Vesper: What’s New and What’s Next

After Apple unveiled iOS 7 at WWDC in June, we received many kind compliments along the lines of “Wow, Vesper really looks like an iOS 7 app already.” But the truth is that Vesper 1.0 was a forward-looking iOS 6 app. It was obvious to all three of us, right away, that this was very different from being a forward-looking iOS 7 app.

We have big plans and a long roadmap for Vesper. But we’re a very small team. Setting our priorities — the order of our roadmap — has profound repercussions on when those things go from ideas we’re working on to features in the hands of our customers.

We knew all along that our first priority was to ship a great iPhone app. Any other year, having done that in June, we’d have spent the summer working on something else. But iOS 7 is such a fundamental change to the platform, it rendered 2013 no ordinary year. If our first priority is for Vesper to be a great iPhone app, that meant we needed to spend our summer making Vesper a great iOS 7 app. A minor refresh while we moved on to other things simply would not do. The details of why that took all summer long (and why we expected it to) will make for a great design dissection, like the one Dave wrote for version 1.0. But for now, suffice it to say, it was a lot of work.

Our policy, like that of many companies, is not to comment on future plans or work in progress. There are many good reasons that companies as big as Apple and as small as one-person shows adhere to such a policy. One reason is to keep attention focused on what is already available. Another is that keeping your mouth shut about work in progress is a way to implicitly under-promise and over-deliver. When a company says “We plan to ship X in the next three months” and it turns out to take six months, customers are naturally disappointed.

When you say what’s coming next, people naturally want to know when. And when you tell them how long you think it will take, you’re giving them a guess, but to the customer it feels like a promise. And at heart, we’re all optimists about how long our work will take. In short, talking about work in progress and future plans is often a recipe for disappointing your customers.

That said, we’re going to make an exception, quite possibly just this once, and announce what we’re working on next for Vesper: Sync.

There are a slew of very frequent requests from Vesper users, but sync stands apart. It’s not only the most common request, it’s the only one that is often accompanied by “this is so important I can’t believe you shipped without it”. We totally understand that for many of you, a notes app that doesn’t sync to some sort of cloud storage service is a non-starter, full-stop. But we have no regrets at all about shipping Vesper 1.0 as an iPhone-only data silo. We ourselves find it useful, as do our existing customers. And as a company, shipping without sync allowed us to operate profitably many months ahead of when we would have seen our first dollar if we had waited until we had sync to ship 1.0.

(Conversely, we’ve also received a surprising number of comments from users over the past few months praising Vesper for not having any sort of online syncing — some of it fueled by the revelations regarding the U.S. government’s warrantless surveillance of popular Internet services. Syncing in Vesper will always be optional, and off by default. If you want your Vesper data to be stored only on your device, that will always remain possible.)

We’re breaking with policy to announce this because sync is so important to so many of you that it was becoming untenable to do otherwise. We want you to know that our priorities align with yours. Sync is the feature that almost everything else on our roadmap hinges upon.

Also: syncing is a notoriously difficult problem to solve. There is no easy way. From the outside, it may seem as simple as “Just use _____”, where the blank is iCloud or Dropbox or Azure or S3 or anything else. From the inside, every option we have presents hurdles, limitations, and a ton of work.

We have had sync in mind from the start. Those of you who’ve been paying attention to Brent’s Inessential weblog this year have effectively seen him thinking out loud about sync all year long. By announcing this now, we can keep doing that, as we go heads-down and devote ourselves to building it. (Where by “we”, I mean “Brent”.)

How long is it going to take? We don’t know. I’m going to say a year. I know what you’re thinking: What? A year! I’m sure sync is hard but a year sounds crazy. That’s nuts. And you’re right, that does sound crazy. If I were to tell you what I honestly thought, I’d tell you I think it’s going to take several months. But I don’t want to disappoint you, so let’s stick with “a year” and hope that we can unveil it months ahead of schedule, instead of months behind.

We’ll share more about our progress as we go. In the meantime, enjoy Vesper on iOS 7. And thank you for your support and patience.