The Importance Of The 1.0

I had no intention of writing about Google’s recent acquisition of Sparrow. I wasn’t even a user1, but the conversation (and by conversation, I mostly mean internet bitching and bickering) did get me thinking about the way I plan to go about my own app selection and evaluation moving forward.

I often buy apps based on their potential. I like what I see, I see how it can be useful to me and I invest in it (both with my wallet and my time) with the hope that others follow suit. If enough of us step up and the app does well enough, the hope is that the developers will continue to make it better. My “investment” philosophy has some flaws.

The rapid shutdown of the development2 of Sparrow and an in-depth look at their success and profit from David Barnard of App Cubby has me rethinking things, especially when it comes to inexpensive software (for the sake of this conversation, let’s say $5 and under). If what appears to be highly successful software isn’t making ends meet for developers, the reality is that development of them will slow down significantly or cease altogether.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t support smaller developers; I think they do some of the most innovative work in space. I’m not even saying my buying habits are going to change all that much. Let’s face it, I’m still an app junky. But I do need to alter my expectations and what I look for in a 1.0 version3. I need to realize, if not assume, that development on something that I come to depend on can go away for good at a moment’s notice. Thankfully Sparrow seems to be doing right on this front, clearly stating that they plan to continue servicing the apps for the time being, but they just as easily could have closed up shop and moved on.

When it comes to the first version of an application that you use, you also have to expect that it will never improve and that development could cease the moment you hit the buy button. I think it’s fair to expect that it will function for a reasonable amount of time after your purchase (let’s say a year), but you can’t expect innovation. You can hope for it, but that’s about all. You have to like what you see enough to be happy, even if it never gets any better.

App Cubby’s Launch Center Pro is a great example of this. I see tons of ways to build on this app. I also know that if it never sees a single update, I’m still going to be thrilled with my purchase. I know from my recent conversation with David on the Mikes on Mics podcast that App Cubby has a ton of ways they’d like to improve Launch Center Pro. But I can also read between the lines of his post and see that there will be some financial challenges when it comes to giving this app the attention it needs to evolve.

I understand the frustration I’ve seen from many Sparrow users this week, but all of us in the app-buying community have proven time and time again that we want cheap over good. And cheap isn’t easy to innovate. Cheap has a shelf life and it’s an aggressive one at that. There are exceptions to the rule like Instapaper, but more often than not, the only choice we leave most app developers is way to find other ways to make a living. In our pursuit of a more affordable app, we accept advertising, we let our personal data be sold, or, as is the case with Sparrow, we let a company we love get acquired and an app we love get shuttered. So make sure you like what you see. It’s all we’re entitled to and if things keep going the way they are, it’s likely all we’ll ever get.

We can be indignant or we can learn from the experience and do what it takes to support the next great application, because the only way to avoid acquisitions like Sparrow is to find a way (and a business model) that is more tempting than whatever offer comes their way. Unfortunately, for the cheap amongst us, this means paying for new versions, helping to promote the app or, heaven forbid, paying more for an app that you plan to use every day than you’ll spend on today’s lunch.

And until then, make sure you’re happy with exactly what you see before hitting the buy button.

Hat tip to Kyle Baxter for highlighting several great posts surrounding Sparrow’s Acquistion


  1. I’m a longtime Mailplane user. It’s a great app and it plays well with OmniFocus.  

  2. Jjust development, the app is still available and is still being supported.  

  3. Or the first version of an existing app that I evaluate.  

5 Responses to The Importance Of The 1.0

  1. I’m upset, and I didn’t even use sparrow on my Mac. What makes me upset is that I thought about buying it a week before when they were having a sale. (I did buy the iPhone version).

    I just cannot believe they did not know at that time that they were going to accept Google’s offer. It just seems like a money-grubbing move to bilk the ignousers last-minute potential users.

    • I hear you, but at the moment there is a product, it works and they claim they are going to continue to ensure it works. Let’s say that they weren’t acquired, but couldn’t continue to evolve the app. They just kept selling and supporting it, would you have had a problem? Because that’s essentially what they are claiming they will do.

      • Its not selling to Google that gets me upset. it’s holding a sale designed to get more users immediately before the Google acquisition.

        In your hypothetical, I would be just as upset if they had held the sale and, immediately afterward, announced no further development.

        I’m a lawyer. In bankruptcy, there’s a concept known as preferred transactions. Basically, the court presumes that if you were to sell an asset within a certain amount of time preceding the filing of bankruptcy, you knew you were going to file, and you just sold the items to keep them out of the hands of your creditors.

        In the case of sparrow, their recent sale were “preferred transactions,” and, in my opinion, a horrible PR move (which they knew they wouldn’t have to worry about as a part of Google).

        • For some reason, I couldn’t type any more in that comment box…

          If, continuing your hypothetical, Sparrow had announced–three to six months down the road–that they were suspending a development, I wouldn’t like it, but I wouldn’t resent it like I do now.

          I’m a small business owner, so I understand the frustrations and problems. If a large law firm offered me the right price, heck yeah I’d sell my practice. But to try to sell more licenses right before a takeover by Google, that just seems like a slime ball move.

          • I really do see what your saying, but I also think we tend to look at an application like a service when it’s really a product. As long as that product is working and will receive service, why not sell it? I guess I see this as more of a closeout opportunity than the kind of transaction you are referring to. Is it a great decision? No. They should have taken the app down, it shouldn’t be selling right now in my opinion as the average consumer probably does not check to see the status of development of the app. But I do believe the true test will be how long they ensure that this app remains active. If it’s still working this time next year or has just stopped working, I think they’ve done right by the people who paid for the application, even if it’s emotionally wrong.

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