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John Gruber and friends launch Vesper note capture app (9to5mac.com)
96 points by orrsella on June 6, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 106 comments

Thinking that sync is optional is a really weird thing that seems to linger in the Apple world.

You know the old William Gibson line that cyberspace is the place where telephone conversations happen? Not in the hardware at either end, but in the "space between"? Computing has moved there too.

Work used to happen on a device and then was transferred to other devices, either manually (floppies, email) or later automatically (sync, dropbox). Thanks to the web, mobile devices and lots of data, that's changed: Google Apps led the way, but Evernote etc all let you do your work in the space between devices.

Nowadays, putting the device first over the data (or ignoring other devices entirely, like this app does) is like putting the phone first over the call: beautiful, elegant hardware, refined way to dial, custom typeface for the numbers ... but you can't call anyone with it.

Apple in particular makes this mistake repeatedly. Photostream is device-first, so you have to work out what the hell is where and work out what you want to download to which machine. iTunes Match is device-first, so you're forever downloading and deleting tracks to make space on a particular device. Me.com tries to keep the sync truth on one of your devices, so conflicts abound. Notifications appear on all devices and often have to be dismissed individually on each of them. They see the world through the device first.

I suppose it's obvious why it happens -- they're a hardware company, and they grew up in a pre-networked world -- but I think misunderstanding this is one key reason they're seen as "bad at services" in comparison to Google, which is instinctively and entirely in "the space between devices".

As for this app, why would I ever want to be trapped in a single place again? They might as well have made it for an SE/30.

DF has posted quite a number of links over the last couple of months, highlighting how poor sync on iOS currently is (iCloud in particular). I'm pretty sure Brett Simmons has posted quite a few of them too... My theory is they tried to get sync working in as polished a fashion as they wanted, it didn't work well enough, so they dropped it for v1. If Apple fixes iCloud sync at WWDC they'll add it back in a new version. If not, they can just say it's not something they feel the app needs.

I find sync that requires an account a negative factor. There are many notes I wouldn't want to share with Google.

Also as soon as you offer sync you need to have a conflict resolution approach and there is no way to always resolve in a clean way without user intervention.

The time for punting on sync because it's too hard or inconvenient can't last indefinitely in the industry...

It isn't just hard or inconvenient it is impossible (to do losslessly without human intervention). I take data loss very seriously and I also take privacy issues seriously so even if it was easy and convenient to implement a state of the art solution it still wouldn't be a no-brainer.

We've been working on sync for a number of years, and have created an open-source lightweight iOS library and backend server. It's still alpha, but it's already in use by a handful of apps in the App Store.

Here's an overview: https://github.com/couchbase/mobile

The iOS embedded sync database: https://github.com/couchbase/couchbase-lite-ios

Embedded sync database for Android: https://github.com/couchbase/couchbase-lite-android

It is designed to sync JSON documents either to the cloud, or from device to device. Everything is open source, so you can run it wherever you want.

Our conflict detection and management works by detecting when two users modify the same document, and keeping both versions around. It's up to the application to merge them (or discard one). More about the protocol here: https://github.com/couchbase/couchbase-lite-ios/wiki/Replica...

Stuff like this helps. I have looked at this for my lists app (http://itunes.com/apps/fastlists - mostly for checklists and repeated use lists rather than todo lists) and may look again but there are still scenarios where you have to do one of the following:

1) throw user data away.

2) ask the user a question about how to resolve the conflict

3) save both copies and leave the user to figure out which one they actually want.

As a developer I'm not yet comfortable with any of these approaches for casual user scenarios although option 2 or 3 is probably right in many more serious/professional set ups. I've gone with email as my transfer mechanism which also allows sending to other users and to be used as a backup although I do keep looking at sync systems and solutions.

I found this a good write up of the potential complications even for a simple list app like mine.


Just realised the link is broken and too late to edit: http://blog.helftone.com/clear-in-the-icloud

It seems HN doesn't like a comment ending with a "/" in a link.

This app Isn't For You. Sync is great if you want it, or have a need for it, but the majority of iOS users currently have a singular device, so why invest time and resources into a feature a lot of people won't need? Why not just focus on a majority share?

Yes you're trapped, but think of it as being stuck on a desert island happily, rather than being jailed unwillingly.

