Capo 3.7, and Capo touch 2.9

• Chris Liscio

Today we introduced a pair of significant updates to Capo on both platforms, but also made some big changes to the way we sell our software. If everything works the way I designed it to, these changes will go unnoticed by our existing customers. The ones that don't read the blog, anyway…

First, let's get to the exciting stuff. Here's What's new in Capo 3.7. In Capo touch, we added Markers to the mix, and made a host of other improvements as well.

And now, the story behind it all.

The tale of v4

Back in 2015, we spent a great deal of time designing what we have referred to as "v4" internally. (Clever name, right?) We built a pile of Sketch documents, fleshed out a good deal of feature concepts, and re-organized the UI to fit this all in. The plan was to evolve Capo into a cross-platform powerhouse of an app!

"This will be great," I thought. "We will make a ton of money with this! It will look so new and exciting that everyone will want to buy the upgrade!"

Then I started coding it all, like a crazy person. I got pretty far in prototyping everything we had in the Sketch document to see how it might all fit together. I had the models worked out so that they integrated with our existing architecture, made sure new data could coincide with old documents, etc.

Then, all at once it dawned on me: This isn't going to work out.

Too big, too fast

You see, the UI was too different from what we already had. Our users will revolt! First we ask them to buy an upgrade, and then frustrate them with too much change for the sake of change! Plus, we are passing on the important, but boring enhancements and fixes to make way for the new & shiny.

So we pivoted. (Not that way, sorry—we don't sell artisanal moccasins all of a sudden.)

The reasoning was two-fold:

  1. Huge changes are very risky. They make users angry, and unlikely to upgrade.
  2. Producing a 'v5'—a follow-on update that matched the scope of changes in v4—seemed impossible.

But then we were left with a new dilemma: could we split v4 into smaller v4, v5, and v6? (And v7, v8, v9, … thereafter?)

On top of this, we are also trying to stay current with macOS and iOS, and keeping up with new hardware appearing every year.

We needed a new plan…

I wondered: What would a Capo subscription look like? We don't do cloud services, or offer a content catalog to our customers. But when it comes right down to it: our software is a service. We are constantly working on it, making it better, and prototyping features for the future.

Who decided that it is okay for a software company to charge a subscription fee for a product with a sub-par experience, accessible primarily via a browser, but it's not okay for a company dedicated to making things work natively on two platforms, keeping their apps up to date as hardware and platforms change each year?

Ultimately, it seems that the litmus test for a successful subscription offering is whether you can deliver consistent, meaningful updates. So, we needed to run an experiment.

The big experiment

The first update in this grand experiment came to us entirely by accident, and was intended to set us up for the huge v4 project. I was prototyping an isolation effect, and it all came together rather quickly during the summer of 2015.

To buy some goodwill from our customers, we would offer a significant free update—Capo 3.4. People loved it, and despite the complexity involved it was a manageable update for us to ship.

About this time was when I had the epiphany about the v4 project not working out for us, and we needed to start learning to stitch moccasinsreconsider the monolithic update.

We were still enjoying the high from our successful isolation update, and started to map out a way to get from Point A (the UI as it looked in 3.4), to Point B (v4).

So, check this out. This is a list of our big releases starting from December 2016:

And today, we dropped these two updates:

And you know what? Today you are looking at the v4 UI for the Mac. Characterized by the Heads-Up Display across the bottom of the window, the Control Strip, and Song Views. Ta-da!

/me takes a bow

At each step, we made "breaking" UI changes, but also gave customers a cool (free) feature to enjoy at the same time.

While executing this (very long, but careful) major shift in the UI, we also started to map out our transition plan to offer subscriptions.

The S Word…

First of all, not all subscriptions are created equally. You have your monthly, your quarterly, your a-la-carte, your monthly-payment-but-locked-in-yearly, and so on.

In my opinion, subscriptions that require a monthly payment are the most subscription-y of all the subscriptions. I wanted nothing to do with that model, because it just didn't feel right for Capo. Instead, I wanted a scheme that looked the most like a paid-upgrade-every-year setup.

So, you pay a fee to get out of trial mode, and if you still use/enjoy the app, you continue the subscription. We keep churning out great features, and hopefully they make you happy enough to stick with us. Our focus shifts from finding new customers, to keeping the existing ones by consistently delivering updates.

But there is a big wrinkle in this plan. What on earth do we do about the very many customers we have amassed over the years?

Zero-Impact Subscriptions

I have been watching many companies make the move from a paid to a subscription software offering, cringing as I saw many critical errors in the treatment of their existing customers. You can’t move the goal posts on people like that—waking up the day after buying your software, and learning that their purchase has reached its end-of-life—and expect no backlash from them. (And don't get me started on press releases that treat a mandatory subscription as a "feature".)

So I had a theory, and developed plan: I wanted to design a transition that should not upset our customers. In fact, if we play our cards right, our customers should not even notice this is happening!

But let's be realistic here—this plan costs us a ton of lost revenue up front, and you can't please everyone. Still, it is worth a shot. What do we have to lose, besides everything?

While we love all our customers, a group of them had to be sacrificed, for science! Our (lovely, wonderful, amazing) Capo touch customers would receive an update—version 2.7—that quietly introduced subscriptions for all new customers.

How this works:

Our customers bought the software for X dollars at some point in the past. At the time of purchase, Capo had a given feature set, and the customer had some reasonable expectation of maintenance and updates for some unspecified period of time. (We never specified, so that's on us. Fine.)

We simply chose to fulfill that unwritten contract. Users got access to the full feature set, and never saw an indication that the application was in trial mode. They will continue to have access to those features (plus all related updates and enhancements) forever. (We wrote a whole lot about what this means here).

You'll go broke, dummy!

To re-iterate, we knew full well that revenue would be sacrificed. We are spending (rather, not making) quite a lot of money here in exchange for (what we hope) is an epic level of goodwill from our existing customers.

But all is not lost for us.

So, did it work?

I believe it did. Despite my losing sleep during the transition, and second-guessing every move, our revenue on Capo touch was not really impacted. Over a year after the experiment (85/15 club, baby!) I can say that the "zero impact" aspect held true on our end as well.

It worked well enough that we finally completed the full transition to subscriptions today. Capo 3.7 for macOS is available exclusively—with a free trial download—from the App Store. (If you purchased directly from us in the past, downloading the free trial should Just Work™. More info about that here.) We also offer a Capo Platinum subscription plan that lets you unlock both your iOS and macOS devices for one yearly fee.

As before, if you previously bought Capo from us, there's nothing to do! All the features you paid for will still work great, and we will continue making them better over time. Enjoy the new UI, and other great improvements in the update, as always! If you still feel short on details, we've got plenty of further information for you here.

Now what? When is SMUG's liquidation sale?

Remember when I said that you're looking at the v4 UI? I never said you're looking at the v4 feature set…

There will be a point in the near future when the first of our subscriber-only features appears. These features will be off limits for our existing customers until they decide—and it is completely optional—to subscribe. And, (because we are apparently allergic to maximizing our revenue,) existing customers will receive a lifetime discount on the subscription whenever they do choose to make the move.

Until that time comes, all existing customers can kick back with their favorite instrument and the latest Capo updates, and rest assured knowing that we didn't turn our back on you.

It's the least we could do for our precious guinea pigs… :)