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Bill Brown

A complicated man.

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Google acquired Sparrow. People took to their Twitter clients and started whining about how unfair it is. iOS developer Matt Gemmell decided he'd had enough of this entitlement mentality and made his argument.

I agree with him almost completely. People who will pay $4 for a coffee at Starbucks but aren't willing to shell out for a paid version of the app they use everyday mystify me. I buy apps without a second thought if they're 99¢ and didn't blush at paying $19.99 for OmniFocus for the iPhone because I use it every day.

Further, the perpetual free updates on iOS are a continuing delight to me. Bug fixes are nice but new features on an app I already paid for are the gift that keeps on giving. I certainly don't expect such updates but I am eternally grateful when they come. I actually wish there was a mechanism to pay for new features—I know that these things come at a price (the developer's time) and I don't mind paying for that.

But I disagree with Gemmell that I can't complain. I had replaced—such as one may—Apple's Mail app on my iPhone with Sparrow for iOS. I got used to its quirks and idioms. I enjoyed its fresh perspective on email clients and looked forward to its future innovations. In short, I had encompassed it into my workflow.

I'm disappointed that the Sparrow guys sold to Google and will do no further development on Sparrow. They had every right to do what they did and I completely understand why they sold, but that doesn't mean they get a free pass on criticism or are above reproach. I think they will make the Gmail app just as great as Sparrow, or at least much better than it currently is. The problem is that Sparrow didn't just support Gmail: it did IMAP and POP.

This feels just like Tweetie, as others have noticed. That was an innovative, exciting Twitter client for the iPhone and eventually the Mac. I bought both versions (including Tweetie 2 for iPhone) and enjoyed using them. When Twitter bought AteBits and made their changes to the various clients, I consoled myself that Tweetie for Mac kept working. Eventually, though, the API changes that Twitter made outpaced the dormant Tweetie and it became useless.

Conceivably, I can keep using Sparrow as long as I want but it will get long in the tooth eventually. (Luckily, it's working with email which hasn't changed in very meaningful ways in many, many years.) And there's nothing I can do to change that. I can hope for new entrants into the field but they will likely also get snapped up. Apple hasn't shown much innovation in the default email client either. So I'm disappointed. No big deal.

(Others have said that this move invalidates the "support independent developers" viewpoint. I think this new trend of "acqui-hires" is very dispiriting. In the past, one company acquiring another did so for its products. If a product was successful, the acquirer would keep it around and maybe provide better funding for its marketing and development. These acquisitions for talent portend a future of orphaned applications and disappointed users.)