Edit: I'll rephrase singular as singular device with an Apple provided operating system.

Nobody has a singular device. Nobody. Even if they only own one piece of hardware right now, they are surrounded by other hardware they have access to. Why should their stuff be locked to one physical object when it's digital?

This isn't something you can pretend is for a minority anymore. It's like making a POP3 client and saying "IMAP is for power users".

My parents are nobodies with just their phone that they share. Their friends, also seniors and predominantly with one device, are nobodies as well. Why should their stuff be blocked? Because they don't give a gd if it goes elsewhere. In fact, they seem most comfortable with the idea that their stuff is consolidated in one physical thing they understand and not wandering beyond their view or control. There are people like that, they are valid, their desires can be designed for and served, and they will pay money for that. They are not nobodies.

It's also like saying: some people don't want to think about syncing.

I have a feeling that's the reasoning, more than anything else. It removes a piece of complexity with a very specific, conscious trade-off.

That said, I use syncing to Dropbox religiously with my notes app, so that's a dealbreaker for me.

Nobody has a singular device is true, whether they give a shit about using the machine they use for spreadsheets or quickly checking their hotmail is different to using it as a productive device.

Surely Sync becomes useful for your majority of iOS users when they upgrade devices.

Not really. During setup, when you specify your Apple ID, new devices offer to restore from an old device's last backup.

But when they record a note on their phone and later want to recall it for a bit of typing at their laptop or iPad...

I have been trying to put my finger on this for a while. This is what bothers me so much about Dropbox.

I'm not sure I'm understanding the point of this tool. It looks trendy, but it takes notes. No syncing. I mean, this is the guy that wrote NetNewsWire. Wouldn't an app like this be doable in a weekend?

I honestly want to find something new that the app does that is supposed to change my workflow, but there is just nothing. A cynical part of me feels like this exists (especially with the $5 price tag) just to ride the fame coattails of Gruber+Simmons+Wiskus.

I don't condemn them for taking the opportunity of their current notoriety. I'm coming off of week 4 of an app launch that completely failed to garner any reviews or growth, so it does really hurt to see reviews of this app that are nearly 4,000 words long: http://www.macstories.net/reviews/vesper-review-collect-your...

Wouldn't an app like this be doable in a weekend?

Paul Graham, I know you can hear me, and I know this is possible because I know a thing or two about the Javascripts, and so I'm telling you now: the site's banner should strobe clown colors for 5 minutes every time news.arc sees this string.

Think of all the strings that cold be extended out to as well. If there's any justice in the world this will be at least an option.

Topical clownstrobe proposal: "nothing to hide"

That is pretty unfair to pg and people that don't like clown colors. A browser extension version should only take a couple hours.

That's true. At the very least a browser extension would be doable in a weekend.

I feel your pain. The truth about getting publicity for apps on major blogs is: you wont get publicity for your app, unless...

- it is visually novel or has some cute gimmick

- there is some story about the people behind the app (already have an audience)

- there is some story/narrative that is only tangentially related to the actual quality of the app

- a massive game changer (incremental improvements aren't going to cut it). Massive game changers dont happen often, and your app most likely isnt one even if it has features that other apps dont.

I've decided to forgo spending much time trying to get major blog/tech site coverage for my apps. It's a wash now - better to build your own audience and market in other ways.

Feel free to email me if you wish to discuss this: krishna @ logiccolony dot com

I've come to the conclusion, after my latest release, to just make apps that I will use everyday (aka quit dogfooding), not spend a dime on marketing, and release them for $3-5. I just want to make things that people will actually get some benefit from.

Seriously, so you aren't aware of that from the beginning?

I'll try to give you a scaled perspective:

1. Announce in your site that you are going to give a speech.

2. Obama announces that he is going to give a speech.

There is high probability that your speech is going to be more interesting, entertaining and informing. However, your viewers are going to be close to 0, and Obama is watched by the entire world and covered by major medias.

Well, that explains why he linked to that "A $5 app isn't expensive" post from Daring Fireball yesterday.


Or, it's the other way around, and the pricing philosophy he's had all along influenced his decision on how to price this:


(Where by "or" I mean "no").

I'm saying it's not a coincidence he linked to that two month old article the day before he released a $5 app. Prime the pump, in a sense.

In that sense, he's been priming the pump since 2008.


