“Apps that get acquired don’t last.”

Mailbox, the app that single-handedly revolutionized emails & productivity apps on mobile, is being shut down by its parent, Dropbox. They’re also shutting down Carousel, the excellent but under-used photo management app. Carousel’s core focus around photos will stay inherent to Dropbox, although features such as Flashback and Shared Albums will not make it to Dropbox.

Beyond the news of the service shutting down are a few things worth noting. First of all, this was discussed a few months ago, when pundits & VC started talking about the death of a few unicorns, and companies starting to consolidate. The biggest targets at the time seemed to be Dropbox & Evernote.

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The second thing worth noting, as written by Brent Simmons, by way of John Gruber:

“Apps that get acquired don’t last. Apps that don’t get acquired also don’t last. (Exceptions are rare.)”

This is a worrying trend for the world of app development, and especially indie developers. At this point in time, and without Apple’s help, it is simply impossible to create an independent and sustainable business developing apps. The alternative: working for clients, or branching out to take your focus away from apps and trying your luck building freemium games, or desktop apps. Even leaving your values at the door and adding mobile ads won’t be enough to help you play the long game.

Developers on the iOS & Mac App Store have asked for Paid Upgrades for years, and until Apple decides to help its developers, the situation will only get worse. Customers already feel icky about paying for an app, even for a price as low as ranging from $0.99 to $2.99, and a later option to monetise is about the only way to ensure an app’s development. So far, Apple’s stance has always been that third-party developers were working for them, as opposed to working with them.

If independent developers continue to be squeezed out, soon there won’t be a lot of these businesses left, and all customers will be left with will be productivity apps from the 3-4 biggest companies, and free applications developed by big brands who have other ways to monetize, thus rendering the mobile apps & games as mere branded advertising opportunities.

Another take from Stephen Hackett at 512px:

That said, Mailbox is now on a long list of smaller projects swallowed up by big companies just to be shut down later. That's always rough to see.

Mailbox (and Carousel) join a long list of acquired services being swallowed and discontinued. As noted in online comments, this is the type of behaviour one would expect from Google, Apple or Microsoft, not Dropbox.

The future is looking more incertain by the day, and there are no easy answers at the moment. What’s sure is that we are far from the gold rush of the first 4-5 years of the App Store when developers could offer an innovative product for a fee, and make a good return worth the work they’d spend months investing into.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for an alternive to Mailbox, be sure to check out Spark, an excellent email client on iOS by Readdle, one of the few remaining indie developers out there!

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How to make customers happy (using your support team)

In the past, I’ve written about how Customer Support should be a part of your Marketing effort.

Customer support can make or break small businesses, and has a powerful impact on the outcome, successful or not, experienced by younger companies: every praise matters, and any customer with a high enough number of followers can help shine the spotlight on your product. However, this is a double-edged sword that can work against you, when vocal dissatisfied end-users ruin your latest product launch with just a few tweets.

Most businesses haven’t yet realised the opportunity that lies in developing a friendly proactive support team. A great customer experience is worth your time & effort, and this starts by making sure your staff is motivated to give great support.

Customer Support can differentiate between a good product and a great company

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OK, so how do I offer great support?

It’s simple really: beyond the simple idea that they want their problems fixed, customers want you to meet their expectations: so start by caring deeply about your customers, and listen to their problems. If you pay attention to your end-users and how they use your product, you can better understand their problems.

And it’s likely that they will realise the amount of effort you put into helping them.

Chances are, they may even feel grateful that you’ve taken them seriously, and you could turn a bad situation (i.e. experiencing a bug) into a positive outcome (i.e. Turn the customer into a fan, or even an ambassador for your product), simply by paying attention to them and being open, honest, and transparent about their request.

Are they experiencing a known bug? Then, explain to them that this is a known issue, that you’re expecting a bugfix to go out soon (feel free to share a rough ETA), and if possible, provide them with a temporary alternative.

Are your customers experiencing a new problem that your support team hasn’t seen, yet? Then try to give very simple & clear steps to help them gather log files, screenshots, and as many details as possible so that you can then investigate what’s going on. Again, be transparent with your customers and try to give them an ETA or offer an alternative, if you can. And make sure to follow-up with them once you have a solution.

Is that it?

It’s a simple thing, but paying attention and listening closely to your users can get you far, whether you’re acknowledging a feature request or trying to fix a problem with your product. It’s the difference between a company & product that they use, and one that they feel they share a bond with.

If your company, through your support agents, is able to show empathy, be reasonable, and make some honest efforts with your end-users, you will start reaping the benefits. This will start with better, more educated customers, friendlier conversations with your existing & potential end-users, and an overall better mood across your team, when dealing with support queries. I wouldn’t be surprised if you started seeing your customers be more vocal and open about sharing the good word about you.

Renewing my Kindle

I’ve bought my first Kindle back in 2011, during my internship in San Francisco. I knew I wanted to get back into reading and the advances of eInk as well as the convenience of being to carry hundreds of books in such a small device made it incredibly attractive for me.

I’ve been really happy with my Kindle 3G - the last generation sporting the physical keyboard. It’s travelled with me from the US, back to Europe, and all around the world (from sandy beaches in the Caribbean, to family trips through France, and beyond.)

Recently, I’ve noticed that after 4-5 years, the e-ink started fading away, and the device got slower. So I’ve had my eyes on the latest Paperwhite and Voyage for a while. Last year, when Amazon updated their Kindles I got a strong itch to upgrade. However, as my former colleagues at Realmac got theirs, I managed to hold off.

