The MOApp Software Manufactory Weblog.
Rants, Comments, Finds, and Tips from the Desk of Michael & Ollerum.

The Evolution of Write - or 10 Years of Making Apps

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This Monday, ten years ago, I published my very first application. And with published I mean I burned it on a CD and gave it away at a Mac user meeting. Actually, I forced people to take the CD. The very first version was German only for over a year and you could only download it from one of my very first weblogs.

I started writing it with Project Builder and later Xcode 1 and finished its last version with Xcode 2. It took me over a year to get it running without crashing and I had no clue whatsoever what I was doing. Today it would probably take me just a couple hours to write it.

But at that time it was like climbing the K2 for me and I offered it for free and it got downloaded about 3,000 times within a year. Back then I didn’t have my own websites for my Apps – just a German weblog.

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Two years later – still not really knowing what I was doing – I published Schreiben 2; still on my German weblog but, since I had learned how to localize Apps, already in English and German.

Of course, back then I really sucked at English. But Schreiben 2 was the very first App I actually sold for a few bucks. It wasn’t very successful compared to my second App: Kunden.

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In 2008 I had already written over twenty Apps, had quit my job, and started to really earn some money with my apps. Back then we still called them applications or software programs. Part of me being able to earn money was because of the ‘Featured Application’ section on Apple’s homepage.

Many, many, many of my Apps were ‘Featured Download’ – which means for two weeks, or even a month, they were prominently presented on the start page of Apple’s download site.

With over a million visitors each day on Apples download site, this meant lots of traffic on my site. At that time Schreiben, Kunden, Pluto and Co were finally sold thru my own dedicated site – which helped a lot. And yes, my English still sucked and I received emails on a daily basis regarding my mistakes.

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In 2010 I finally could make a decent living by writing Apps and I didn’t have to teach Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign anymore to pay the rent and buy new Macs. In 2010 all the German names for my applications were gone because most of my customers were Americans and still are. Only two percent of my customers are able to understand German. Localizing Apps into German is an expensive hobby – at least for me.

My most successful App back then was myTexts. I practically single-handedly invented the plain text editor with markdown support, custom font, paragraph highlighting, custom background, full-screen and all the other things you can now find in all of the Markdown editor clones nowadays.

It’s actually funny – or better yet – sad that I still get accused of ‘stealing’ from iAWriter and Co.

One could argue, though, that Ulysses ‘invented’ the plain text editor with full-screen. But then one could also argue that we all stole from the Terminal or the very first word processors, since they all were just plain text without a window.

In many, many, many of my Apps you could (and still can) find things you can now find in other Apps or elements that were later even sherlocked by Apple.

Opening a word processor document in the middle of a screen? Guess who was first? Writing a simple but more powerful alternative to TextEdit? Guess who was first? Syntax highlighting in a weblog editor? Guess who was first? Rich Text in a weblog editor? Guess who was first? Using a web view to import recipes into a recipe App? Guess who was first? Sharing recipes on the web directly from within a recipes app? Guess who was first? Using video and later the iSight in a diary app? Guess who was first? Writing a secure password app that could share its entries between Macs? Guess who was first? The mother of all Todo-Apps with sync? Guess who wrote it?

I could go on, and on, and on…

But I guess that’s much like the invention of the steam engine. Sometimes the time is just ripe.

And yes, I’m proud of being able to brag like that. What I’m not proud of is that this also shows something else very clearly:

I suck at marketing! Big time!

But I also suck at socializing. And that’s more of an explanation than an excuse. It also doesn’t help that I don’t care about money. I just want to do what I like and love. I’m very good at that, by the way.

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And then came the Mac App Store and that changed the rules. Visits to my websites dropped over 90 percent in a few months. The prices dropped and the customers changed.

Yes, some of us were (and still are) able to sell more apps. But many of us – especially those with only one or two apps – are struggling. I had the luck to be one of the first ones in the Mac App Store and since I have have more than one iron in the fire Ollerum won’t starve in the near future.

For over two years Write was in the Top 12 on the US Store, often even in place one or two in the business section. But those days are over, since Apple wants you to get ripped off and the MAS is flooded with crappy Bean 2 clones.

Honestly, I don’t know yet what the future will bring for Write (and therefore for my very first app). Today I updated it for Mavericks – and just to let you know, even the very first version of Schreiben still runs under 10.9 with only a few glitches – and I already have a beta version of Write 3 with tabs and lots of other nice things in the works. But the recent events on the Mac App Store and Apple giving a rat’s ass … well … development is currently on hold.

I like my job. I love writing Apps. It’s fun. But working six, nine months on a new version, just to earn almost nothing isn’t fun; isn’t fun at all. And doesn’t make any sense.

The times, they are changing and so are we. Or at least we have to. As I always say: There’s life after Apple.

Looking at the stores and iOS 7 this may come faster than we think. But I wouldn’t mind if I stood corrected and I were able to write about Write 10 (or whatever its new name might be) in another decade.

In any case: Thanks for all the support in those ten years! Without you I’d have to do a dull 9 to 5 job. I’m very happy that I don’t need to! That’s why I really mean it, when I say:

You rock!

I’ve known some of you almost as long as I’ve been making apps and many, many, many of you have been supporting me for this same period of time. I even have some customers that own(ed) every single App of mine. Seriously! Every single App of mine.

It’s fucking unbelievable! I’ve got one of the best jobs in the world. I guess, only being a test-driver for Aston Martin could be better…

In those 10 Years of Making Apps I…


[UPDATE 2015] I’ve made a new version for El Capitano [/Update 2015]