Release Dates

I swear I wrote about Release Dates here once before, but based on some of the comments and questions, I feel like I need to address the topic again. My personal feeling is that unless a product is completely finished and ready for release, software and release dates just don’t mix.

Read on after the jump to learn more about my philosophy on Release Dates…

Although we make heavy use of release dates in-house to help us to manage our time, I HATE publishing release dates and typically, we do not do it. The ONLY reason we did it for the eWallet for iPhone with sync is that we wanted to make it extremely clear to people that didn’t know us, that we were serious about getting sync out. And we did it – 8 days late, but we did it! Lots of folks have had bad luck with software developers who don’t come through and we wanted a way to reassure people. As for eWallet on Mac, I knew how eager folks were to get it so I made a guess at when I thought it would be out, but it was always that – a guess.

Here is the thing about Software and Release Dates; unless the software is already written, they just don’t go together. Writing software isn’t like assembling cars where you know how long it takes to do it. You don’t just put the pieces together and it works. Software, especially our productivity software, is insanely complex. Every interaction can cause reactions throughout the program. Throw in an operating system that we have little control over (this is essentially true on ALL platforms) and you add a whole new dimension. Throw in hardware and now you expand the complexity exponentially.

And when a piece of software is done – it’s not done. If you test it in-house and run it through beta testers, you never know what will crop up. That great “Do It Now Button” you designed? Suddenly you discover that no one even knows how to use it. Without warning you are going back to the drawing board and significantly redesigning the underlying code. Or maybe you find a bug that acts like the loose string on the knitted sweater. The more you pull, the more everything unravels.

Don’t get me wrong – we have AMAZING developers here. It’s just that there are always unforeseen difficulties.

Oh – and the biggest danger – you publish a release date and then STICK to it and fire off a product that doesn’t work right! Do that and you just make everyone miserable – you are better off not releasing at all.

So that’s why you typically don’t see release dates in this blog. You probably already noticed that eWallet with Search just appeared out of the blue, and Kings Corners showed up without warning. We just hate to make a promise that we either can’t keep, or that we’d have to cut corners to keep.

In the end, I’m happy to let you know about what we are working on, but don’t look for release dates. The whole eWallet sync thing was an exception to a rule we’ve had for years here at Ilium Software – and one we follow for a very good reason!

11 thoughts on “Release Dates

  1. Stefan Köhler

    You’re so right…. and I’d like to say: Thank you very much for the efforts! I waited for this iPhone sync thing for a long time. And I really was happy to get it. It works fine, it’s syncing with the office server (Server 2008), with my notebook (Vista) and my iPhone (btw: nice animated and wonderful graphics).
    But now I have wonderful graphical cards in my iPhone and very ugly ones in my PCs because after syncing, the cards were gone and a kind of spreadsheet appears. No way to get the card look back.
    I really would appreciate if you would spend some last more minutes to fix this bug.
    Meanwhile have a wonderful christmas time…

  2. Marc Post author

    @Stefan: Actually Stefan it sounds like you turned FlexView on. Go to tools->options->cards and see if you have FlexView on. If not, and you still see that card layout, drop our support folks a line. I’m sure they can help. The cards still won’t look QUITE as pretty as the iphone but you should be able to get card view.

  3. Jeffrey

    I work as a customer support rep for a small software company myself. I understand completely what you’re saying about release dates. I just wish that “the big boys” would stop setting arbitrary release dates and then forcing the product to fit.

  4. Peter

    Definitely agreed on not publishing hard release dates unless you’ve pretty much got it ready to go and are just trying to package the software. I’ve been doing development for some time and the instant a release hits the customers you have bugs that appear because customers are quite ingenious at using products in ways that nobody anticipates. And of course, there are then the feature requests that seem reasonable, but take time to implement if you can even do it in a way that fits the roadmap and doesn’t require a complete re-write.

    It’s even worse for you guys now because the iPhone SDK and WM SDK are completely different. I think that WebIS had an entry about the challenges there and customers wondering why the WM software can’t look like the iPhone version. I can definitely appreciate not having release dates, though I definitely would like to see something like an estimated quarter, even knowing that it’s tentative.

