In a previous article, I presented the concept of Slow Software. Writing the article helped me identify some application that I use on a daily basis that fits under the Slow Software definition.
In an effort to keep the article smaller, I decided to create a new post where I can present some apps I love and the reason why the success, in my opinion.
What’s slow software
Here is a quick summary what’s a slow software is. Firstly, it’s not something new, development used to be a lot like what I call slow software. It all boils down to five main concepts:
- Vision: having a vision is critical when it comes to product development. Knowing where you want to take your product helps build a competent solution. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t listen to user feedback or critics, it means that you know where you are headed but don’t know the route yet.
- Subscription: it’s easier to take a project where you want to when there is a constant and predictable flow of money. That’s why subscriptions are beloved right now. It helps teams allocate resources and predict future income. Having a well-spread subscriber base is important and will help sustain the application in the long term.
- Community: social networks and the internet completely transformed the way the consume content and how we get our information. Slow software companies must take advantage of those and create a strong community of power users around their products. You’ll hear me talk a lot about Reddit, that’s because it’s, in my opinion, the perfect place to create such community.
- Communication: creating quality software and making people pay for it makes users more demanding. Even more so if the development time is relatively slow. This is why it is critical to have quality and frequent communication. A blog that gives tips or insights of future updates (without having to give a roadmap), a team member that is active on Reddit (or any other social networks) is key to succeed.
- Taking it slow: obviously, companies that fits in this category will take the time to design and implement feature. They'll match the design with their vision and won't hesitate to delay a feature if it's required
Besides those five points, a slow software company isn’t a company that will follow the trend and implement ever new features that everybody has. They take the time to create great products and won’t release something until it’s as good as they intend it to be. For the user this means slower release cycle but more time to interact with the application, more time to become a master and to push the application to its limits.
Great Slow Software Companies
I wouldn’t have written this article if I wasn’t using some great slow software companies. Laying the concept of Slow Software (this sounds harder to what it’s really) helped me identify some services I was using that fits into this category.
Bear: the simplest note taking app
It seems that everybody is looking for the perfect note taking app right now. The need to have a digital notebook seems to be at an all-time high and Notion (which is arguably way more than a notebook) takes the crown as the cool kid on the block. There is one app that is an Apple product exclusive that is beloved by many. It’s called Bear and it’s as simple as a note taking app can be while remaining powerful.
The team worked really hard since the first release and delivered an awesome product. They have a clear vision, building the most pleasing note-taking app, and, I have to admit, they are doing a terrific job! Using it is intuitive, it works as intended.
When it comes to pricing, their freemium model is pretty generous. Everything is in the free tier except device sync, more themes and export formats. Besides the subscription cost is pretty accessible with a 15$ fee per year.
Seeing the active Reddit community made me choose Bear instead of any other solution. I found a welcoming group of people giving tips, helping newcomers or sharing Apple shortcuts to elevate the application to the next level. It was awesome to see developers responding to most of the posts and finding people that truly love the application.
Lastly, their communication is excellent, team members are active on the subreddit, and their blog contains many articles and is updated at a respectable pace. The content is varied and interesting to read.
In the end, Bear nailed the five pillars of the Slow Software company. It’s an awesome project and I’m happy to use the app for both my work and personal life.
Things: the King of Task Management
Things was created 14 years ago and is, till then, cited in most article as one of (if not) the best task management app for personal use. Having an application recommended for this long in a highly competitive industry is a statement to the quality of their work. In fact, this screenshot shows how little the app has changed since 2014. This might seem like a lazy company but people are still using and loving it. It’s not because the UI hasn’t evolved that the app has been abandoned.
Besides being beautiful, Things feature rich and can be configured to accommodate most users. The goal of the team is to provide the most powerful task management app and they delivered big. The learning curve might be a bit steep at the beginning but once it overcomes everything just works.
When it comes to pricing, Cultured Code still uses a one-time purchase. They might have a subscription for the new release of the app but nothing has been communicated on the subject. The price is rather high and the app must be purchased on every device. A 15-day trial is offered to help people make their choice.
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As for Bear, Things have an awesome community on Reddit. People are welcoming, and they are ready to help newcomers that might need help to set their application up. The setup question is something that comes rather often, meaning that some improvement on the on-boarding experience might be required.
The team isn’t as communicative as Bear’s team is. They don’t share as much information as I would love to. Their blog mostly consists of release notes which is totally fine but having setup showcase or interview might be beneficial—especially for newcomers.
All in all, Things fit really well in the Slow Software category. Some aspect doesn’t fit in my definition but the vision, community, and communication aspect are respected. We’ll see if Culture Code decides to change its pricing policy in the future, maybe with Things 4?
Minecraft: Legendary Game
I spoke a lot about gaming in my original article. I couldn’t make a list without putting a game in it. The development of the game started in 2009 by a single developer and has been sold more than 200 million times since. Making it the best-selling game of all time. It doesn’t end there, there is an estimate of 100 million active players, which is simply mind-boggling.
One particularity of this product is the fact that it has been sold, the game was acquired in 2014 by Microsoft. Being able to remain a Slow Software company after an acquisition is an achievement.
Minecraft is a sandbox game, meaning that the player has a great degree of creativity. It is then more complicated to have a vision in such a context. Microsoft was able to find a strategy that works well for the game, a yearly theme-specific update. For example, the last update was focused on a Nether (some kind of hell dimension) overall and the next one will change the way the world is generated and add a lot of variety in the cave system.
Subscription isn’t new in the gaming industry, World of Warcraft or the Xbox Live are some examples. Minecraft doesn’t follow this model and is rather cheap for the countless hours of gameplay it offers. A license cost 25$ for the Java Edition of the game. There is a lot of content that can be purchased in the store or other version of the game which must be a great money income for Microsoft.
Minecraft is a very community game. It’s the most watched game on YouTube with 200 billion views in 2020. Doing more than doubling the views of the second game, Roblox, with “only” 75 billion. The community around the game is huge and keep increasing with time.
All those numbers can be attributed to some extent to the excellent work Microsoft is doing with the game. They keep adding great features and involve the community for each update. They release snapshots that are beta version of the future version and discuss with the community about some aspect of them. They also maintain a blog and offer a great variety of content ranging from release notes, to map presentation or future plans for the game.
Speaking about Minecraft was important for me. Firstly, because it’s a game I know for nearly ten years and that I keep going to from time to time. But also because it’s an example that a Slow Software doesn’t mean small team of people. It resisted an acquisition and was able to harden its strengths while keeping true to its origins. I don’t see Minecraft disappearing anytime soon, and it’s a recomforting thought.
The example detailed in this article is only a small fraction of the slow software existing. The goal wasn’t to make a compilation but rather to detail how some very different app can fit into this category. As seen, the context of the presented services is broad but all share some aspect of Slow Software.
One element I detected is the fact that the two apps presented are exclusively available on the Apple ecosystem. At least for now, the Bear team is working on a web manager making it more accessible. It’s possible that Apple users are more willing to pay for software. This might explain why iOS dominates the revenue while having way less market share than android (source 1, source 2).
All in all, I really love Slow Software since they encourage a sustainable development. It shows to the team that their work is appreciated. I know that finding software that matches the points discussed in this article is now a selection criteria for me. Working in the industry pushes me to encourage other team to do a great work!