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Meet Vesper, a notes app with an all-star development team

Jason Snell | June 7, 2013
Vesper is a new iPhone notes app with an impressive pedigree—it's developed by John Gruber, Brent Simmons, and Dave Wiskus.

Vesper doesn't do much, but that's the point. "We built it for ourselves," Gruber said. "I think anyone who is like us—anyone who appreciates attention to detail, doing a few things really well instead of many things mediocrely—will love Vesper."

It's visually striking. I like the typography (the app's one and only body font is a custom-tweaked version of Hoefler and Frere-Jones' Ideal Sans) and the design of the tags and the filter list. It's simple enough not to get in my way with a lot of fiddly organizational features, but provides me with more structure than something like the Notes app. Tagging notes made a lot of sense—I immediately made Work, Writing, and Recipes tags. I commingled work notes, ideas for my novel, a favorite recipe for buttermilk biscuits, and an idea for my podcast without any trouble. Once I started treating it as the iPhone equivalent of a small paper notebook tucked into a pocket, it all began to fit.

That's not to say there isn't more to be done with the app. Syncing notes to other iOS devices (and perhaps a service like Dropbox) would be a natural, though I fear that any feature addition will make the app more cluttered, when simplicity is one of its real strengths. Too many fiddly feature additions and I'll run screaming from it, just as I often do from Evernote.

The story of Q
Q is, of course, the mastermind who provides James Bond with all of his clever gadgets, as the leader of the British spy service's Q Branch. (Vesper is the name of a cocktail invented by Bond as well as a pivotal character in Casino Royale.)

"What I hope people pick up on is that in this scenario, we aren't Bond," Wiskus said. "We're the people who make all the great tools for the agents to use."

Here's a look at the formation of Q Branch and the creation of Vesper in the words of its three creators.

Macworld:How did this project come about? When did you decide to work together? Did the idea for Vesper appear first, or did you decide to collaborate and then figure out what you wanted to build?

Simmons: Last year at Çingleton I talked to John and Dave about the three of us building an app, because it occurred to me that we'd make a great team, and I was looking for something new and awesome to do. John already had the idea for Vesper, but I didn't know about it in advance.

Wiskus: Last summer, Justin Williams suggested that we work on an idea John mentioned to him. Justin had to drop out to keep up with freelance work, but I had completed a few iterations of design. When Brent pulled me and John aside in Montreal, we knew we wanted to work together but didn't have anything in mind. I said, "Well, I have this idea of John's I was working on,' and showed them the early designs on my phone.

Gruber: Right. It was an old idea of mine from around 2009, but I had long ago figured I wouldn't be able to build it myself, so over the years I had offered it to developer friends when they asked me if I had any ideas for apps. The difference with what we've done here is that I didn't just contribute the idea, I was part of the team. I don't consider ideas for apps all that valuable. It's the implementation of an idea that matters.

Simmons: We talked it over, and decided pretty quickly that we'd build Vesper. Not long after that I decided to leave my then-current job and switch full-time to working on Vesper.


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