  5. George

    First off, my hat is off to the guys writing eWallet and the SyncPro app for the iPhone. It was the one app that I had to have before making the plunge to a dreaded Apple product. Now if someone would just use SyncPro the same way to keep Outlook synced to my two PC’s and iPhone as easily, I wouldn’t need iTunes for much of anything.

    Yes, I’m a PC user and the Apple/Mac line has never had the applications I needed to do my job(s) and the iPhone is just reinforcing my thoughts about an over-protective mother hen (Apple) and her brood (users). Still I think the iPhone is a great product. Too bad Apple doesn’t understand the business model that most users have come to expect from their “smartphones”.

    Having said that, I am one of those that just seem to do things with a program the developers never envisioned anyone would try. Somehow, I found a bug in the eWallet Desktop program, not a big one mind you, but still a bug in the way I was using the software.

    I decided to contact Iliumsoft directly instead of a long, drawn out forum or blog, mostly in case I was just plain wrong. After about 3 weeks of e-mail back and forth, no less than 25 or 30 of them, and several debug version of eWallet sent to me to try, the bug finally showed up. An easy fix, I don’t know, but at least they now know what my problem is and where to look to fix.

    Again, I had no problem working with them by loading the eWallet debug software and sending the results back. Since the overall Apple version of the product is pretty new, perhaps no one else has had the problem and if so, maybe just gave up like I did initially and did things a different way.

    I look forward to the next update of the desktop software, maybe I won’t be breaking it this time.

  6. reflecting telescope

    I’m with you 100%. A marketing buddy of mine who has had great success selling software online never identifies a hard release date for his products. It’s an unnecessary headache.

    I understand from a marketing standpoint that you want to build up anticipation for the launch but if you miss the deadline you lose credibility.

    I hate being amped up about a product release and then receive an email stating that it will be delayed. At that point, I often go searching for another similar product to purchase.

  7. Paul H

    No one could argue with your rationale Marc. It’s sensible and good business practice. Indeed in different circumstances you could be for commended for your philosophy.

    The problem is: Ilium clearly states on its AppStore listing that ‘We plan to release eWallet for Macintosh, along with complete synchronization, later this year.’ A commitment that looks increasingly unlikely with a little over three weeks to go in this year.

    People are buying your product based on that commitment/assurance. That is not good business practice by any means, quite the opposite. Of course many software developers project release dates but, due various circumstances, fail to meet those dates. The key difference is they are not taking payment for their product — you are. Obviously you chose to include the Mac commitment (and the earlier Windows sync commitment) to increase sales. Without those original commitments at launch (as Ilium well knew), eWallet would have had a very rocky ride in the AppStore and in market commentary/reviews.

    Put simply: don’t market and sell your product based on published commitments that you cannot reliably meet. It is unseemly and in many markets contravenes consumer legislation.

  8. Bill H

    What is the status of ListPro for iPhone? I see you do not mention it at all anymore on your iPhone ap page, nor it it mentioned on the ListPro page. Are you even working on a version, or did you decide not to do so? If so, will it be a “lite” version or one with all the bells and whistles?

    I am just curious as to what you have decided to do it regards to it.

  9. Marc Post author

    @Paul H: I’ve read all your posts and I’m glad you’re so passionate about this, Paul. I don’t me that in a sarcastic manner. Clearly this issue is important to you and typically that means that you care about the software.

    At the same time, you are making some rather hard assumptions about our motivations. In some cases the comments become accusations. They aren’t inappropriate given the way businesses treat their customers these days, but they are incorrect when applied to us. Furthermore, you’ve actually accused us of illegal activity which considering the facts of this situation is extremely offensive to me.

    You state:

    “We plan to release eWallet for Macintosh, along with complete synchronization, later this year.”

    That was our plan. We did not say that is when it would come out without question. We’re simply stating that we do plan to release a Mac version and we planned to have it out by year end. If you want an extreme, look at BlackBerry eWallet. We “planned” to release it in March/April of this year but a whole host of issues arose. Suddenly, a simple project with a near term release became exceptionally complicated. Again, this is an extremem but it is a great example of why release dates and software don’t mix.

    For both BlackBerry eWallet and Mac eWallet I shared my expected release dates trying to be open with folks. This was a mistake. I can assure you that due to the responses, not unlike your own, I won’t offer guesses on release dates in the future.

