inessential by Brent Simmons

On Apps that Get Acquired

Mailbox, which had been acquired by Dropbox, is all done.

The news was met on Twitter by people complaining that you can’t rely on apps that get acquired, since they usually get shut down.

Here’s the thing, though:

Apps that get acquired don’t last. Apps that don’t get acquired also don’t last. (Exceptions are rare.)

Consider the Google Graveyard, for instance. Or Everpix.

Or consider Instapaper, which was acquired and is still going strong. Or NetNewsWire — acquired twice, and still coming out with new versions. (Yes, there was a bit of a break, but it’s back.) Consider MarsEdit. Consider Unread.

When deciding whether or not you can trust an app to stick around, you can’t go by whether or not it was acquired.

You also can’t go by whether or not it’s open source, because open source apps get abandoned.

You can’t go by size of company, because big companies like Google or Apple will retire apps, and small companies will fail — or switch their attention to the app that makes them money but isn’t the one you use.

There are some companies you can rely on: Bare Bones, Panic, and Omni (my employer), for instance. You can count on Apple to continue to provide a web browser, email app, and IDE. You can count on Google to have a search engine.

But, after that, every situation is unique. Getting acquired may be the thing that keeps an app alive, or it might be the thing that kills it. Or it might keep an app alive just a little while longer.

In other words: just going by acquired-or-not isn’t actually useful.