Balsamiq - The future of Balsamiq for desktop

The latest news from Balsamiq:
Past, present, and future plans for our desktop version.
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If you’re in business long enough you’ll see dramatic market changes. Follow them, or be left behind.
Let’s talk about the desktop version of Balsamiq.

In the beginning…

Only our most die-hard fans know that when I started Balsamiq back in 2007, I decided to make a wireframing tool that would only run as a plugin for Atlassian Confluence and other extensible online platforms.

I was trying to build a one-man company, and going the plugin route seemed like the best approach: the platforms would do my marketing for me, and I would only have a few large customers to support.

I didn’t want to host my own SaaS version — too stressful! — and I certainly didn’t want to make a desktop version.

We were in the middle of Web 2.0, the browser wars were almost over, Google Suite had launched in 2006: everything was moving to the web!

Surely desktop software was a thing of the past, I didn’t want to invest in it.

Boy, how wrong I was! During the private beta, I heard over and over that people wanted to use my software, but as a downloadable version. I kept refusing, but they begged me for it!

Do you know the Steve Blanks quote that says No business plan survives first impact with customers? Yep, that was my first impact moment. Because the technology I was using at the time (Adobe Air) made it very easy for me to create a desktop version of my web app, I gave in and decided to sell it. It was almost an afterthought, done one month before launch, something that I thought would tide us over for a couple of years until the world fully moved to the web.

Again, how wrong I was. The desktop version immediately became our #1 seller and is what kept us in business for the first 5 years.
Balsamiq Revenue by version ('000s)

The world was very much moving to the web, but it was doing it much more slowly than I had anticipated.

But the trend was clear: I remember that I used to go to conferences and tell people “I’m a shareware guy! In 2012!” just to see the shocked look on their faces. It was hilarious. ☺️

The tide finally turned

In 2011, the company had grown and we once again decided to give in to customer demands ☺️, and added our own standalone hosted version (what’s now called Balsamiq Cloud).

We also embarked on a giant 5-year effort to fully rewrite our codebase, because Flash was dying. 😞

We wanted to continue to share our code between web and desktop versions, but also have best-in-class desktop apps, with the most native-feeling UX.

This was HARD to do: Electron didn’t exist, React Native didn’t exist. We had to figure out how to run our own embedded Javascript virtual machine inside our desktop apps. It was tough. But it worked, we’re still using this strategy for our desktop apps today. Sadly, it’s much more complex and expensive to build than our old Adobe Air stack.

In the meantime, the world seemed to finally really move to the web.

The big makers of desktop software (Microsoft, Adobe, Autodesk) all started shipping web versions of their most popular tools.

Conferences for desktop app development became more and more rare.

And mobile stole the show! Apps for iOS and Android became the norm, and for a few years tablets were all the rage, remember? ☺️

Gradually, we saw the share of revenue coming from desktop start to decline, in favor of our web versions (SaaS and Integrations).

As a general industry trend, it seems pretty clear that installed desktop software is on the way out.

Think about this: how often do you look for desktop software to install these days? If you’re on a Mac, when was the last time you launched the Mac App Store?

OK, now think about this: what would the answers be for a Gen Z person? ☺️

I’m not saying I personally love this new world of subscription-only, web-only software: unfortunately, what we like or don’t like is almost irrelevant. The market moves, and once again, we have to follow it or be left behind.

Desktop is costing us, A LOT

Given these revenue and industry trends, we recently got together to discuss what we should do about them.

Our first realization was that maintaining the desktop versions for Windows and Mac is costing Balsamiq A LOT, both in terms of money and time:
  • For every bug report, we have to verify if it happens on 3 different platforms.
  • For every new feature, we have to design it for 3 different platforms.
  • For every change we make in the code, we need 3 different people to get involved.
  • We need to have experts in .Net and Swift development, and keep up with platform changes.
  • Every time we do a release (more or less every 4 weeks), we have to spend ~1 week testing the desktop versions.
  • Doing customer service for a large number of different operating system versions is really challenging.

Not to mention how confusing our offering is! We need to have a “compare versions” page and a very complicated “buy now” page. We get SO MANY phone calls from people asking “which version should I buy?”.

This confusion undoubtedly has an impact on our revenue, and is becoming unsustainable.

