“Endurance is patience concentrated” -Thomas Carlyle

We’ve received another glowing 1-star review today on the App Store. While we typically don’t comment either way on reviews, press, or the like, I wanted to share some of the insights and perspective from the developers. We don’t do this to complain, but rather to continue to be open with our process. (But there’s probably still some ranting within, so fair warning…)

We’ve stated a couple times in various places that this is not our full time jobs. We have been working on Photosmith because we feel that the iPad community needs a great photo management app. While we’re amateur photographers ourselves, we feel that we can best contribute to the photography world by using our programming experience. And so we’ve given up a year of nights and weekends to try to make that happen. We both have families with two kids under 5, and any extra time we have outside of work is that much more valuable to us both.

We’ve gotten several 1-star reviews and poor comments in the press world about how the app doesn’t sync both ways or doesn’t allow multi-image tagging, and how months have passed without those being added. Yes, we’re painfully aware of this. We’ve been working non-stop on redesigning the app and re-writing the sync protocols to accommodate this. Unfortunately, we also are juggling other things, such as support emails, iOS changes, bugs, and so forth. In addition to the typical 9-5 grid, we both also typically work 8pm-2am every night and a full day on the weekends on Photosmith. There’s only so much time for everything. Again, I don’t say this for any other reason other than to let our readers know where we are and “what’s taking so long!”

Heck, if Apple would stop breaking things with their iOS changes, (fun fact: SIX of the SEVEN iOS 5 beta releases broke the photo import process again requiring yet another rewrite on our part) we would have been miles ahead by now. We’ve calculated that almost a third of the entire app’s development has been spent dealing with inconsistencies, bugs, changes, and downright poor design in the iOS photo libraries. One third. That’s four months of development time – just to read out the photos quickly and efficiently. Photos are obviously not a primary focus of Apple, and yet, if we want to deliver the best product we can, then we’re forced to work within their walls.

We’ve gotten several nasty-grams from people saying “I don’t understand what’s so hard about multi-image tagging.” Sure- logically, it’s pretty straightforward. However, I challenge anyone reading this to sit down and really think through how you’d go about designing the interface. It’s not trivial, and we went through many, many iterations before finally nailing things down. We could have quickly delivered something that sorta works, or we could take our time and deliver something that really works well and is intuitive. Our goal is the latter, and if it takes an extra month for that, then we’re willing to put that time in – we want to see the product succeed.

As for the two-way sync: The Sync process been taken completely apart and re-written so that it’s much more robust (ie- syncing 15,000+ keywords or 5000+ image collections) and many more options (metadata presets, develop presets, etc), plus the new functionality for two-way sync and initiating sync from the iPad. In fact, here’s a teaser screenshot from my own development Lightroom – you can see that we’ve moved to a Publish Service platform, so that we’re better integrated into Lightroom:

   

Alternatively, for those who don’t want to use Publish Services, there will be a standard Export option, for blindly sending directly to Photosmith:

And all this works. Mostly. There are about 35 options, about 300 different combinations of options, about 15,000 lines of plugin code, and one sync developer. Sync is a notoriously difficult problem (with any product); it simply takes time to get right.

 

We’d love for this app to become successful enough to do this full time. However, we’re in no danger of that right now – the product needs to mature some more. The more time we can put into it, the better product that we can turn out; it’s a simple equation. The 1-star ratings are unfortunate- we understand user’s frustrations (despite the list of limitations in the app store description), but they only serve to slow current sales, which lowers the resources that we have to hire graphics designer, tech support, and so forth.  I’m not sure what the best answer is, and to date, we’ve just been “staying the course”, and working on version 2.0 as fast as possible; I’m not sure what else we can do.

I’d be interested to hear any comments from our readers, and if there are better avenues for us to communicate the process.

 

Posted in: Musings | 19 Comments

19 Responses to “Endurance is patience concentrated”

  1. Eric says:

    Based on this and your Twitter feed it sounds like you’ve hit a wall. Take a break. Take a weekend off. Go to bed early. Spend time with your kids. We all survived a large portion of our lives with out Photosmith, without iPads, without Lightroom, heck without digital photography. We’ll all survive if it takes a little more time for Photosmith to mature and we have to do things exactly as we’ve already been doing them all these years. People who live to torment developers need to step outside and get some fresh air.

    • Ben says:

      Well said! Fully agree here!