Nice catch. My cynic alarm was squawking but its simmered down now.

It appears to me by purchasing this app, you are trading the features of existing products for a slick design. I'm particularly impressed with how they have spun the lack of features as a feature ("simple and elegant", "imposes no system")

For me, inability to coexist with Notational Velocity is a dealbreaker.

Isn't that a little bit like saying that by buying a Moleskin notebook, you're trading the features of existing products like Trapper Keepers?

This might be stretching the metaphor a little, but in college I'd take a five-section notebook over a Moleskin any day because of the nifty little pockets that I could keep problem sets and syllabi in.

Similarly, an iOS notes app that doesn't have websync just seems unhelpful for me. The only time I need to record a piece of data and I don't have access to my laptop/paper are usually when I need to remember something for later: and that "later" involves me using my laptop.

(Advantage of note apps vs. note books: the former lends themselves much more to iteration.)

So this is easy: the kind of person who prefers a five-section notebook to a Moleskine is not the target audience for this application. Just like those apps that appeal to people who track their jogging times are not targeted towards me, unless they also have pig fat and whiskey features.

Most people who don't want a "trapper keeper" probably don't want one because all of those extra features make the product literally heavy and bulky.

Now there may be something to why they choose a brand-name notepad instead of a cheaper alternative, but I don't think this analogy works for comparing software features of apps on phones.

Maybe a better example might be somebody choosing a pocket knife that was not a "swiss army" pocket knife. The nail file doesn't really get in your way, but if you don't want it, why have it?

Lack of features is a feature for some people. I really prefer when products start with a limited, polished set of features.

It's just the difference between someone who wants a swiss army knife and someone who wants a santoku knife. They're just two different philosophies of experience design. Calling it "spin" ignores the actual benefits (and tradeoffs) inherent in that design philosophy.

What exactly is the point of this? I mean, what does this app do that's new or exciting or hell, even better than any existing app does? Not to take anything away from the people who made this, but if someone else had made such a simplistic app, with next to no features, and put it out, I doubt anyone would have given it the time of day.

This is app.net all over again.

Here is Gruber's review of Simplenote from 2009: http://daringfireball.net/2009/07/simplenote

"But I noted three significant shortcomings:

    1. Syncing"

Love it!

It looks nice. I will give it that, but $5 bucks seems a little much for a notes app that can't sync across platforms as far as I can tell... not even iCloud.

Evernote, Springpad, Simplenote, and even Google Keep for iOS (when it is finally release) have syncing from the get go.

It seems to be very similar to Day One, which also costs $5 and is quite popular

Day One looks really exciting, but the reviews are really up in arms about a lack of encryption. Does anyone know more about this supposed issue?

Lack of encryption and lack of Google Drive support have held me back from using this as well. Let me know if you find out anything more.

I certainly don't see much reason to buy v1.0 for full price. Wait a month and see if the features improve or the price drops.

i predict that the price will not drop.

i predict that features will not improve.

i predict that another app will be released, at a similar price-point, with more features.

and then another one after that. and another.

in other words, i predict a well-executed plan to extract as much cash as possible from fans.

nothing wrong with that. if you can get away with it.


I wish this existed on OS X, and not just iOS, a platform where I'm never particularly interested in taking notes.

What would be especially nice would be if iOS Vesper was a satellite of a desktop Vesper, so that my photos and location information would automatically get pulled into my notes.

Day One does this.

It's a journal app, but it has the same features as Vesper, but with sync, a desktop app, and a calendar view of your posts. In my eyes it also has a very similar interface.

When will the Android version be released?

Never. It's Gruber.

Honest question - what is it with these Apple fanatics not wanting to write any software ever for Android, Windows, Linux or anything not Apple? Is it just spite?

I would prefer not to write software for Android or Windows because I don't want to support Google or Microsoft if I can help it[1]. Google is too powerful and has too much data and I really don't trust them. Microsoft while reasonably well behaved recently (maybe because they have lacked the power not to be) have a long history of dubious practices and unfairly squashing competition.

Linux, Blackberry, Firefox OS, I would be happy developing for if they had worthwhile market share.

[1] Note that this isn't an absolute and if the market conditions dictated it I would swallow this preference and live work with them but while there is a choice I would prefer not to. If I had a mega-hit on iOS I may port it to cash in, while I put non-zero dollar value on avoiding Google/MS it isn't unlimited either.

