You've probably already heard, but a new app hit the App Store today by a quite remarkable team: John Gruber, Brent Simmons, and Dave Wiskus. The app is called Vesper, and it is an almost ridiculously simple note taking app.
I'be only had a day to delve into the app, but it's so simple I already feel ready to give my preliminary thoughts on it, which you will find below. If it's a review from someone who's been beta testing for months that you're looking for, I suggest this one by Federico Viticci, this one by Marco Arment, or this one by Jason Snell.
The first thing you should consider before purchasing is that the feature set is bare, to say the least. There is no iPad app, no syncing, no URL scheme, very few export options and no text expander supprt. At first thought, this sounds like the kind of app that I would hate, particularly with my great interest in inter-app communication and chaining together simple tasks to increase the speed of my workflows. All those things rely on the text that I generate in Drafts, another note taking app. However, while Vesper and Drafts may both be in the category of note taking apps, they are not competitors. Drafts is built for productivity and sending out text, Vesper is built for intuitive note management and keeping text inside.
Anything you write in Vesper is likely to be something that you want to keep in Vesper. To me, this seems like a very iOS-y approach. In iOS, everything is sandboxed and meant to stay that way. Unlike the file system that we're used to from PCs, in iOS you go to the place where your file was created to find it. Take Apple's Pages for example. I keep any large documents I write on my iPad in Pages, and I look for them in Pages. It's not what I'm used to from computers, but it's simple and makes sense. Vesper, in my preliminary opinion, is supposed to be similar to this, but for short notes or lists instead of large documents. When I write my large documents in Pages, I don't expect to move them around through all my social networks, send them to Dropbox, Evernote, or other similar services, or use them to create calendar events or reminders lists. All I may do with them is email them to a few people or maybe print them out. With many short notes, it's really the same idea. I'm not going to post my grocery list to Twitter, App.net and Facebook. I'm not going to require access to an important phone number I want to remember on my iPad, iPhone, iPad mini, Mac, MacBook, Mac Mini, and anywhere else I ever access data. But what do I want to do with these short pieces of digital information? I want to have them somewhere where I know I can access them extremely quickly and with no issues or errors or possibilities of accidentally deleting them. Vesper is potentially the perfect place for this kind of data, and while syncing with at least an iPad version of the app would certainly be welcome, I don't believe it is necessary, as the type of data I'm talking about would be accessed on the go, and via my most mobile device: my iPhone.
So why is Vesper any better for this kind of single access point, non distributed data than any of the other hundreds of note taking apps on the App Store? Why should you add a whole new app to your repertoire when you could just as easily save $5 and put these notes in Drafts or Notes.app like you have always done? The answer is organization. For the purposes of this post, I will only compare the organization in Vesper with the organization in Drafts and the default Apple Notes app, the two other note taking apps I have the most experience with. Previously, I have used both of these apps to store data like ID numbers, phone numbers, lists of words to play in a certain Letterpress game, grocery lists, Spanish notes, and many other items. Throughout all my experiences trying to store these types of data in these two apps, I have constantly, again and again, become frustrated trying to find the info later. Drafts has a pinned section now, which is far better than its old method of lumping every draft together in one list, but what if I jot down the info and forget to add it to the pinned section? Now it's lost in a sea of other random drafts stuffed in my inbox. And even when I do add it to the pinned section I often forget it's there and search through the inbox before going to find it, or I find that the pinned section itself is beginning to become just as crowded. In Notes.app, all I have is a single huge list which grabs the first line as the title and sorts in order of date created. I have so many notes that scrolling through them is no different than scrolling through the Drafts inbox, except now I have to try to remember the exact date at which I created the note and put down the info, or exactly what I used for the title line if I even bothered to put one. Both of these processes, in Drafts and in Notes.app, can be huge pains when I'm trying to access a specific item of information rapidly and on the go.
Vesper takes a completely different approach at organization. Instead of the only method of organizing being a giant list of every note stored, or even three slightly less giant lists (Drafts), which can be just as confusing, everything in Vesper is organized through tags. Opening the app brings you to your "All Notes" list, which is organized by date and is similar to the old Drafts inbox or the Notes.app main section. If you have a lot of notes, and want to find an older one, this organization makes it dismally hard to find anything. However, swipe to the right (or press the hamburger button), and a side menu is revealed with a list of tags that you have added to each note you make. You are not meant to have endless tags, or else that menu can become as confusing as the main notes screen, but if you come up with a concise system of a relatively small number of tags which fit the great majority of your note taking purposes, the organization system could, and should, work amazingly for you. I've only had my hands on the app for a day, but I'm finding that adding a quick tag to the end of each note makes it incredibly easy to find and eliminates almost all of the annoyances I've previously faced. I obviously have not yet had a chance to add a note, forget about it for a few days or weeks, then be required to quickly find it again, and see if Vesper helps with this, but I feel very confident that it will. At the very least it is undeniably more efficient than Drafts or Notes.app would be for the same tasks. This method reminds me of a system of labeling folders in iOS which I read about and adopted a year or so ago. The system has me label folders with the action that I perform using each app within instead of just vague group labels such as "productivity" or "lifestyle," which are huge categories that you could probably find a reason to fit almost any app on your device into. Since I've adopted this system, I have found it incredibly more intuitive and easy to locate apps in folders when my labels are "purchase," "connect," "remember," "watch," etc. The tag system in Vesper seems very similar in its intuitiveness. Instead of stuffing all my notes into nondescript categories like "inbox" or "pinned," I can now search them out by tags like "numbers," "links," "movies," "errands," etc. This makes the process of finding my past notes almost exponentially simpler. Particularly if I were to have a list of notes as big as the list of drafts I often collect in my Drafts inbox. From what I've read from beta testers and what I've seen so far myself, this is the biggest differentiator between Vesper and apps like Drafts. Vesper is not meant to replace Drafts (if you use Drafts as a text distribution app like I do), but rather it is meant to be used in tandem. It will take a little getting used to at first, but I believe my workflow will eventually settle with me typing any text that I plan to eventually distribute to various places (blog posts, events, social network posts, emails, etc.) in Drafts, but typing any text that I'm going to want to keep solely to myself, and want to be able to find at any given time at short notice, in Vesper. The app is lightning fast, beautiful in every aspect, and extremely good at the one simple task that it is meant for: organizing notes. As an added bonus, Vesper supports adding photos into your notes, too.
While I do hope for a future in which a URL scheme is added to Vesper, as well as an iPad app being released with syncing between devices, for now Vesper is really good at the one thing it's trying to be good at, and for a 1.0 release, that's a heck of a lot better than most apps out there can say. Gruber, Simmons and Wiskus have, in my opinion, managed to produce the first note taking app since Drafts which I have found to really stand out from the crowd in a unique yet useful way. I can't wait to see what's coming next for Vesper, or if anything else makes its way out of Q Branch.