The amazing Ulysses has gone subscription only

The team over at Soulmen made an announcement today that I expect they were more than a little hesitant to make:

Today, we are switching Ulysses to a subscription model. The short story is this (tl;dr): Our users expect a continuously evolving high quality product — and subscription is the only way we can truly deliver on that expectation.

This whole post is full of gems, so I highly recommend you go read it, but one line really jumped out to me, and I think puts the whole subscription pricing argument nicely into one sentence.

Interestingly enough, the way we pay for software hasn’t caught up to that rather drastic change in development yet.

This is absolutely true! We demand that most of our software be under constant development, but we are equally into the idea of paying for software up front and never paying again. This is indeed an antiquated way to charge for software, and as we have seen time and time again, it’s the only way many developers can manage to stay above water.

I expect apps that I pay more than a few dollars for to get updates every few weeks with bug fixes and meaningful feature updates. I expect those apps to get enhanced for the new versions of iOS, macOS, and Android that come out every year as well. I expect that if I have a support issue someone gets back to me in a short time frame. These are all expectations that are not always practical when your customers pay up front and never give you another cent even though you’re spending countless man hours developing the app. The best way to stay in the black is to charge your current customers on a regular basis over a longer period of time.

The big benefit of this subscription model is that it’s a two way street. Yes, I will end up paying more over time for a subscription to Ulysses than I would if I had just bought it once and used it for 10 years. That said, I’m not going to pay more for a little while. Ulysses used to be $50 on the Mac and $25 on iOS. The subscription is $40/year, or $30/year if you already own the apps. So for me, it will take me 2.5 years before I pay more for Ulysses as a subscription than I would have by just buying it up front.

But Ulysses has a job to do as well. In order to get me to keep using the app for over 2.5 years so that they do start to make more money on me they need to keep updating the app so I don’t start to look elsewhere for a competitor. They are now doubly invested in keeping me as a customer, as it’s now much more important that they get customers to stick around for the long haul.

I personally paid the $30 today to get my next year of Ulysses. I didn’t even think twice about it. Ulysses is the best app I’ve ever used on any platform, and I don’t want to see it go anywhere, so I’m happy to support them. I even gave them a 5 star review to try and make up for the inevitable 1 star brigade they’re about to endure. Here’s to paying a living wage to those who make world class software 🍻

Ulysses for iOS and Ulysses for Mac are both free downloads and include 14 day trials. And don’t worry, your old versions of Ulysses won’t stop working just because this new model is in place.

BirchTree Podcast bonus! Being aware of your own narratives

A quick bonus episode on a trapball of us fall into all day, every day. We all have pre-conceived notions for how the world works, and that carries over to tech.

This impromptu episode had no prep and was recorded and posted in 15 minutes!

The case for cellular in the Apple Watch

All indications point to the new Apple Watch including LTE in at least one model. This is great news, and is absolutely on the short list of low hanging fruit the Apple Watch needs to advance the platform (I’d also put an always-on display up at the top of the list too), so I’m happy to hear that it’s in the works.

The rumor wears met with some skepticism from people who didn’t see the value in LTE on a watch. “What’s the point? How does that solve any of the problems with the Apple Watch?!” Hopefully I’ll be able to convince you here that there is indeed some value in LTE on a watch and that it’s going to be liberating for those who can take advantage of it.


This is the simple one. Working out with a smartphone sucks, plain and simple. Carrying an iPhone 7 Plus in my running shorts is uncomfortable at best, and hazard as at worst. I have to take strides in a way that doesn’t shake the phone too much against my leg or pop it out of my pocket. It also dictates what shorts/pants I buy, since I need ones with large pockets and draw strings to make them tight enough that the phone doesn’t pull them down. Neither me nor my neighbors want to see me running around the neighborhood with my pants around my ankles.

Yes, it’s nice to have my camera with me to take photos if I see something cool or funny, but all the other reasons I bring my iPhone with me when I work out are just because I need it, not because I want it. The Apple Watch gained GPS last year, which meant you could leave your iPhone at home and still get distance and route information from your workouts, but it also meant you were inaccessible while on your workout.

Taken even further, you have people who swim with their watches and they simply can not bring their iPhone with them for their workouts. The phone must stay on the beach or at the side of the pool. If you’re within Bluetooth/Wifi range you may be okay, but otherwise you’re getting good workout data, but you’re inaccessible to the outside world.

