Paper App: why half of users hate it

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I had a short Twitter conversation with one of my co-workers and brilliant designer, Elyse Holladay and she mentioned, how odd it seemed that so many people complain about the Paper app — free sketch application that takes “freemium” model to the extreme, so I thought I’d try to crystallize my thoughts on why would people hate it.

First, why people wouldn’t hate it — it’s gorgeous. Well styled, elegant and quite pretty. Album sets of pages are great, and I’ve figured out the navigation in a few seconds without even reading the introduction. You have your pen tool and a set of colors and that’s it.

And that’s probably where complains start to roll in. Limitations and “premium” part. People are used to the idea of having a full set of tools. For graphical editors you generally always have color fill, brush, pencil, eraser. Here each step takes another two bucks to do. Want a wider brush? Two dollars. Color wider area with “water color”? Also two dollars. Medium marker kind of thing? Yup, two dollars. And all tools are always “present” but grayed out. Color palette also, while well designed, is fixed and you simply can’t change it. Want a blue highlight? Nope. Crave red instead of lighter orange shade? Out of luck. I don’t understand why they’ve added this restriction, as it simply doesn’t make any sense.

Elyse was arguing that tool buying in Paper is the same model as in “freemium” games, as you simply can buy “expanded” items, while being able to use one included tool absolutely free. Technically — yes. Practically it’s cutting a bit too deep. I’d say this is an equivalent of free game not allowing you to run to the right or jump until you buy an expansion pack for real dollars. You can walk around things by only turning left, but that’s it.

Paper even hints you that you will probably need all the tools. They’re right there in the toolbar. So if they simply offered the free app as a “demo” and also had regular $8 sketch app there wouldn’t be any complains (well, maybe some people would say it’s expensive but that’s true for most apps, there’s always “not worth it” comment somewhere). Or if “additional” tools were not shown at all, and were added as you buy them.

But for better or worse, Fifty Three decided to annoy the customers. Their choice. Some, who do sketching often, probably will simply buy all the tools in one pack. For everyone else there’s Sketchbook Express, that while not looking so pretty gives you a great variety of tools for free (and yes, you can buy additional brushes and stuff if you want to, but both brush and pencil are available for free, along with a full color wheel). Now, off to delete the app to avoid reminding myself that my sketching looks like a chicken scratch. Done by a very drunk and disoriented chicken… :)

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