Fast forward to this week when, with the announcement of a new Kindle Paperwhite upgrade, including Goodreads integration (a service I’ve been using more and more in the past 2 years), the new Bookerly font, and a much higher pixel density (300DPI), I couldn’t resist and had to preorder it.

I’ve got a long list of books to read: fiction, non-fiction, business, self-help, and I’m also excited about the idea of connecting the articles I’ve saved from Pocket, and send them to my new dedicated e-Ink device.

We’re technologists, gadget geeks, and we tend upgrade our gear regularly. For some of the most hardcore of us, it’s a yearly iPhone upgrade. Me? I try to stay a bit more moderate and upgrade when I feel it’s a bit more needed or when I’ve really got a lot of value out of my prized possession. Not on a yearly basis, but every few years when it’s more justifiable. The new Kindle is definitely a (very) nice to have over a need to have, but the devices are not really that expensive anymore and I know it’ll be put to good use.

So long Kindle! You’ve been a great friend: now it’s time to make space to the new addition to the family!

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Let's talk about Sunstone

A few months ago, I was browsing Reddit and Tumblr when I saw a comic book kept popping up repeatedly: “Sunstone”.

The name somehow stayed in the back of my mind (as someone for whom English is not my native language, I had never heard of the word sunstone before.) Until last week, when Comixology ran a special promotional sale, ahead of the release of the second volume of Sunstone (which came out today, by the way.) As part of this sale, the first volume was discounted: it was the perfect time for me to pick it up and give it a try.

Sunstone was created by Stjepan Šejić, an artist who’s worked for some great series such as Witchblade, Aphrodite IX, and The Darkness for Top Cow Productions, a division of Image Comics.

The book is aimed at adults, and is about two women meeting in a chatroom, getting to know one another, and entering a relationship through their common attraction to BDSM. Now, I know what you’re thinking, and you have to understand that this shouldn’t be considered a pornographic book. Where the book shines is by really diving deep into the protagonists background and psychology: these are fully developed three-dimensional characters who bring their share of experience, and at the end of the day, you keep reading these pages trying to learn more about their paths. In a single book, I’ve felt a genuine curiosity towards the stories of these characters and felt compelled to learn what would happen next. Over the first few pages, I’ve already felt like some of the characters traits were reflections of my own personality.

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In the past week, I’ve not only read this book from cover to cover, I’ve also taken the time to educate myself on the story behind the creation of the book, the artist, and also read the other finished chapters, available online for free and should be published very soon.

There’s an interesting backstory to how the book came to be: Šejić started drawing a series of sketches and illustrations on his spare-time, as a way to take a break from his busy schedule as a comic book artist. Overtime, he continued to draw these two protagonists in different poses and situations, to the point where he naturally started working on stories between them. He published them online on DeviantArt, under the alias “Shiniez”. Overtime, the web comic became incredibly popular (reaching with millions of views) and the creator was offered a publishing deal to turn the free online comic into a physical version.

Although this is indeed a true independent success story, there is something absolutely unique about this book: it’s no coincidence that it’s such a popular indie title. First of all, starting with the obvious: the art is just beautiful! As I’ve mentioned before, the creator has done some great work on big titles in the past and whether you read it for free from his DeviantArt account, or via the slightly more polished print version, Sunstone is a visual treat on the eyes.

What really shines, however, is the details given to the characters’ traits and personalities as well as the attention and respect towards the BDSM community. I’m not into this type of fetish in any way and used to think about it in slightly stereotypical ways… until I started reading Sunstone. This book really respects these practises and takes the time to explain the psychology behind dominance, submission and the whole alternative lifestyle that is the BDSM scene. It’s an exercise in openness and empathy, and the addition of different “vanilla” characters in later chapters help introduce inexperienced readers to this world even more. In addition, there is a lot of humor throughout the book, and the pace is really well balanced. There aren’t any pages during which I got bored or wanted to skip ahead to a different setting or situation. No matter where Šejić takes the story, there is always something interesting on the page.

So here we are: I’ve ordered a physical version of this first volume, as a gift for my girlfriend. I can’t wait to see her reaction after reading the book, so we can talk about these characters together. I would highly recommend anyone (above 18 years old) to check out Sunstone.

If you’d like to read more about the creator and his work on the book, you should definitely read this cross interview between him & his wife.

You can support this comic by buying the book physically from Amazon or digitally via Comixology. In addition, the book (and more artwork) is also available for free on DeviantArt.

Sunstone volume 2

If you have read Sunstone, I’d love to know what you thought, and what attracted you to the book. And if you have any question on the book, I’d be happy to get in touch with you.

The Bernie Mic Drop

How’s that for “New York values”, Senator Cruz?

I haven’t yet had time to look at what happened during the latest democratic debate, but this video put a smile on my face. A great way to start the weekend.

“...you know what New York is? It's a place built by the backbreaking work of immigrants. Immigrants like your family, Ted Cruz. And when you say having New York values is a bad thing, you insult my city, my state, my culture, and my heritage. I am the son of an immigrant — and I am proud of it.”
“Mr. Trump, you wouldn't know New York values if they were written in 50-foot gold letters on the side of the Empire State Building. ”

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Love & Beats

Over the weekend, I’ve worked on my first mix. Enjoy!

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Tribute to the Cat

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