Anyone who has read this blog knows that I use and love 37signal’s applications (almost 5 years and many accounts, personal and professional, later…) and that I’m also addicted to my iPhone. It’s been really interesting to watch the 3rd-party iPhone apps supporting the 37s products emerge in the last 6 months – I’ve tried most of them and have been challenged by the differing quality of the applications.
Outpost, by Morfunk, was really the first application that was announced (on a 37signals post) in the summer, but wasn’t released until November – in fact, after many of the others had already hit the AppStore. What immediately made a difference to me what less that actual app – although to me it was a clear winner – than the accessibility of the developers. They had set up a GetSatisfaction page and seemed to be monitoring it 24/7 (at first). Which was even more impressive when I learned that both of the developers hold down day jobs – building a business in a really smart (especially in this economy) way. David Kaneda Morfunk’s Interface Designer/Developer, was kind enough to answer some questions emailed to him about the company, Outpost and what else they’re working on (Tote!).
> 1. Can you tell me a bit about Morfunk? Where and how you started – and what’s with the name 😉
I started the company last July in partnership with Jim Dovey, a Mac developer. We were planning Outpost at the time, and wanted to leave room for doing more apps which integrate with 37signals products. Jim handles the heavy lifting with Cocoa development and I design user interface, the website, and manage the community, for the most part. The word “Morfunk” has been a working moniker I’ve had for some time — it represents the combination of form and function, via the Latin “Morphos” and Greek “Funktios”. It seemed particularly fitting for the partnership.
> 2. Out of the many Basecamp apps in the AppStore, Outpost seems to have the clear lead – featured on the 37signal’s Basecamp site, mentioned on the live show and many positive reviews from the community – what do you think sets the app apart from the competition?
I think the two biggest things that make Outpost different are the user interface and its offline capabilities. I was pretty pushy in terms of design and look, and thankfully Jim was very patient and tremendous in implementing the designs. The offline capability quickly became the most challenging aspect of building the app, but ultimately I’m glad we have it — this is something that sets us apart, and I’m not too fearful of someone else attempting it.
> 3. One of the things that has set Outpost apart from me is the interaction with your team, especially with the GetSatisfaction support page – why did you decide on GS and what’s the support process from your end? It seems like your team is constantly monitoring and available.
We knew from the beginning that we wanted the company to be transparent and I wanted to give GetSatisfaction a try. It’s pretty easy to keep up with via email and we try hard to reply when we can. We both have day jobs, so it can be difficult, but I think the system helps.
> 4. On the last live show, the 37signal’s guys discussed that they wanted to beef up the API’s this year. In terms of Outpost – how many of the feature requests (like Writeboards and Time Tracking) have to do with things that need to be added to the API? And have you been able to work with the 37s team on any additions?
We get a fair amount of requests for file support — not as much Writeboards, but people have asked. I personally think the lack of copy and paste takes away from the usefulness of Writeboards. We haven’t worked directly with 37signals on the additions, though they’ve kindly asked our opinion and we gave it. Our biggest requests didn’t involve the mainstream feature requests above, but rather functional improvements, like adding modified dates to all objects to improve sync times. Another big downfall is that non-admin Basecamp users have way less access than they should.
> 5. Outpost first came to many peoples attention last summer in a 37signal’s post, but didn’t actually get released until winter – what took so long?
A lot of this had to do with the syncing ability of Outpost, and countless tests to maximize sync speed, without sacrificing the apps performance or stability. Unfortunately, a lot of people still experienced problems with the early versions, as it was difficult to know how people used their Basecamp accounts.
> 6. I’m a big believer in charging for quality applications, which not only enable consistent updates, but product support also. One of the challenges in the AppStore right now seems to be in determining pricing. How did you determine what to charge for Outpost and what considerations did you make?
I personally agree, and think that products should charge based on value and audience. With Outpost, we knew we were working within a specific, professional niche and the app provides real value to those users. We thought about what we would pay for it. In fact, we originally decided on a $14.99 price point, but brought it down after seeing competitors release with much lower prices. We believe we put a fair amount more time into our app, which reflects in its usability and feature set, but didn’t want to rule ourselves out of the market.
> 7. Any word on Tote – or anything else, 37s or not, that you’re working on?
Tote, our web app for Backpack, is still in the works and will hopefully release soon. While developing Tote, I found a need in the market for a jQuery-based iPhone web framework, so I created and released jQTouch. We are also currently in the process of planning a native app for Highrise. Expect a few updates to the blog over the next month.
