On PlainText 2

My go-to Dropbox-powered, Markdown-equipped iOS text these days is Notesy. The $4.99 universal app is fast, powerful and has been updated for iOS 7.

Before using Notesy, I was a die-hard PlainText user. PlainText was one of the first apps in its category, worked well and looked good.

Before iOS 7, the app was free with a single in-app purchase to remove banner ads. While I was no fan of this method, I enjoyed the app and paid without any hesitation.

With its iOS 7 redesign, however, things got a little out of hand with the following in-app purchases appearing alongside the addition iCloud support:

  • Remove Ads – $2.99
  • Extended Keyboard – $1.99
  • Live Word Count – $0.99
  • Passcode – $1.99

In short, to enjoy all of PlainText's new features, users would need to shell out $8. That's not a big deal for most of us who really use our devices and believe good software is worth playing for, but it’s clear the larger App Store audience hasn't taken well to it. The app currently has a two-star rating, with many of the reviews complaining about the IAPs.

I don't bring all this up to throw PlainText's developer Jesse Grosjean at Hog Bay Software under the bus. As a user of his products, I've been pained to see an app I once relied on get raked over the coals.

That made his blog post today all the worse to read:

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not the right developer for PlainText. I’m now looking for another developer take over the project.

With all of Hog Bay Software’s different apps I have found out the hard way that I don’t have time to make it great. I’ve come a little late to realizing that Hog Bay Software has expanded to do too many things without enough focus. I’m now in the process of scaling back so I can focus better on a few and make them great.

I always thought it strange that Grosjean wrote Writeroom as well, instead of focusing on just one text editor, but his closing paragraphs show he cares about PlainText's future:

Even with this recent disaster of a release I think it’s in position to do better, if given the right attention. I just spent 4+ months rewriting the app. It now has modern iOS 7 foundation. It supports iCloud. It uses the official Dropbox sync framework. And it has three new features as in-app purchases in addition to the original “Remove Ads” purchase. It needs a few rounds of interface updates, but the foundation is solid and ready for the future.

My goal is to get this done soon so development of the app will continue without pause.

So, can PlainText be saved? While it's current IAP-based business model clearly is the wrong one, the app isn't as bad-off as it the App Store reviews portray. Grosjean writes that ad revenue and the old single IAP brought in $30,000 with 450,000 downloads.

I think PlainText can survive to see another day, but the lessons learned here about the use of in-app purchases can be applied more broadly. In all the chatter of paid apps being dead, it's important to realize that many customers will quickly become unhappy if they are presented with several IAPs at once. It's important to remember that PlainText's users aren't average consumers, as most people aren't shopping for Dropbox-powered, Markdown text editors. It's all about balance, and it's clear to me that PlainText was tipped too far in the wrong direction.