Vesper for iPhone review: Collect your thoughts with one part notes app, one part lists app, shaken, not stirred
Vesper -- Brent Simmons, Dave Wiskus, and John Gruber's Vesper -- is part list-maker and part note-taker, and so strongly opinionated about how it balances both that you'll fall instantly in love... or want to kill it on sight.
This isn't your UIKit convention, your lowest common denominator, or any other concession to the mass-market. Everything about Vesper, every choice about every feature, liberates only through constraint. Because it allows for just a very small set of very deliberate actions, Vesper frees you from the cognitive overhead of managing the management app, and forces you to simply fulfill its purpose -- collecting your thoughts.
Vesper's name draws allusions to the most classic of Bond women, and the drink she inspired. So does the company name behind Vesper - Q Branch. According to the Brent, Dave, and John, they're making a precision tool for you the same way MI6's Q made them for Bond. (And yes, in this case, if they're Q, that makes you Bond.)
Here's what they've made: In Vesper you can create new notes, add text or images to them, tag them, search for them, share them via Mail or Messages, or copy them to the clipboard, archive them or delete them, visit URLs contained within them using a Spartan, built-in browser, and that's about it. No themes. No font selection. No import or export. No sync. Nothing to sync to or with.
Just Vesper, your ideas, and as little as possible to get in the way of their being captured.
The design reflects that feature set. The interface has no rich textures, no shadows nor sheen, and no gradients. It's got one font, though it's a good one. Its palette is beyond minimal, and it's flat enough to slip under a door. It's also informationally dense enough to be useful, which isn't always the case with type-centric design.
Where Vesper delights is in its kinetics
Where Vesper delights is in its kinetics -- to steal Guy English term for it. Its sidebar opens with the tap of a the "hamburger" button, but it also opens any time you put your finger on the screen, anywhere, and slide it aside to reveal the notes layer beneath. To archive a note, you hold it and pull it out of the list. If you change your mind and let go, the note doesn't just slide back, but bounces playfully back into place. To open a note, you tap it. To change the order, you touch it and drag it to its new home.
These aren't abstract gesture commands, but direct manipulation -- as Brent calls it -- and it works so well I find myself missing it when in the note view. There's no obvious place to put it -- no edge of the list view to drag back -- but I find myself instinctively trying all the time anyway.
Vesper's tag- and archive-based system makes it not only possible but also convenient to use it for long-term memory. Still, even with all of its opinions and constraints, Vesper remains flexible enough to suit several different workflows. I find myself seldom using tags and often deleting, using Vesper more as short-term memory -- things I want to keep in cache but not write to disk.
If you want to do more, Vesper loads with an initial set of notes that tells you how. As Dave describes it, it's a Super Mario rather than Zelda style tutorial - fun, informative, but totally unobtrusive.
And to quickly blast through the remaining controversies -- no the icon isn't the most richly designed or visually balanced, it's stark, either a portion of a tag bubble or -- if you've watched as many movies as me -- James Bond walking across the screen, just about to turn and fire through the circular sight. It's also impossible to miss on a Home screen and I like it fine. I'm also ecstatic that Brent, Dave, and John are charging real money for a real app. I hope more developers follow in their footsteps.
I've been using Vesper for a while now in beta, and it saves me enough time to easily be worth such a little amount of money. It's value far exceeds its cost.
Again, it's so focused and opinionated it'll turn off as many potential customers as it turns on. This isn't a note-taking, list-making app for everyone. It's an app for John to collect his thoughts, as framed and realized by Dave and Brent. It's individual and personal in a way that others will either love or hate depending on their feeling towards, and their design and feature alignment with, the opinions expressed from pixel to bit. But that's okay. Maybe that's even how it should be -- Highly specific tools for highly specific jobs with highly specific tastes. A cocktail, not a soda.
If that appeals to you, Vesper is available in the App Store now. If it doesn't, there are plenty of alternatives. If you want to know more before you buy, Brent, Dave, and John were gracious enough to join Guy English and me for Debug this week. I learned a ton. Give it a listen.