The sunset of Sunrise

Above: Some sunsets are sadder than others. The sun goes down at Macqueripe Bay. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

BitDepth#1057 for September 06, 2016

There’s no hesitation when I reach for my wallet after I find a small software product that does exactly what it promises and does it exceptionally well.

The problem is that big software companies often feel the same way, and their budgets and ambitions for the products they set their eyes on are often far larger than my own.

In August 2014, I wrote about five small software products for Android devices (http://ow.ly/E3s6303RVmw) that I really liked using and two bonus apps worth considering.

Microsoft has since bought two of them, Wunderlist, a list making app that synchronises its content across devices and platforms and Sunrise, which did the same thing for calendar appointments.

Last week, on August 31, Microsoft was supposed to shut down Sunrise for good, having decided to retask the software team to improve the calendar in Outlook, its Office suite’s mail and appointment component.

Microsoft has since announced an extension on Sunrise’s sunset, acknowledging that its work on improving Outlook calendar features has not been completed.

But that only means there’s been a temporary reprieve on the software’s demise, not a pardon. Sunrise is done, and that’s just the way of the software world.

Sometimes it works the other way around.

Nik Software made a big impact with Photoshop gurus with its suite of plug-in products that targeted specific functions that image makers need on a regular basis.

The suite of software offered deep features for making black and white conversions, creating High Dynamic Range (HDR) images, doing special effects colour toning and denoising images, among other features.

The suite was also expensive, costing more than US$500 for the whole collection at the peak of its popularity.

Then Google bought the company and immediately dropped the price of the Nik Collection to US$150 and made the suite of products free for anyone who owned even one of the plug-ins.

This seemed rather generous, even for a company that’s proven rather flexible in its commitment to doing no evil.

But Google has no interest in desktop image editing. They bought Nik for its little smartphone image editing app, Snapseed, which was a cut-down pelau blending of the plug-in collection.

The company rather unsurprisingly made a feature matched version of Snapseed for Android a priority and gave the product away on both major software platforms.

The Nik Collection’s price also dropped to zero in March this year and Google has halted development on the product.

This has been happening in the software world for decades, and programmers who develop single purpose, deep featured apps can do very well when big companies take notice.

Read up on how the little Mac MP3 player SoundJam (which I also owned) became iTunes for an object lesson on how well a programming team can make out once that happens.

I used Sunrise for one thing that it did that better than anything else I could find. It made the calendar appointments from my Mac appear on my Android smartphone. This is supposed to be possible, and contacts synchronise seamlessly without third party help, but it simply doesn’t happen in the real world.

Sunrise worked perfectly, but that’s over now. If you have a similar problem, consider Marten Gajda’s SmoothSync. It’s an Android-side app that bridges the calendar API on Android with Apple’s iCloud calendar database seamlessly.

It’s a US$4 set-and-forget solution and you can add the author’s Open Tasks, which reads iCloud to-do lists for free.

Sometimes software dies because it no longer fits the development goals of a new owner, sometimes it lingers on after author passes away slowly slipping into obsolescence.

But as long as there is a problem that can be solved by code, some young programmer will eventually step up and make an app, often a small, purpose built one that targets a specific need. They remain worth looking out for.