App Subscriptions

In August 2017 my favorite writing app, Ulysses, changed from a one-time purchase price to a subscription model. They gave a lifetime 50% discount for existing users. If you just purchased the apps recently you could be eligible for up to 18 months free1. While I don’t use Ulysses every day, it is my primary writing tool on both macOS and iOS.

Even with a generous discount, I still wasn’t happy with the change. So, I looked at other writing tools that weren’t based on subscriptions. I’m not going to go into a lot of that analysis here, but basically none of those apps were as tuned to my writing process as Ulysses is. Most of them would let me write and post to WordPress, or work on long-form writing, but none of them worked for me as smoothly as Ulysses. So, I paid the yearly subscription price and told myself I had a year to see if this worked out for me. My chief problem with app subscriptions is if I stop paying for the app, I have to stop using the app; it’s a rental vs. owning model.

Recently, Clip Studio Paint came out for the iPad Pro. It has a 6 month free trial, and then jumps to $9 a month (or $108 a year to save you the math). I got into a Twitter exchange with Eric Merced about my thoughts on the pricing. Looking back on it, I realized his position on Clip Studio Paint’s subscription model was similar to how I ended up defending Ulysses when I switched to the subscription app. Eric also mentioned to me that the desktop version of Clip Studio is $219, and the iPad version is a near feature-complete version of that app. So, one way of looking at it is that two years of subscriptions pays for the app, with free upgrades thrown in. Eric was correct when he pointed out that most people would pitch a fit over a $219 iPad app.

I liked the old method of software development: I pay you for your effort to create the app and if you create a new version, I will likely upgrade to that. This model, though, doesn’t work for app developers. The App Store itself is a race to the bottom. Users want free updates for life from the 99-cent app they bought and cry foul when the developer releases a new version and charges for it. Apple does not have a system for paid upgrades. Developers are kind of in a lose-lose situation. Users of these apps are also.

I’ve worked at reducing my total subscriptions this year. With apps like Affinity Photo, I was able to eliminate my Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. School has an Office 365 account so I can use that instead of needing a personal account. I do pay for iCloud storage, though, because it provides value. Eliminating those subscriptions allow me to feel good about subscribing to Ulysses.

A lot of people — myself included — have argued that the iPad Pro (especially the 12.9”) is a pro-level device, and pro-level apps need to cost more than a buck to sustain development. The subscription model falls into a bad analogy. Typically, the response is something along the lines of: buy a few less coffees a month, you cheap bastard. The problem with that argument — outside of the fact that I buy a high-priced coffee so little it’s not worth discussing2, those $4-8 a month subscriptions add up to some serious money. It’s death by a thousand paper cuts. At what point does an app subscription become too much? Does one set a budget on subscriptions? By having a monthly subscription a developer is forcing us to ask each month if their app is worth paying for. When that answer becomes no, the revenue goes away. It’s a bit of of mental overload thinking about this every month.

Desktop OSs are fairly stable at this point. There is little in a macOS upgrade that will break a lot of apps at this point3. iOS upgrades aren’t there yet. Sweeping architecture changes occur every year. New iOS versions frequently break existing apps. Either because they changed how an API calls a function, or the developer hacked together a solution the upgrade breaks, or iOS just changed enough. App developers have to scramble to get their apps upgraded. I don’t think it’s fair to expect free upgrades for life because Apple adds new features to iOS. Subscriptions give the developers a way to fund those yearly upgrades. I’m not 100% against subscriptions. I think the complexity of the app coupled with the pace of feature-rich upgrades factor in to whether I will subscribe to the app. I’d also like it if the app reverts to a model where you can at least export your content if you let the subscription lapse.

  1. This involved whether you own the iOS and macOS apps, and when you bought them. So, if within the month or two prior to the announcement, if you bought both apps you would get 18 months free.
  2. Funnily enough, I’m sitting in a Starbucks drinking one while I write this.
  3. Yes, High Sierra introduced a new file system, but those types of architecture changes are few these days.

Nuke it from Orbit

This is Part 2 of the thoughts behind Sacred Places of Work.

Burn it down, I think. Nuke it from orbit.

My MacBook Pro has been exhibiting some weird signs, well since I got it. Originally I had a problem where menus in Safari or Finder would flash and not let me select them unless I Force Quit the app. I had a few issues after upgrading to High Sierra where the Finder would hang. There is also apparently a bug where the GPU doesn’t respond properly when waking from sleep mode resulting in poor gaming performance1.

