MacSpeech fails the version number test

May 15, 2009 12:00 · 500 words · 3 minute read

MacSpeech Dictate 1.5 has just been released. In the process, they made a major product management blunder: they chose the wrong version number. How can you mess up with a version number? Simple: you misalign your own expectations with those of your customers.

MacSpeech Dictate is really the only viable speech recognition software for the Mac today. Their original iListen project wasn’t so hot. So, they licensed the Dragon NaturallySpeaking engine and put a Mac UI on top to produce Dictate. The first version that came out was somewhat incomplete, in that there was no way to train the program and improve its accuracy. In October 2008, they released Dictate 1.2 as a free upgrade, adding the training features. In February 2009, Dictate 1.3 added features to make dictation work better with other apps and add some other features. Dictate 1.3 was also a free upgrade.

Now, three months later, they have released Dictate 1.5 as a $55 upgrade. Two of the major features listed are “better accuracy” and “faster performance”, which I think to many people come across as fixes more than features. Just take a look at the comments on the forum thread. The Vocabulary Editor is a true new feature, and the “New Commands” bit sounds like a minor thing they tossed in.

Based on the feature list they presented, “1.5” sounds like the right version number. It doesn’t seem any greater in scope than 1.2 or 1.3. And yet, for the MacSpeech folks themselves, it probably seems like a long time since 1.0 came out and perhaps they’re feeling the pinch of the current economy. Certainly, the amount of work they’ve done on the product between 1.0 and 1.5 is significant. I’m sure they feel entitled to an additional $55.

Release early, release often is a phrase used a lot in the open source world. For commercial software, however, if you want to offer a paid upgrade, you can’t follow that rule. By doing relatively quick releases of similar scope, MacSpeech inadvertently set the expectation that 1.5 should be a free upgrade. Had they spent 3-6 more months adding new features and then released it as “2.0”, I’m certain they would have had fewer complaints about the upgrade being a paid upgrade.

As far as I know, MacSpeech Dictate doesn’t have any strong competition. From that perspective, they could have waited a few months more. It is possible that they’ve been hit by the economy, though, and couldn’t wait several more months for the additional revenue. If so, that’s a tough spot, and I wish them luck. Regardless, I doubt they were expecting this kind of reaction to a new release, and they may not get the kind of revenue they’re hoping for. HarvidMD in the forum thread:

With upgrade policies like this, I think that I’ll save my pennies and wait for MacSpeech Dictate 3.0 in about five years so that I’ll be able to get a voice recognition package that actually performs as advertised.