With the number of usernames and passwords we have to use these days, it's practically impossible to remember them all. That's especially true if you use a different password with every service you sign up for (if you don't, you really should!).
Instead of doing the wrong thing and reusing passwords, it's highly recommended that you use a password manager. That way, you can have strong, unique passwords for all of your accounts without having to rack your brain every time you log in somewhere. While third-party password managers have existed for a long time, Apple has its own built-in solution in the form of iCloud Keychain.
It's a great tool that encourages you to have better password hygiene. However, the fact that it operates mostly in the background and doesn't make it clear where to see and amend your data means it still falls short of dedicated apps like 1Password and LastPass. That's why it's finally time iCloud Keychain got its own app.
The promise of iCloud Keychain
I use Apple devices pretty much all day and iCloud Keychain has become an essential tool for creating strong passwords. It remembers all of my log-in credentials so I don't have to by allowing me to auto-fill them. iCloud Keychain is integrated into Safari, as well as within apps on iOS and macOS. My stored passwords sync across my devices, so I can pretty much always log in with just a scan of my face or fingerprint, depending on which device I am using.
For me, it works basically as well as Apple's pitch describes:
"iCloud Keychain remembers things so that you don't have to. It auto-fills your information — like your Safari usernames and passwords, credit cards, and Wi-Fi passwords on any device that you approve."
That sounds pretty amazing. How many times have you, or someone you know, been staring at your phone wondering what password you might have used or going through the rigmarole of resetting it (only to be told you can't use the same password again...)? Show that short description to anyone who struggles with their passwords and they'd probably ask where they can sign up immediately.
In its current form, iCloud Keychain probably puts off more people than it attracts.
Of course, it's only really a great solution for those that are all-in on Apple devices since it uses iCloud to keep everything in sync, lacking the cross-platform smarts of some of the third-party solutions. But it is free for Apple users and lowers the barrier to using a password manager.
Except, it also doesn't. iCloud Keychain in its current form, I'd argue, potentially puts off more folks than it attracts given the confusing implementation and obfuscated organization of data. Putting an app on the Home screen, protected by Face ID, Touch ID, a passcode, or even a unique master password would make a world of difference for discoverability and ease of use.
A confusing Settings experience
iCloud Keychain has become much more than a simple storage and syncing solution for your credentials over time. With iOS 14, the service gained security recommendations to alert you to compromised, easily-guessed, or reused passwords. iOS 15 brought two-factor authentication codes and the latest beta software allows you to add notes to your passwords in iOS 15.4. There's a lot going on in iCloud Keychain and the experience of using it isn't as seamless as it could be.
It doesn't make sense to have iCloud Keychain features hidden away in different parts of the Settings app.
The main argument against consolidating the iCloud Keychain experience into its own app is that you can already manage your information via the Settings app. While true, it's not exactly a pleasant experience.
Say you wanted to manually update a password for one of your many internet accounts. That's pretty straightforward to do since there's a top-level Passwords tab in the Settings app. But how about changing the credit card details that iCloud Keychain stores? Well, that's hidden away somewhere entirely different (it's three layers deep within Safari's AutoFill settings, for those wondering).
iCloud Keychain also stores your Wi-Fi passwords. Where are these kept? On macOS, they are hidden away, managed via your advanced network settings within System Preferences. And good luck managing them on iOS because you can only forget or change the passwords for Wi-Fi networks in your immediate vicinity.
Features of iCloud Keychain being split out into various different sections of your devices' settings may have made sense at first but it makes no sense today, worsened by the fact that functionality can differ from device to device. It's time Apple brought all of iCloud Keychain together in one easy-to-understand app for a straightforward and consistent experience everywhere.
Where is the dedicated iCloud Keychain app?
There's no sign of a standalone iCloud Keychain app in the latest iOS 15.4 beta, but perhaps it's on the docket for iOS 16 later this year. I certainly hope so.
The app would soon become the best iPhone app for security, making it easier for folks to create, store, and save passwords securely, find out if a password has been compromised and take action, make use of two-factor authentication, manage their Wi-Fi networks, and easily update their credit card information. A dedicated app even opens up the possibility for added functionality like the storing of sensitive documents, sharing and updating select passwords between family members, or sharing account access between colleagues.
Given security is a lever Apple likes to pull when it comes to differentiation and marketing, it would suit the company's privacy-first mantra to offer a Keychain app that makes it easier for more people to make better security decisions.