Thanks for the response. So it is an ethics thing with you. Personally the idea of supporting Apple over Google is alien to me, but is interesting reading other people's perspectives.

I meant to include that I don't think that Apple are saints either. However their business model is largely making stuff people want and selling it with an upfront price rather than you (and the data trail you leave) being the product to be sold to advertisers. Google's scale and data collection creep me out already without adding more to it by using an Android phone, and therefore I don't want to encourage others to do things that I wouldn't do.

But as I said its a preference rather than a hard black and white line for me, major corporations have their own interests at heart not customers/users where they conflict.

I can see the logic in that point of view. For me the big thing is lock-in. Google let me transition off their services easily, and I can also use their products on a wide range of hardware. Microsoft is somewhat "open" in this respect, but less so. Apple actively push their customers into using software and services that only work on their hardware. Jobs and Gates both categorised their fight as Closed against Open, and personally I have a really hard time supporting Closed, even when Open means letting companies use my data to sell me ads.

I dont write native apps, so I dont know if push came to shove if I would avoid writing apps for iOS or not.

I don't feel more locked in to iOS than I would be to Android. If I changed device I would lose apps, including purchased ones but little else.

Yes the services are only available on their hardware but hardware choice is far from the biggest issue with this sort of freedom, ability to leave the supplier entirely is the power I want and precisely because they offer less (or at least I use less) than the full Google ecosystem I have a lower barrier to exit.

I use iCloud only with some apps that support it and the photostream functionality but I have all my photos offline too. I don't buy DRMed media so could transfer my music elsewhere. I don't use Apple or Google mail services, but pay for a separate IMAP provider. I have some documents in Pages but they could be exported as a different format and there doesn't seem to be difference in lock in to Word or even Google Docs.

Regarding open vs. closed I prefer open too. I like open source and have a Linux server. However I don't see Google as that much more open than Apple. Both release large amounts of Open Source software (LLVM, Webkit if you struggle to think of Apple examples) but only in areas where it benefits them. Open has reduced benefits where a single corporate interest has full control of the direction of the project.

> hardware choice is far from the biggest issue with this sort of freedom

This might be why we differ. To me it's a huge issue - that I can continue to buy from a range of hardware manufacturers, and install my own OS and software. My computers all have Linux + Windows 8, and my phones have always had custom ROMs on there. I get that not everyone needs that, but Apple stopping me from installing OS X on my laptop, which is perfectly capable of running it, just strikes me as "evil".

If you go out of your way to avoid Apple services that lock you in, then I suppose that you could be reasonably free to exit. But on an iOS device you can't get out of using default apps like Apple Maps, and services like FaceTime and iMessage encourage people to connect with their family and friends through a system which is almost unique in only working on one manufacturer's hardware/OS (the only other example is BBM, which I also avoid).

> I don't see Google as that much more open than Apple

I see them as much more open than Apple, probably because it is in their best interest to be. Google's continuing existence is based on people's ability to use their services from any platform. They are trying to make hardware and operating systems less relevant by moving everything onto the internet. In order to do this, they need everything to be interoperable, and they do that through openness. Apple's business on the other hand is about getting people into their walled garden and keeping them there. Microsoft did that to an extent with trying to lock everyone into Windows, but in my view Apple are a million times worse, as they are trying to lock people into their OS and their hardware - and in many cases their software as well (eg. Maps and other default applications).

With respect to Android, you can use it without using a single Google service.

It's probably because they see so much software that only works for Windows, or only works out-of-the box for Linux, they want something that makes their platform of choice special.

>> what is it with these Apple fanatics not wanting to write any software ever for Android, Windows, Linux

Perhaps the answer to your question is inside your question itself.

Why bother? An app like this is going to make significantly more money in the Apple ecosystem. With all the Vesper features they could be working on, I'm sure they don't see any need to spend time on Android or Windows right now.

> An app like this is going to make significantly more money in the Apple ecosystem

More money possibly, but its hard to imagine it is not worth the cost of porting these types of apps - and that's what is relevant. Unless it is an ideological thing.

That's an odd question because it frames people exercising freedom to choose what they spend their own time on as unreasonable.

Do you choose your own activities, necessarily not choosing others, out of spite?