    Again – I’m NOT being a jerk here and I’m not upset with anyone for making these assumptions – I’m just being honest. We’re not in the business of misleading people or trying to trick them. That isn’t what we’re about. If offering guesses on release dates causes confusion and frustration, we’re not going to do it anymore.

    You wrote:

    “People are buying your product based on that commitment/assurance. ”

    Again, I’m sorry that my estimates were taken as an assurance. They were always just that – estimates. We ARE committed to eWallet for Mac. It’s going to come out. We are committed to getting it out as soon as we can. But we’re also committed to releasing the very best product we can and not abandoning the rest of our products and customers to make it happen.

    You Wrote:

    “Of course many software developers project release dates but, due various circumstances, fail to meet those dates. The key difference is they are not taking payment for their product — you are. ”

    I’m sorry but I have to flatly disagree here. We never took payment for eWallet on Mac. We took payment for eWallet on iPhone. We would NEVER take payment for a product that isn’t out. That’s nuts in my opinion. eWallet for iPhone and eWallet for Mac are two separate products. Each product works fine on its own without the other. Now a particular customer might feel that one is useless without the other, and that’s fine, but the reality is that they are two apps that when you buy them as stand alone, you get a great product for your money.

    Again, with sync, we made a promise – that promise was a release date. We spent a lot of time and money making sure we could keep that promise. With Mac, however, we made a promise that it would come out but we did not promise a release date. We gave an estimate. The promise we made – a Mac version – WILL be kept. The estimate will be adjusted to reflect the realities of development.

    You Wrote:

    “Obviously you chose to include the Mac commitment (and the earlier Windows sync commitment) to increase sales.”

    That’s not true at all. I’ve already explained the rationale for the sync release. eWallet with sync to windows was what we planned to release. We simply released it in two parts and gave a firm date for the second half so that folks who don’t already know they can trust Ilium would have something to go on.

    But for Mac, the intent was NEVER to increase sales. We’re just letting the people who like eWallet know that we ARE going to make a Mac version. We have an ENORMOUS existing user base, and over the years many of them switched to Macs. More than anything else, we were telling our customers “Good news! We’re working on a Mac version!”

    You wrote:

    “Without those original commitments at launch (as Ilium well knew), eWallet would have had a very rocky ride in the AppStore and in market commentary/reviews. ”

    That’s a fair opinion, but knowing what I know about the AppStore, I don’t agree. Yes, not letting people know that we were going to sync would have hurt sales, but I doubt it would have had a major impact on reviews. There would have been a few “Doesn’t sync, you stink” but not that many. People would have just purchased a different product. In the end, we did exactly what we promised.

    As for Mac, we have a version coming but it isn’t out. It will be, but it isn’t yet. If a person is spending $10 to buy eWallet on iPhone on the promise that we will release the Mac version someday, I thank them for their confidence. As I said above, however, that is not why talked about the Mac version. We’ve been around for over 11 years. We have a LOT of current users who also use Mac. We have a LOT of current users who switched to iPhone. We posted it for these people – not to hide from reviews.

    You wrote:

    “Put simply: don’t market and sell your product based on published commitments that you cannot reliably meet. It is unseemly and in many markets contravenes consumer legislation.”

    This simply isn’t what we did and I’m very sorry you are interpreting it this way. Here are the two examples you are using:

    a: Sync – We made a promise and came through within 8 days of the promised date. I’m pretty darn happy with that.

    b: Mac – We made a promise to release it, it IS going to come out. We gave an estimate on when it would be out and we are revising the estimate as we go.

    In neither case are we pulling a Bait and Switch (which is the illegal activity you have just accused us of.) The only thing I can say is that I am VERY sorry that my attempts to give release estimates were interpreted by some people as release dates.

    Again, Paul, I appreciate your well thought out and passionate comments, but I feel that you are assuming dark motivations when there aren’t any there.

  10. Car Regan

    I believe it was mid October when you asked for feedback about your development problems on ListPro for the iPhone. You received many well thought out responses and promised to keep us up to date about the future of the product. I now see that ListPro for the iPhone is no longer listed as “coming soon,” in fact I don’t see any reference to it at all.

    I would appreciate an update on ListPro’s status. I think you owe us some news in return for our feedback.

    Carl

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