And that inaccessibility is a hazard. I run as my primary workout activity which is not particularly dangerous, but it’s not like something will never happen. I could break a bone or be involved in a hit-and-run on a run one day. If my iPhone is with me, I can call for help. If I only brought my Series 2 Apple Watch, I have to pray someone finds me.

The safety reason alone is enough to warrant it in my opinion, but there is the added benefit of being able to stream music/podcasts/books not saved locally as well as being able to receive and reply to messages on the go.

People who don’t like phones

My grandma doesn’t like her phone, She hates it, in fact. She thinks it’s a hassle and is too bulky for something she almost never uses. She does wear a watch though, and letting her have the security and convenience of a phone on her wrist instead of in a purse she doesn’t want to carry around would be great.

A device for kids

Prices may have to fall a bit for this to be mainstream, but I can see value in giving an Apple Watch to your child when they go out with friends as a means to keep track of them as well as being able to communicate with them if needed. A 7 year old may not be old enough to be trusted with a smartphone, but you may trust them with a watch that they can talk to you on.

Edge case, but people who don’t have iPhones

This isn’t really possible today, but watchOS is getting more independent of the iPhone as time goes on, so this could be enabled down the line. What if I want to (or need to) use an Android phone but also want an Apple Watch? The Android Wear options are pretty thin these days, and Android Wear 2.0 is a general snooze fest, it seems, so watchOS might be more appealing.

Right now a lot of app management happens on the iPhone, but a lot of the Apple Watch’s functionality is accessible from the watch itself. And when you add the fact that we live off web services that sync with the cloud, not any single device, then what would stop an app like WhatsApp from running entirely on the watch? Given that apps can run entirely on the watch already, I don’t see why the watch couldn’t just be another portal into these web services just like a phone, tablet, or desktop computer.

To make this work completely sans-iPhone we would need a way to set up the watch on its own, a way to do updates without the phone, and a way to install apps without the phone. Currently none of that is possible, but remember that the iPhone couldn’t do any of that from the start either. It wasn’t until iOS 5 that you could set up an iPhone without a computer, after all.

The notion that we must carry a phone with us wherever we go is an extremely modern concept, and has not even been a super common thing for half of my lifetime. The idea of being connected is not something I expect to go away any time soon, but the definition of what being connected means, and what devices you can use to stay connected are sure to evolve over time. Giving the Apple Watch a cellular data connection may seem like overkill but I think it’s a natural evolution of the smart watch.

The continuing miniaturization of computers means that we can all have the sort of connected devices we want, and we don’t all have to use the same things for the same reasons. That’s exciting, so embrace it!

There are surely more examples of reasons to include cellular data on the Apple Watch, and I hope Apple has thought of a few cool ones to talk about when they show off the new Watch this year. I’ll be there as I always am, ready to try it out.

iOS makes travel so much nicer

Back just a few years ago I would take my laptop with me whenever I was away from home for an overnight trip. It didn’t matter if we were going somewhere in the evening and coming back the next afternoon; if I was sleeping somewhere else, I needed my laptop.

I’m currently in a hotel room getting ready for a wedding this afternoon and I’m writing on an iPad that’s tethered to my iPhone. When I was packing I never even considered the MacBook.

It’s not that I don’t like my Mac, I love it! But if I’m not going to be doing one of the following things:

  1. Editing video (Final Cut Pro)
  2. Editing audio (Logic)
  3. Writing code (Xcode, Visual Studio Code)
  4. Doing complex image editing (Lightroom, Photoshop)
  5. Creating design layouts (Sketch)

Is is really cool because almost anything not on that list is just something I can and prefer to do on iOS. I’m not the first person to suggest this, and it’s not the first time I’ve said it myself, but I feel it bears repeating.

And it’s than a matter of being able to do the same things on iOS, it also make packing a lot iPhone does most of the work, and it’s in my pocket basically all the time. I just make sure u have a Lightning cable with me and I’m good to go. As for the iPad, it’s 10+ hour battery life means I don’t need to bring anything at all for it. My sub-1 pound iPad is a lot easier to pack than a 3 pound notebook plus charging cable with a power brick1.

So does the iPad and iPhone do as much as the Mac? Nope, but my god is it convenient to manage these devices on the road than a Mac/PC.

  1. On the off chance I drain my iPad’s battery, then all I have to do is use the same cable I brought for my iPhone.