Last year, I bared my Air. I got that saying from Patrick Rhone’s Enough podcast, where he would ask, “How bare is your Air?”. Patrick was a big proponent of living on the 64g MacBook Air. When I got my MacBook Pro, I thought about just getting the 256g model. Since the storage is now soldered onto the logic board, I couldn’t upgrade later if I wanted. So, I got the 512g model.

A common theme for me recently is talking about my frustrations with working on personal creative endeavors. On Episode 102 of Under the Radar they talk about Procrastiworking. I had to laugh when I saw the episode title, since me writing and posting about my lack of getting stuff done has felt like I’m being creative in some way. It’s not, but writing is writing, so whatever. It feels good to write about it and bring some order to the chaos that is my mind.

Working on my creative side projects — I always feel I need to keep adding these disclaimers that this does not pertain to the day job — requires a lot of level-setting and honesty with myself. I wrote last year about The Medicinal Value of Fucking Off, and I still stand by it. Some nights or weekend days you could fool yourself into thinking you could draw or write, but, you just don’t have it in you. Better to just take a kind of vacation day, play video games, and recharge. Balancing personal projects during a crazy work week means some weeks the personal project loses the battle. Or, you might have the energy and desire, but you know there is a possibility you could get interrupted in the next hour or so. If that interruption is going to throw you, it’s hard to start. When I start painting a miniature, I know it’s a 2-3 hour shot where I can’t do much else or my palate will dry up. When I write, I rarely get so far into a zone that it’s a hassle to come out. Working on a presentation or a diagram, yes. Even then, it’s still not the end of the world.

I got the PS4 to move game playing out of my office. Games still ended up on my MacBook Pro under the auspices of just seeing how they run. In the same way that the 27” monitor parked on my desk feels like a failure, so does having World of Warcraft sitting on the MacBook Pro.

At work we are Lean practitioners. One of the Lean tools I love is the 5S: sort; set in order; shine; standardize; and sustain. It is a way if making sure your work space is neat and orderly. In Sacred Places of Work, I worked on getting my personal space in order. Now it is time to think about my digital space.

Burn it down, I think. Nuke it from orbit.

It would be the computer created by a sadist: Dere vill be no gamez on dis komputer. Der vill be no fun. The computer would be sorted, set in order, and standardized. The hard part, as always, is sustain. It would be the digital equivalent of throwing everything you own out.

There is a catharsis to this purge. Each addition to the computer should be the result of some analysis: What does this app do that the built-in app can’t? Do you need 3 writing apps? Is this game worth taking up 20g of space?

Scorched earth feels good at the time but it isn’t an optimum solution. I’ve purged the apps, but what about the data? What about the 230 gig of iCloud Drive data that will automagically sync down — and take the entire weekend — when I log back into iCloud? Shouldn’t that be part of the nuke from orbit? Archive the entire drive somewhere and only move the recent files you are working on back into iCloud Drive and your computer. We fret and worry about data loss. We create complicated backup schemes to ensure we can always recover from a complete system failure. What if that near-complete data loss is a freeing thing? If we are not our belongings, then we are also not our data. I’m not even sure what is in some of these folders.

Eighty-three point five (83.5) gigabytes free of a 512 gig drive. That is how much free space I have on my MacBook Pro. Only 16.3% of the drive doesn’t have some form of crap on it. I mostly write and do school papers. Not exactly the type of thing to suck up a ton of data on. My Lightroom library is about 25g. I bet 100g of that is games.

This is why I like using iOS and my iPad Pro so much. The file system is hidden away. When I want to write, I open Ulysses and my project is there2. I want to draw and I open up Linea or Procreate or Clip Studio or any of the other drawing apps I use and my drawings are right there. It is all backed up into iCloud, so if I do need to do a total system restore, it’s all there and I am up and running in a few hours. Matt Gemmell wrote about being done with file systems, and I agree with him. He’s gone iPad-only since he wrote that, and the piece is prescient of his future decision.

I’m not going to nuke the MacBook from orbit. It’s too much hassle for too little gain. Games on it aren’t why I’m having issues getting stuff done. The underlying reasons are something I’m doing a lot of soul-searching with little answers. What writing about it here reminded me of, however, is how few barriers to productivity exist for me on the iPad Pro, and to continue to reach for that device when I want to create.

  1. What a bizarre argument I have here: I’m going to reformat (and likely downgrade) my operating system because a game runs poorly. The main reason I’d burn it from orbit is the game is even there in the first place.
  2. To be fair, since the app data is store inside Ulysses and it syncs via iCloud, it’s also on my Mac.