Thanks for your time David. Looking forward to watching what’s next for Morfunk!
One of the things that I love about 37Signals is how responsive they are to their users. “Case” in point – When Highrise launched, the Cases feature was only available on the Plus, Premium and Max plans and there was a lively discussion on the forums. Everyone wanted the Cases feature!
Today 37signals announced that all plans will include Cases:
> Plus, Premium, and Max continue to include unlimited Cases
> The new Solo plan (explained below) includes unlimited Cases
> Basic includes 5 Cases
> Personal includes 3 Cases
> Free includes 1 Case
> These numbers mean OPEN Cases – you can have other Cases that are Closed
There’s also a new plan added – the Solo Plan. It’s just like the Plus plan (which is what I’m on), except it’s for the single user – someone who doesn’t need to share their Highrise with anyone outside.
They have also increased disk space:
> Max moves up to to 50 gigs (was 20 gigs)
> Premium moves up to to 10 gigs (was 3 gigs)
> Plus moves up to 3 gigs (was 1 gig)
> Basic moves up to 500 megs (was 400 megs)
> Personal moves up to 250 megs (was 200 megs)
I’m on the perfect plan for me (and now it’s even better!) but I love that 37signals not only listened to what their early adopters were saying – but that they responded in a pretty robust manner. This is a company that enables better communication between people and have proven that they practice what they preach.
I’ve been playing with 37Signals new Highrise application for the last 24 hours and think that it’s a great Contact Management resource (CMS). There’s a great tour that walks you through the entire application and all of it’s many features.
Since I’ve been using Basecamp (another 37Signals app) for over 2 years, many of these features are familiar to me. There’s a 30-day free trial (although you do have to give them a credit card) and I decided that I wanted to test the Plus plan ($49/month). The Plus plan includes up to 15 users, 1GB of file storage, Cases (a really interesting feature), SSl and 20,000 contacts. There are six levels in the Highrise pricing plan and I wanted to experience the whole application – especially the “cases“.
After I signed-up, I immediately imported my contacts into my account by exporting my iCal contacts as a group vCard. You can manually add contacts, upload vCards and also import from Basecamp accounts (We use Basecamp as an internal project management tool that we don’t share with clients, so that didn’t work for me!). After importing contacts, I set up my first case. What’s great about cases is that I can share them with the people directly involved with these projects. I had originally thought that “Cases” might be able to be adapted as a GTD system, but while it has some great features – Actiontastic is still my GTD app of choice. Highrise may work for some people for a GTD app, just not for me right now.
> Contacts – each contact has a page that includes a photo, contact info, tags, notes, files, tasks and more
> Tasks – Can be assigned to yourself or others. Action categories can be added (Call, Email, Etc.) and reminders can be sent by email or cell phone.
> Permissions – specify who can see whatever.
> Users and Groups – You can invite people to join your account and set the permissions for people, notes and cases.
> Cases – Keeps everything all together. Great to organize projects with its notes, tasks, files, images, people and more.
> Email friendly – Forward email to the Highrise dropbox and it will automatically be attached to the specific contacts page.
After reading the last Signal and Noise (37Signals) update on their new Highrise application, I’m really hoping to get a peek at it soon. It sounds like it has significant GTD applications. And I’m a big 37signals fan.
According to the new preview, Highrise will “play nice” with email – by that it means it has a “dropbox” that can be sent, bcc or forwarded emailed to. Those emails can then be attached to the pertinent page (the original sender) and notes attached so that records of all interaction (even phone calls!) can be kept. New pages can even be added on the fly if someone isn’t in your system already.
My favorite piece of this new system is the Email/Task functionality. There’s 5 different identifiers (+Today, +Tomorrow, +ThisWeek, +NextWeek, +Later) which can be appended to the dropbox (like my existing @action, @hold, @respond, etc? mailboxes). Highrise then turns this email in to a task.
37signals has begun issuing “Golden Tickets” – I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I “find” one soon.
37Signals posted another preview of it’s soon-to-be-released Highrise service. This is their CRM app and it really looks great. Highrise looks like it was completely thought out – from the initial set-up to the day to day collaboration between people. All with a beautifully intuitive (a 37Signals trademark) interface. Sign up for a “Golden Ticket” – Beta Testing? – today.
“You can think of it as a company-wide, web-based, shared address book with a few twists.” – from the Website.