    • Chris Morse says:

      Nah… not a wall at all. Just think of it more as thinning the herd… Mr. BigBlue has been a constant aggravation and we’re prefer to just make peace with him/her. There’s no way for us to reply directly to the reviewer or to issue an Apple refund so I’m willing just buy him a iTunes gift card or PayPal out of pocket just to settle the dispute.

      iTunes reviews are the biggest influencer of sales and this person keeps popping his review up to the top of the stack after every update. It’s constant poke in our eye about a feature we had never even promised before 2.0. If his complaint was about multi-image tagging you wouldn’t hear a word from us about it because he’d be 100% justified.

      It gets under our skin because we both love working on Photosmith and would like to do it full-time and anything that slows that down is very frustrating. But we know that to get there we have to finish what we started and that means finishing 2.0 which will knock out most of the top voted issues on the Ideas forum and that is quite encouraging!

      Oh well, this is the last you’ll hear about it because it’s an honest good faith attempt to make it right. Either they will come forward and we’ll settle it or they won’t and it will be whatever it is.

      • Brian says:

        Synch means taking multiple data sources and reconciling them. Oh sure you can get fancy and add conflict resolution a la an RCS, but fundamentally its a simple concept. Your product doesn’t do that but you say it does (you say it synchs). So.. Yeah you did advertise this feature and have not delivered. Pretty simple Chris. I understand your point of view as you obviously have a different definition of synch, I simply feel you are wrong.

        Believe me when I say you are not some huge thorn in my side. I dont have some vendetta against you. I don’t grind my teeth and curse your name, or smash on my keyboard or any such thing. Outside of the iTunes Reviews and your support site where I have commented a few times I havent said anything about your product elsewhere. So I’m not sure how I get elevated to being a constant source of aggravation but okay, your words. I’m not offended.. I’m sure you are perfectly decent people. My issue is with your software and what I consider to be misleading advertising. I don’t ever recall calling you names or such but if I did then I apologize.

        Granted, since you have amended the description to state quite clearly what it does and does not do. However originally you did not, and the fact that its one of the top two most requested features tells me I’m not alone, and second you still use the word synch in your product descriptions. If you called it a lightroom importer I’d be more forgiving. Because thats all it does. It imports ipad photos into lightroom. “Reverse synch” is such a kludgey term. So while writing as a fellow dev I am not without sympathy, as a consumer – it’s still useless software to me, and I am simply using the appropriate venue to communicate my opinion of it (iTunes).

        My advice – work smarter. Not harder. If you’re working every day and getting upset over iTunes reviews then maybe you need a break. It’s not how much work you do, its what results you can deliver.

        Feel free to email me if you have any followup questions/comments. You can even repost them here if you like. I don’t check this site often.

        - Brian, aka Big Blue

        • Chris Morse says:

          Brian,

          Thanks for contacting us, my offer for a refund is genuine. Since Apple doesn’t officially offer refunds I’ll willing to pay this out of my own pocket if that is what it takes to make the situation right. You are clearly disappointed with our product and we stand behind it 100%.

          On the discussion side of the situation, my issue isn’t that you left a bad review, that is entirely your call and perfectly appropriate. My issue is that you continue to repost it (mostly unchanged) after every update. This has the effect of making your review the first one anybody ever sees of our product over and over. Since you agree that the current app description is clear about what Photosmith can and can’t do I can’t imagine any reason for you to do that other than a vendetta. Wouldn’t that time and effort be better served by communicating with us directly as you are doing now?

          You are right that your definition of sync differs. I consider sync to be taking data that lives in one place and resolving the differences with another copy. I don’t believe that sync is universally understood to always be bi-directional. iTunes sync certainly isn’t! But your point that people expect that is perfectly valid. We hear the same cry and we’re working as fast as we can to deliver it. If that is not fast enough, please accept our offer for a refund. If you’re willing to wait, work together with us and let’s make sure the next version isn’t missing something key.

          cc:your email

  2. Ben says:

    As an in-term solution I have done a lot of fiddling with the unsupported 2-way “sync” roughly described by Sean McCormack here http://www.pixiq.com/article/from-lightroom-to-ipad-and-back-again. I am interested in writing a more detailed article about it for my blog and will be happy to share my experiences and insight on the issue. Maybe this will partially appease those yearning for 2-way sync until the wonderful Photosmith team has time to tune their solution.

