Smile is one of my favorite companies. I have owned every version of every one of their products. I am glad to be a subscriber to TextExpander as I feel it’s worth it. It’s why I am saddened by the state of Textexpander for iOS. When it was introduced, it was called TextExpander touch to give it its own identity. Over the years, I watched it grow from a novelty to a necessary tool that was usually one of the first apps installed on any new iPhone. In 2013, TextExpander touch added Fill-In Snippets. This was the game changer. Suddenly, mobile users gained the fill-in snippet power that so many Mac users enjoyed. With the release of TextExpander touch SDK, the amount of apps that supported TextExpander swelled to over 150 in 2014. TextExpander touch support became ubiquitous. No app that handled text would dare release without supporting TextExpander. TextExpander touch was on top of the world.
What could go wrong?
Fast forward to 2016. Smile reintroduces TextExpander as a subscription service. It was a rough start but they seemed to handle the complaints by tweaking the subscrition levels to reward long time users. We heard the reasons for the subscription, “necessary to sustain the company”, “developers could deliver incremental updates instead of waiting a year for a big upgrade”. We accepted these reasons and begain paying the subscription.
Fast forward four years to 2020. On iOS devices, we have gone from version 4.0 to 4.6.4 with the overwhelming majority of updates being nothing but bug fixes. So if you are an iOS user exclusively, your subscription is paying for not much more than bug fixes. You have been paying to beta test TextExpander for over 4 years. There have been no awesome new features in the iOS app.
Smoke and Mirrors.
It’s easy to say “It’s Apple’s fault. Sandboxing in iOS makes it difficult for TextExpander to do the things we can do on the Mac”. However, I am afraid that Smile shoulders most of the blame. Their SDK for iOS TextExpander support languished for a couple of years with no updates until last year. During that time, thousands of apps were released that could benefit from TextExpander support but due to an apparently unsupported SDK, the developers forewent adding TE support in their app. Other developers saw the TextExpander keyboard and shrugged, “meh, it’s good enough”. Good enough until you want to use an external keyboard, then not so much. So when Smile proudly points us to the TextExpander-Enahnced Apps page of their website, which once listed 150 apps, now states “74 and counting…”. What that means however is “74 and counting…backward”. If you take the time to count the apps on the page, there are only 50. If you dig down into the apps, you will find some that are no longer even in the AppStore like Dispatch. Others like Note-ify Notes has not been updated in 3 years, Call Notes has not been updated for 6 years, SnapWriter has not been updated for 4 years, etc. Do you see where I am going here? Last month, Day One, one of the top-tier apps that supported TextExpander for years, announced that they were dropping TextExpander suppport.
For the longest time I have been looking at this statement on Smile’s website.
The wording of it is very specific. Notice they are not using the verbage, “on an external keyboard”. They are saying “in the keyboard”. This leads one to believe that they have found some way to implement fill-in snippets using the TextExpander keyboard. Yet when support is asked directly, they state “no it’s not possible to do it due to Apple limitations on sofware keyboards. Is it possible they are talking about this awkward workflow below? If so, why even have that question on the website?
The Bright Side and Conclusion.
Ever the optimist, I can still happily say that other top-tier apps like Omnifocus 3, Fantastical 3, Drafts 5, and GV Connect still have native TextExpander support (including fill-in snippets). So all is not lost…yet. I would hope that in the future, Smile would reach out and encourage developers to include native TextExpander support in their apps. It’s possble Smile is content with corporate subscriptions on the Mac side and Textexpander for iOS is nothing but an afterthought. This would be unfortunate as it may be easy to replace TextExpander on the Mac with Alfred, Keyboard Maestro, Espanso, Typinator, etc, we have no such luxury on iOS. We depend on Smile for TextExpander and pay monthly or yearly to ensure it survives. We just want a little more than survival. We want “thrival”.