I wouldn't choose to work for Goldman Sachs, for ethical reasons. I wouldn't buy an app from a guy that was rude to me when I met him, out of spite. I don't do certain things because I don't want to support certain companies or ecosystems. Often these things are, ethics aside, inconveniencing me, or stopping me from making as much money. Sometimes I just bite the bullet and use the app by the guy I don't like.

The tools.

Gruber seems to have moderated somewhat, and while he still does the snarky "winning" thing and is abnormally interested in marketshare/profits, I would not be surprised if an Android version comes later.

His prior partner in spirit, Arment, however, has only entrenched more than ever in his bias.

At the singularity.

Bought it and played around with it a bit. Very nice interface. The app has a very nice initial feel.

However besides the ability to send an email or text, the data appears to only stay the app. There is no DropBox or other syncing options. So it will not replace SimpleNote/nvAlt for me.

Interesting, I expected this to support Markdown. But I do like the simple and automated formatting that is provided.

The fact, that they named the app after the First Bond Girl could indicate that this is a first of group of apps. So maybe the sync'ing features will be coming in later releases.

Unless I'm missing something, this is a direct competitor to Evernote, yes?

I think I get it - Evernote has always been a bit of a mess IMHO and while it's the best of what existed, it seemed overly complicated and cluttered. This appears to be a measured (and flat) response to that.

I don't see anything about Vesper syncing to the cloud, so there's no way it could ever compete with Evernote for me. My notes have not been tied to any one particular device for several years thanks to EN, and there's no way I'm giving that up.

Is that it though? Is this just a note-taking app that, as it looks, has less features than Evernote? (web interface, etc).

Does look nice, though, I'll give Vesper that.

What an awesome position to be launching an app from, in terms of marketing!

I find the choice of name interesting. I realise it's a Bond reference, but the first impression I got was of an unreliable old moped, not the image I think the developers would want to associate with.

That would be a "Vespa".

Which are, ironically enough, rather reliable despite their old age.

Cool. Gruber just invented Google Keep.

For reference, here were his thoughts on Google Keep a few months ago:


Considering that Google are amazingly good at giving you your data back, and allowing you to transition off to other services, his comment is about the most stupid and self-defeating thing he could possibly say.

"Trust your thoughts and ideas to the greatest Apple apologist ever. Good luck with that."

Removing the Google from that probably gets a few sales. Especially with his audience.

that's a very pretty translation of iOS design principles into a flat UI. makes me wonder in Gruber & friends have seen a sneak peek at the rumoured new flat iOS.

Ugh. I hope not.

Ugh... another note-taking app. How does this non-innovation make frontpage news at Techmeme and other places? I don't get it.

Make an app that takes notes FOR me, automatically, without me having to even think about it, and I'll pay $5 for that. Seriously, we've been making note-taking apps since the dawn of the text editor. It's a solved problem. Move along.

People who complain about the $5 price tag: How many coffees do you buy per day?

Now, I don't drink coffee (dry eyes issues) and I'm not an app store shopaholic. However, if there is something of interest, I'm not going to complain about the lack of x and y and the high price.

The price is already too low.

Features: I'm all for simplicity, in the right circumstances. I use Clear from Realmac Software because when I'm creating to-do lists, speed is the most important thing to me. However, when I'm writing notes, accessibility is probably the most important thing for me and that means sync, I'd also bet this is the case for many people, hence the popularity of things like Evernote and Google Keep. The absence of sync from Vesper seems like a massive oversight, and makes me wonder if it's on the cards for a future version, or perhaps for a working iCloud? In addition to sync, I would have thought it would have Markdown support, even if it was transparent to the user in some way and

Price: The price doesn't hugely concern me here. If I find an app truly useful, then $5 is a small price to pay, and I support developers making a bit of a stand on this and charging premium prices for premium products. The feature set isn't one that interests me because of the lack of sync, so whether it was $5 or $1 wouldn't really make a difference for me.

Design: 'flat design' is nice when done well, but detracts from usability when done badly in my opinion. If you have a non-flat design, unless it's hugely over-the-top, I don't think it detracts from the usability. (sidenote, what's the correct terminology for the opposite of 'flat design'? It's certainly not skeumorphic) Lots of Microsoft's 'metro' styling does flat design well, using varying font sizes and typographic and visual hints to provide context to controls, whereas Visual Studio has gone too far and removed far to many visual cues which results in a less usable interface in my experience.