    I should however point out that I am in a very similar boat to the Photosmith team in that I am a photographer part-time, have a day job, have two kids under 5, and am very strapped for time. That being said if anyone has questions before I get my article up please contact me directly via… http://digitaloxygen.ca/contact

    • Chris Morse says:

      Ben, when you finish said article, we’d be happy to link to it. :-)

      • Ben says:

        FYI I have tweaked and added content in the article a few times. The more I play with the workaround the more issues I find. They are not necessarily deal breakers but definitely adds work to the process.

        I am getting a really good fell for just how complicated this process must be on the development side, especially to do it right like your team is working hard to do. Keep at it. If you release the features you eluded to in a solid package I think you will excel and it will be well worth the cost of the app. In the meantime I’ll be fiddling and sharing :D

        Cheers!

        • Chris Morse says:

          Hi Ben,

          I checked out an earlier version of the article and its coming along nicely! I’ll check it out again and then probably post it in our support section.

          Thanks for the validation that it’s complicated stuff. Sometimes we ask ourselves if we’re just crazy.

  3. Eric says:

    Do you guys have a mechanism to accept donations? I am sure there are some of us that would be interested in supporting your efforts more than the price of the app. Considering what many of us spend on equipment and software generally, $15 is a drop in the bucket (embarrassingly).

    • Chris Horne says:

      Eric-

      We’re honored that anyone would even offer donations. However, we can’t accept – either the product makes it on it’s own merits or it doesn’t – we can’t ask the users to put any more in beyond what they’ve already spent on the app.

      Unless you’re looking to donate thousands (in which case I’ll gladly share our paypal address!), the best help we can get is 5-star reviews in the app store. As a rule, we don’t ask for them, and let everyone judge it the best way they can. However, in the end, 5 star reviews drive ongoing sales, which funds the current progress. We realize the app isn’t perfect, and don’t expect people to say that it is; however, it does hurt progress when people rate it on what they *want* it to do, not on what it’s *described* to do.

      Again, we’re flattered by your offer to donate! It’s just that a good rating in the app store would be much more valuable to us long term-

  4. [...] is a hack, plain and simple. I do not work for nor am I affiliated in any way with the Photosmith developers.  I have simply experimented with the unsupported process based on Sean McCormack’s article [...]

  5. Andreas says:

    Take a breath and have some time with your familie. You have entered the stage and raised expectations by providing an app in the upper price level. For most serious photographers this is not the point, but your audience is not limited to such persons. You put some hard pressure on yourself, but that is the business. I am also waiting for the two way sync and do not use your app often, because oft the missing features. My job is in the software quality assurance, so I know the effort for an application from the design to the release and also the maintenance. Criticism that is only offending and not objective is painfull. I wish that you will find your way to deal with it in a professional way. And from my point of view your a real professionals. So thank you for your great work and my very best regards. You are on the right way.

  6. JB says:

    Keep plugging, guys! You have a great concept that will work. I myself have not been using the app as it seemed too slow and cumbersome. So I just wait till I get home and go straight to Lightroom instead of going through my iPad. At the same time I check your website every week or two and follow your posts to see how things are going, learn about the process you have been through and maybe see version 2.0.

  7. Rich Gibson says:

    I understand your frustration but the plain and simple of it is two-way sync is absolutely fundamental. Without it Photosmith is of no use to me and my investment waits for a return. I’ll be checking on it as time goes by.

    Rich

    • Ben says:

      As already pointed out 2 way sync was never listed as a feature of the current version. It’s being added due to heavy demand from users. Photosmith has limited value to me without 2 say sync as well but let’s not make it out to be someone else’s fault that money has been spent on something that does not currently meet our needs or that we are owed something by the developers.

      • Kieran Madden says:

        Indeed. I fail to understand how people can complain about a product lacking a feature that was never listed in the first place.

        Except for multi-image tagging (which has been discussed to death, I know the team are doing their best), Photosmith does what it says on the tin. If you didn’t read the tin then that’s your own fault.

        Look at it like this. If you bought some non-waterproof indoor paint and used it outdoors, only to find that it ran as soon as it rained, you wouldn’t complain, would you?

  8. Marc P says:

    Even if you would have been a large team working on it, i wouldn’t have been shocked to wait for what I can imagine easily some busy dev and test to do.
    Of course, I would also love to get the reverse sync working but it make sense to me to wait for it.
    Like some previous comment, I’m not using the app much for now but I really strongly believe in its potential and therefore will wait as long as needed.
    Thanks for the work done and on going.
    I liked the suggestion of donation that I would have followed and saw the answer on rating.
    I believe I did already but will recheck