Passkeys just show how much Apple needs a real iCloud Keychain app

A person holds their phone while they sit at a desk with a desktop computer on top of it.
(Image credit: AgileBits)

Apple is making a big play with passkeys, the first real alternative to the humble password that we've seen in a long time. But it hasn't even gotten its password situation right yet.

Apple's been syncing people's saved usernames and passwords for a long time as part of the iCloud Keychain feature. There are plenty of third-party password managers of course, but iCloud Keychain is free and built into every iPhone, iPad, and Mac. But there's still one glaring problem — the app.

As in, the fact there just isn't one. It's not that Apple gave us an iCloud keychain app and it's bad. It just didn't give us one at all and instead all of your saved passwords live in the Settings app — something nobody at Apple will ever be able to convince me makes sense.

Passkey promotion

Apple is making a big deal about passkeys, as well it should. It's part of the FIDO Alliance alongside Google and Microsoft and it knows that it's high time that passwords were killed off for good.

Databases full of leaked or stolen usernames and passwords are available online, potentially opening your data to people who have no right to be anywhere near it. Passkeys fix that by putting the authentication mechanism behind biometric security like Face ID or Touch ID. In the world of passkeys there's nothing of use for thieves to take from remote servers, whereas passwords have been known to go missing with alarming regularity. I'm oversimplifying, but you get the gist.

So, with that in mind, now is the perfect time for Apple to make iCloud Keychain less of an afterthought on its own platforms. We shouldn't have to rely on 1Password or other apps to give us a proper interface for managing passwords or passkeys, but we do.

If Apple really is going all-in on passkeys, could it break iCloud Keychain out of the settings app soon? With iOS 17, macOS 14, and iPadOS 14 set to be announced during the WWDC23 opening keynote on June 5, we can only hope there's some positive news. Even if we do have to wait until September for those updates to be rolled out to everyone.

But that wait is fine because, as we know, passkeys aren't ubiquitous just yet. Some services like PayPal and Google already support them, but they're the exception rather than the rule. 1Password does manage a list of websites and services that already have passkey support, so be sure to go there if you want to check if your favorite is ready to go. You might be surprised, but probably not.

A big year for Apple

We already know that 2023 is going to be a big year for Apple. There's the Reality Pro AR/VR headset and the 15-inch MacBook Air still to come. Then there is the iPhone 15 lineup in September as well as a new Apple Watch or three.

But I'd humbly suggest that Apple got itself into this mess and it's time it got itself out of it. The lack of an iCloud Keychain app is unforgivable at this point — make the time to make it happen.

Even if you have to put it in AR or VR to get the attention of whoever needs to OK it at Apple Park.

Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too. Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.