I feel that Vesper goes to far. As there is so little to the app it's hard to justify it being 'less usable', but I do think the interface to be a long way from correctly executed flat design. I think other apps and designs are far closer to how flat design should be.

Another interesting thing to note is the animation on transitioning to a new note. Federico Vittici made a GIF of it (http://bit.ly/15EEKkP) for his review (http://bit.ly/11Hkz16). Federico points out that it makes the interface feel a lot faster to the user, but I don't think it's the right thing to do. Firstly, as I said above, I don't think speed should be a priority for things like this, after all, the amount of time for a 0.5s transition is minuscule to the amount of time spent composing the note. But also it breaks the well known metaphor of the UI stack in iOS. The back button still indicates that it will move to the screen on the left, however the screen hasn't really moved in the user's mind. It's not a crucial point, but it's one of those 'papercuts' (http://askubuntu.com/questions/1006/what-is-a-paper-cut) that I would expect a team such as the one behind this app to have addressed.

I wrote more than I planned to, so I might turn this into a blog post. Would be interested to know peoples thoughts on it first though.

Concerning the sync I think they're waiting to see if Apple plans to fix iCloud (with CoreData) in iOS 7 or if they must look for another way to do the sync. At least this is what I would do, we're very near WWDC I think it was wise to wait to see how it goes. Although I think what's more debatable was the decision to release the app now and not to wait few weeks or even september. Personally I would have tried (if as I think it's for them a side project) to wait the release of iOS 7 (and maybe require iOS 7) and add the sync functionality in version 1.0.

Why wait? They'll start getting users (and feedback) now and once they get sync, they'll get another press release out of it. Apple didn't wait until they could do LTE right to release iPhone 4s.

Since he hasn't mentioned it on DF, and the website is only a splash page, and it's the Friday before WWDC, I wonder if Macworld broke their press embargo early.

To attempt to answer your question of what is the opposite of flat design: I refer to it simply as detailed and minimalist. Therefore, skeumorphism would be a specific type of detailed design. Flat and minimalist are far more similar but I think flat has a more restrictive meaning. This also allows for the middle grounds of semi-detailed and semi-minimalist.

    "...sidenote, what's the correct terminology for the opposite
     of 'flat design'? It's certainly not skeumorphic..."
Well, we're talking about GUI design, and beveled buttons/menus etc. have pretty much been the norm for the GUI's entire history. So how about just using "traditional"?

The trend towards a beveled 3D look in GUIs only really started after NeXT started showing NEXTSTEP in 1988. It was a big differentiator for the NeXT interface; it made people sit up and take notice.

Before then by and large GUIs had a flat look. The only depth was a bit of "cartoonish" drop-shadow on windows and menus on the Lisa and Mac (much more subtle - 1px - on the Mac) and on the minimize/maximize/close button contents on Windows 1 through 2. (And of course Amiga, Atari ST/GEM, GEOS, Xt and SunView all mimicked the Mac to various degrees.)

Maybe, although some much older interfaces were 'flatter' than the more recent UIs of OS X and Windows (pre-8) for example. 'Traditional' attaches too much relation to time-span to it for me.

Once Evernote got hacked that dropped any chance of ever using them again for me.

No voice dictation. No syncing. More expensive than the free notes app. Lame.

Am I the only one who thinks flat design looks boring and generic?

is it just me or did a lot of chimney commenters just shrug away the inadequacies of this app by predicting things based on nothing at all?


Chill out bro.

Given Gruber's love of all things Bond, I respect that the name comes from the first Bond girl (and great cocktail) Vesper Lynd.

Edit: Ah, their company's name is "Q Branch" which is the division that provides all of Bond's gadgets.

That's playing a dangerous game, using multiple references to an existing property.

Imagine someone creating "Imperial Studios" that released their new "Luke" and "Darth" apps.

Yes. The company is called Q Branch.

I'm pretty sure it's a Bond reference.

Supporting data: - Gruber is a huge James Bond fan - Vesper (Lynd) - vesperapp.co makes a reference to QBranch

It's the name of James Bond's signature martini. The LLC's name, Q Branch, refers to the R&D wing of MI6.

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