I could go on and on.

Our goal is to provide an amazing (and clear) experience for our customers, at every single interaction point they have with us. Having so many versions makes it very challenging.

So what’s the plan?

Once we reviewed our costs, we realized that the revenue desktop was bringing us was clearly not proportionate to them.

We considered trying to do a big development and marketing campaign to push the desktop version more, but we realized that we alone can’t afford to stop the tide of people moving to the web, we’re just not big enough.

So instead, we decided to raise the price of the desktop version. A single-user license is going to go from $89 to $129, starting sometime in Q1-2023. Aside from adjusting for inflation, the new price more closely reflects what it costs us to keep the desktop version alive.

This news is not public yet. We’re telling you, our inner circle, ahead of time, in case you want to buy a desktop license before the price increases.

Starting in February, you will also no longer be able to open Cloud projects in desktop: only 1% of Cloud users were using desktop, and detaching the two makes it possible for us to speed up innovation in Cloud.

We’re also planning on slowing down desktop releases: we’re only going to do releases to fix important bugs, or to bring in new features that affect the display of your wireframes, like changes to UI control functionality.

For all other kinds of features, we will no longer aim for feature parity between the web and desktop versions.

This effectively means that we’re gradually leaving desktop behind.

But it’s a solid product, so we will continue to sell it and support it for the next couple of years, similarly to what we did when we retired myBalsamiq in favor of Balsamiq Cloud.

So if you really love working on desktop, you will still be able to! ☺️

Some day, desktop will go away

Eventually, in a few years, when we see that fewer and fewer people use desktop, we plan on letting it go into the sunset.

But first, we want to make sure we provide good alternatives for the features that make desktop special!

Here’s what we’re planning for Balsamiq Cloud:
  1. We want to add offline mode - the browser’s APIs are good enough to do it now! 💪
  2. We’re thinking of switching the Cloud pricing model from Projects to Users, so you won’t have to worry about project count anymore.
  3. We’d also like to revamp our “auto-hibernation” feature, so that you’ll only pay for your Cloud subscription when you use it.
  4. We’d also like to make Cloud easier to buy for resellers.

We also plan to continue to let you back up your projects in our publicly documented BMPR format. It’s your data!

These changes will take a few years to make, so if you really like to use desktop, don’t worry, we’re not killing it any time soon.

But maybe start considering switching to Cloud for your new projects in the meantime? We think you’ll liked it just as much, if not more! 😉

Happy customer of the month

Today I realised that I am using @balsamiq now over 10 years... It is my little power-horse for website, mobile and desktop apps concept development... It worked out during my in-house product development and client-based projects. Somehow funny, everyone liked the sketch styles. — Florian Weil

Product news

We continued simplifying our UX by removing the rarely-used Thumbnail Grid view. For the same reason, in the next release we’ll hide several of the toolbar icons. We also fixed some bugs and improved the performance of the Icon library. Read the release notes for all the details.

We don’t do a release in January because we want to fully enjoy the holiday break, but the February one is already looking pretty great.

Wireframing Academy news

December was surprisingly busy for our education team! We published the remaining videos for our course on How to Redesign a Website From Start to Finish, covering the second half of designer Piccia Neri’s process, including her reaction to the final implementation.

Meanwhile, Billy presented our last webinar of 2022: How to Ideate Like a Designer for Product Managers and Non-Designers. If you missed it, you can watch the recording here.

On the book front, we are still hard at work editing and revising. In the meantime, we shared 3 books that informed and inspired our writing. Read about them here.

Last, but not least, Leon was invited to give a virtual presentation on wireframing to Samsung’s design team at their headquarters in Seoul, Korea.

UX/UI links for December

Company news

The end of the year is always busy, with the shorter month and lots of accounting and HR tasks to wrap up and start for the next year.

We announced our 2 new employees, Jonathan Race and Arielle Kimbarovsky!

That's it for this month!

We realize that for those of you who love our desktop version this is going to be a sad newsletter. If that’s the case, we want to hear from you. Just hit reply and send us your objections, we’re all ears!

You can buy desktop before the price increase on our Buy page, or sign up for Balsamiq Cloud if you want to try it out.

Always moving forward,
Peldi for the Balsamiq Team

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