EVERYONE is familiar with this scenario: An app you once loved no longer brings the same joy. It’s gotten buggy over time, or an update transformed it to the point it became unusable.
Chances are you thought about calling it quits. But after years of sharing your personal data with this app, you probably gave up and stayed in this stale relationship. You put up with the productivity-killing bugs and odd design changes because moving to a new, potentially better app felt harder than sticking with the bad one.
Take Evernote, the note-taking app. After nearly a decade attracting millions of users, the company last year severely restricted free use of its software while raising prices for its plans by as much as 40 percent. This month, Evernote also released a redesign for its mobile app, which users complained was bloated with unnecessary features that have made note taking too complex.
Even so, people have stuck with Evernote partly because taking their notes elsewhere is hardly easy.
”We understand those kind of changes don’t make everyone happy,” said Greg Chiemingo, an Evernote spokesman. “In fact, we’ve seen continued growth of paying customers over the last two years.”
People deserve better than this. Every day you stay with a bad app is time you could be spending with a superior product that will make life better. Here are my tips, based on interviews and personal experience, for a clean break.
When to Call It Quits
No app is perfect, but you have to draw the line somewhere. The problem is, you may be in such a rut that you can’t recognize the warning signs.
An obvious one is when an app stops working reliably in a way that affects your life. For instance, I called it quits on Apple’s Calendar app when I was planning a dinner with friends last month and the software sent a calendar invite in Greenwich Mean Time rather than Pacific Standard Time. As a result, one person thought we were meeting on Saturday instead of Friday and didn’t show up. (It wasn’t the first time this happened, either.)
Brian Fitzpatrick, a former manager at Google who led a team that developed tools to help people move their data to and from Google, said he dumps an app when it has stopped improving.
“It’s still functioning, but you don’t see any changes in it for a very long time,” he said. “It’s sort of a zombie app, I would call it at that point.”
Another sign that it’s time to move on is when you have nobody to talk to. Many popular apps for tasks like note taking, photo management and word processing are connected to social networks, or people you can share data with. If an app’s audience is a ghost town — like Yahoo’s photo-sharing app, Flickr, which sank in popularity after mobile photo-sharing services like Instagram emerged — then it’s probably time to leave.
Yahoo did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Flickr.
The hardest part of breaking up with an app is moving your data. So as a rule of thumb, save a backup copy of your data so that you can export it into a new app. Then carefully search for a better app to suit your needs.
As a safety measure before changing apps, you should always keep extra copies of your data somewhere, whether it be in the cloud with a service like Dropbox or on a physical hard drive.
Some companies deliberately make exporting your data difficult because they want you to stick around.
“It’s sort of like moving into an apartment and finding out at the end of the lease you can’t take your furniture and your books with you,” Mr. Fitzpatrick said.
Evernote is a good example. It includes an “Export notes” feature, but it only lets you export notes into two formats that are compatible with just a few other note-taking apps. Microsoft’s note-taking app OneNote, along with Apple’s Notes app, can easily import Evernote records. But if your app of choice is something else, such as Google Keep, you will have to manually paste your notes in the new app.
Flickr is also difficult to part ways with. Getting out your photos requires lots of manual labor: You have to download all the photos, which can take a significant amount of time if you have thousands of high-resolution images, and then upload them to a new photo service.
When companies don’t provide convenient tools to export your data, look elsewhere by doing a quick web search for solutions. There are plenty of people in the same boat as you, and chances are they have written scripts, or lightweight programs, to automatically pull out your data for you.
If there is no convenient way to export your data, sometimes it doesn’t hurt to just take out what is most important to you. Perhaps you don’t need five-year-old notes from Evernote anymore, so you could just manually paste your latest memos and get a fresh start with a different app.
Finding a New App
On the bright side, you can learn a lot from a tough breakup with an app — which can be especially useful when looking for a replacement.
The biggest lessons: Pick a tool that supports a wide array of formats instead of proprietary ones. And before you commit to a new app, make sure it is as easy to get out as it is to get in.
Ditching Apple’s Calendar app was fairly easy. All my calendar data was already stored online and Apple’s app supports calendars from multiple online services including Google, Microsoft and Facebook. The key was finding an app that also supported those services but performed better.
After testing several apps, I decided that Fantastical 2, a new app with a cleaner interface for getting a glance at calendar events, was the best one. Once Fantastical 2 was installed, I added my Google calendar accounts to load all my events into the app.
Mr. Fitzpatrick recently decided to cut ties with Google Voice, the search giant’s calling and texting service, because it had remained unchanged for years. So he made backups of his call history, text messages and address books using Google Takeout, a web tool that he helped develop for easily downloading personal data stored on Google services. Then he switched to Signal, the encrypted messaging service, which has more modern features for messaging and phone calls, and disconnected his Google Voice.
Google said it updated Google Voice on Monday with photo sharing and group messaging. But that was too late to keep people like Mr. Fitzpatrick.
“A lot of it comes down to, How interested are you in change?” he said.
The New York Times