If you make desktop software and you’re wondering how in the hell do you get on board the Mobile Bandwagon, study up on Smile (formerly Smile on My Mac). Here’s a little software company whose best-known product, TextExpander, was one of a number of such utilities three years ago, and now they’re are the talk of the Mac and iOS markets.
They didn’t get there with traditional advertising; their blog is nothing more than product updates in a Internet antique Kubrick theme, and any social media expert worth their fee would laugh at their Twitter/Facebook presence.
So how did they become the must-have iPad productivity App? On an operating system that makes the whole idea of running a background utility impossible?
First, Smile created an app that at least got them into the iOS game. Text Expander touch by itself is almost useless – if you want to use a text expansion you have to open the program, navigate to the right text expansion which gets it on the iOS clipboard, and then navigate back to whatever program you want to plop that text in. As a standalone app – last updated 8 months ago with almost as many 1-star rants as 5-star raves – not much to look at.
But that was only the tip of the iceberg.
- Smile built an SDK for other iOS developers and gave it away free. Smile’s well-crafted, non-afterthought SDK is a snap to use (“About 10 minutes to completely, start to finish, integrate TextExpander into Twittelator, worked the VERY first time.” – Andrew Stone).
- Then (I presume) they started cajoling other app makers to use Smile’s SDK. And they got 1 to do it. Then 5, 17, 25, 41 and as of today over 110 other iPad and iPhone apps are out in the wild, using Smile’s functionality free of charge to enhance their offerings, and by the way making TextExpander touch a must-have on an iOS device. (on sale for a $1.99 until 6/9 by the way.)
- They also did one key bit of sponsorship, in my opinion: Sponsoring the Mac Power Users Podcast early on (I think show #18). Katie Floyd and David Sparks do a outstanding podcast that is one of my must-listen-now favorites. Smile was smart enough to recognize sponsorship done right to a narrowcast audience beats any but the most massive massive campaigns.
- Here’s another smart move: today Smile began selling Take Control of TextExpander ebook for $10 at their site. I bought mine before I finished their email – other Take Control ebooks have been excellent guides to programs. Smile didn’t wait for some traditional publisher to decide to write a book about them (they’d have a long wait); they get that in our postindustrial world Every Company is a Media Company and that they have to step up. [Disclosure: I’m up to something re text expansion that you’ll get to see very soon – and I’m really happy to see some market validation of my gut opinions.]
So today’s takeaway: Stop thinking about other small software vendors as competitors and start thinking of them as a market. How can your product help them ship a better app? Smille did it – and so did Dropbox and Evernote.read more