Acquisitions and the annoyance of abandoned apps

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Date: Friday, January 31st, 2014, 13:00
Category: App Store, Apple, Apps, Business, Developer, Google, iPhone, Opinion, Services, Software

pirate_skull_crossbones_square_sticker-r77418cb09c3345e7b8854da982e2526a_v9wf3_8byvr_512Yahoo! has just acquired Incredible Labs, which developed the Donna personal assistant app for iPhone. The latest update on the Donna blog makes it clear what the fate of the app and service will be;

“The transaction, which is subject to customary closing conditions, is expected to close shortly. Following closing, Donna will be removed from the app store and discontinued as a service.”

No date has been given, but they are likely to follow the model where users will be given a window of a few months in order migrate their data and find a new solution. I’m not personally a user of Donna, however if I was I’d be pretty upset.

This got me thinking about past apps and services that were acquired by larger companies only to be closed down, abandoned, or incorporated into another product. Just a few examples include;

  • Siri – acquired by Apple, discontinued as a standalone app, and incorporated into the iPhone
  • Bumpacquired by Google and removed from the AppStore – fate unknown
  • Astridacquired by Yahoo! and service is shut down
  • Smartr Contacts (Xobni) – acquired by Yahoo!, service and apps still usable¬†until July 2nd, 2014
  • Tweetie – acquired by Twitter, ruined, and then released as their own app

To date, the only ones in this list that have actually gone on to been an update of some kind from the original app are Siri and Tweetie. While I used Siri for a while and was sad to see it go, I think most people would agree Apple made it better and it (she?) works better incorporated into the iPhone. Tweetie also went on to become Twitter’s official app, but as I recall they mangled it in the process in spite of snatching up developer Loren Brichter in the process (he has since left Twitter and become independent again and rumored to be working with Facebook). It’s gotten better over time, I think, but the 1.0 version of the rebranded app soured me on it so I moved on to another client app and didn’t look back.

I mentioned in another post that there seemed to be a noticeable increase of larger companies like Facebook, Apple, Yahoo!, and Google swallowing up smaller companies and start-ups in recent years. Yahoo! alone bought up 31 companies in 2013, many of them mobile apps or technologies. Many start-ups specifically position themselves to be bought up and join the ranks of the mothership. While I don’t begrudge those smaller companies the opportunity to cash in on their hard work, where does that leave us users, especially if product lifespans get shorter and shorter. For example, I’m not being very productive if my productivity apps keep getting yanked out from under me and I have to go find a replacement, and in some cases reenter important data. It’s frustrating, to say the least, to find that elusive app that fits your workflow only to be dumped back to where you started. You might be reminded that many of these apps and services are free, or in some cases have a free “model” available, but I think I’d rather pay something and get some kind of assurance that it’s not going to disappear any time soon.* ¬†That might be an unreasonable expectation these days. It was only a matter of time, in our disposable society, that software and services would follow suit. In the end, the user gets the short end of the stick.


*A good example is Things by CulturedCode which has maintained and improved its to-do application suite for several years. Personally, it doesn’t do everything I’d like it to do, but at least it seems to be a constant.

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