Back on February 9th, although HP announced some awesome-looking new products they also slipped in the fact that their current development framework, Mojo, was being deprecated on their upcoming TouchPad tablet. This offering displeased me, for it meant that small-time WebOS developers like myself were faced with a nasty quandary: do we abandon our existing userbase in hopes of having an app on the TouchPad when it comes out, or ignore the new Enyo framework and continue focusing on legacy WebOS devices (a market that is stagnated and actively dying)?
After much debating, I sensibly planned to finish TapNote 1.2 (which was in the early stages of beta testing at the time), and then start a new app with the Enyo framework to lay the groundwork for eventually porting TapNote to run natively on the TouchPad (the new app being vastly simpler, but using the same basic aspects of the framework as I would need for TapNote). My hope is that the TouchPad and Pre3 will breathe some life back into the platform, and it would be nice to have an app available on day one to increase my own visibility.
Instead of my carefully planned roadmap however, today I am excited to announce two new bits of awesomeness: TapNote version 1.3, and a new product called TapNote Lite. Both are brought to you by the power of user feature requests.
TapNote 1.3 includes two main new features:
Quick Text allows you to instantly insert the current date and/or time to a document. I am pretty proud of this feature; so far as I know, it is a novel approach to a common problem for note-taking apps on the platform, and the implementation turned out to scale through multiple types of usage more elegantly than I originally expected.
If you are a run-of-the-mill user who needs Quick Text rarely, you will find it in the app menu (swipe down from the top left of your screen). Tap it, tap what you want to insert, and you’re done.
However, if you are more of a power user, then you can access Quick Text without ever taking your hands off the keyboard. Simply type something like
@d, hold a finger in the gesture area, type the @ key, and the abbreviation will be automatically replaced with the current date (in this instance;
@dt are also available). You can also use Quick Text abbreviations multiple places in your document, then select everything and run Quick Text to replace them all.
If you are one of the several users who emailed me asking for a way to easily insert date and time information, this will likely be a favorite feature. And if, like myself, it’s not something you would ever have thought to desire on your own, Quick Text will quietly stay out of your way in the app menu until you do need it.
The second new feature, Quick Note, is a Just Type action for the subset of TapNote users who are lucky enough to have a WebOS 2.0+ device. To use it, open your Just Type preferences (type anything where the Just Type bar is visible, scroll to the bottom, and tap Preferences) and add the Quick Note action under the Quick Actions sub-section.
Afterward, whenever you type something using Just Type, you will be able to use Quick Note to create a new note with your text, or append your text to an existing note. This on its own can be astonishingly useful, but it gets better:
- If you have a particular document you are appending a lot of text to in Quick Note, open it up as its own card and instead of an “Append to Document” button that takes you to a screen with a list of all your documents, you will have the option to choose your open document immediately.
- You can use the Quick Text abbreviations mentioned above in your Just Type text, and they will be automatically expanded with the current date and time.
- Quick Note has its own pair of abbreviations that you can use at the very beginning of your text to specify what you want to do (reducing the number of things you have to tap afterward). Simply type
@nto immediatley create a new document, and
@ato jump straight to the list of documents to choose where to append it.
I’ve been planning to add support for Just Type since HP announced the feature, but what prompted me to do so now instead of later was a feature request from a beta user who was lusting after Just Type support. Thanks to his feedback, I also implemented the dual new note/append to note functionality (because an app can only have a single Quick Action in Just Type at this time).
TapNote Lite is a free, feature-limited version of TapNote, and it is the riskiest thing I have ever released. I have played around with the idea of a free trial version since releasing TapNote 1.0, but have never done so because of several scary facts:
- The app that a free version of TapNote competes most directly (and effectively) against is TapNote.
- Although I am making next to nothing on TapNote, next to nothing is far better than nothing at all, which is what I will make if future users end up using only the free version.
- A free version may create a lot more interest in TapNote, but a lot more interest might also mean a lot more support, and unless I am able to convert free users into paid users that support is basically offered pro bono out of the goodness of my heart. Which is soul-crushing and completely unsustainable.
- In addition to more support needs, users of free apps tend to be more demanding, less comprehensible, and generally less pleasant to interact with (based on my observations of free App Catalog reviews, and experience with MacRabbit support).
- From what I’ve read and observed, paid apps scale better than free apps. I have always intended to grow TapNote incrementally over time, and priced it accordingly. This has negatively impacted my early sales and user uptake, but has hopefully positively improved existing user loyalty and perception of my services and stability as an app developer.
Worst case scenario, releasing a free version of TapNote runs the risk of killing the app completely by pillaging the few sales that I do have, burning me out on support, and taking the fun out of app development.
So why the heck am I releasing TapNote Lite, you say? Two good reasons:
- If I am successfully able to convert a consistently decent percentage of free trial users into paid users, TapNote Lite has the potential to be the single best marketing tool for TapNote in my arsenal. And I could use a successful marketing tool.
- A WebOS user in Mexico emailed me recently to tell me that he had a chance to play with TapNote on a US friend’s Pre, and he found it perfect for his needs but was unable to purchase it because the paid App Catalog is not available in Mexico. This is unacceptable.
I hope that TapNote Lite will become a potent tool for driving sales, but the truth of the matter is that I am releasing it because I do not want to disappoint this awesome, polite dude from Mexico who dearly wants to use my app. I can’t sell him TapNote on the side thanks the exclusivity clauses in the Palm App Catalog distribution agreement, but for him and others like him I can at least provide the core TapNote functionality for free until HP/Palm hopefully gets their act together and expands the availability of paid apps.
Strategy be damned, it’s about the users
When HP/Palm announced that they were deprecating the Mojo framework in favor of Enyo, and then further admitted that they would not be releasing WebOS 2.0 on most of their existing phones what they were really revealing was that they have decided that the potential cost of alienating their existing userbase and third-party developers was outweighed by the benefits of an influx of all-new users and developers and the chance to start basically from scratch and do it better this time. Little as I like it, they are probably right.
I, however, am not so cavalier. My motivation for creating TapNote was to address my own need for an attractive and minimalist note taking app. I released it in hopes that other people shared that need and I would get a return on the investment of my time, and although the return-on-investment thing has not really panned out I have discovered a second big motivator: I like making users happy. I want people to be able to use my app, because the app makes me happy, and when other people share my excitement and interest in it I am reaffirmed in my estimation of the app (and my own design/development capabilities). I may not be making much of a profit, but I greatly enjoy hearing how other people use it and improving it to make their lives better, even if a feature might not be something I will use myself a lot (like Quick Text) or represents a risk to the overall business of app development (like TapNote Lite).
Of course I hope that some economic success will follow on the coat-tails of a happy user base, but regardless TapNote Lite is an experiment that needs to be made, if only so that the one guy in Mexico who wants to use my app can do so. Because when you come right down to it, marketing, viral word of mouth, third-party reviews, and all those other things that drive app sales are things I can influence but not control. The only two items that are firmly within my sphere of influence are making an awesome, high-quality app; and making users happy, one at a time.