a well defined niche. Note-taking. Bear is well thought out and well designed for the category Bear is playing in.
Unfortunately for Bear, Casey Newton wrote an article in The Verge, Why I finally replaced Evernote with Bear - The Verge. The exposure was welcome but the direction was not. Evernote is a different beast than Bear. If someone wants to replace Evernote with Bear, have at it, but Bear should resist the temptation to try to become Evernote. That is not the core competency of Bear. Specifically, Bear does not have to edit images, does not have to display PDF files, does not have to support Excel pivot tables, does not have to be collaboration friendly. And please, Bear does not need to have an Android version.
Bear is primarily a markup based note-taking app. Evernote is at its base an information dump. Those are not the same thing.
My advice to Bear: Talk to existing customers. In the current dynamics of the App Store, isolating the paying user from the non-paying one is a difficult task. But that is the audience which needs to be listened to. They are the people who bought into your initial offering. They are sold. Keep them happy. Churn for them. Ignore the people who are holding back their money to see how far they can make you jump. They are going to lead you astray.
Learn from HappenApps. Quiver, initially designed as a programmer's notebook was talked up as another Evernote replacement. It is for all intents and purposes, dead. Having lost its way along with a few other problems, Quiver is sadly on maintenance mode at this point.
Don't fall in love with pedigree
Work with people who are hungry. They work harder.
Ignore their background. Focus on their skills.
Don't think you know your end market from day one
Sometimes the market is so new that it is not possible to know exactly where it is going. iA Writer is a good example of this. Started out as a single window application where the focus was on minimalism. Single window. No settings. Follow the blue cursor. Very soon, it became clear that the writers were looking for more than that. They loved the minimalism but also needed to manage their files, they needed to access folders, they needed to be able to produce content for different blogging systems. The product grew. It evolved into a fight between complexity and simplicity and iA Writer has done a great job of straddling that fine line. They have managed to enhance their product while still maintaining the focus on providing a minimalist environment for the writer to do what she was most interested in doing, writing.
Don't price based on competition
If your product is unique, the pricing should also be unique. If your product is not unique and it is a "me-too" product, don't waste my time. Go back to the drawing board and come back with an unique product.
Your price should be based on the unique set of attributes that you bring to the table. It has nothing to do with the competition.
Don't dominate conversations with customers
Don't forget to ask for the sale
In my previous work as a political consultant, I always had to remind candidates to explicitly ask for votes. "Please vote for me." Similarly in a conversation about your product, when you are looking for a sale, be explicit. Ask for the sale.
Don't worry about competition
Worry about your product. Worry about your customers. Worry about your revenue stream. Worry about your positioning strategy. Worry about your growth. Worry about things you can control. Your competition? Don't worry about them. Be aware of them. Monitor them. But don't worry about them.
Don't try to please everyone
Please the people who pay the bills and are easy to maintain as customers. If you have high-maintenance customers who cost more money to service than they generate, send them to the competition.
I liked the talk. There are several gems you can learn from. These are the ones which stood out for me.
macosxguru at the gmail thingie