Vesper (US$4.99) is a new iPhone app designed for the sole purpose of collecting and organizing your thoughts in a logical manner, and if the all-star development team is any indication, it should be a cutting-edge app with a modern, intuitive UI. The developers, a company named Q Branch, were kind enough to provide TUAW with a copy of Vesper for testing, and here are my first impressions of the app.
To begin, let's talk about Q Branch. It's made up of the stellar team of John Gruber (Daring Fireball, creator of Markdown), Dave Wiskus (former designer and creative officer at Black Pixel) and Brent Simmons (NetNewsWire, MarsEdit, Glassboard). The team formed after a chat at Çingleton Deux in Montréal, Quebec, last year, when the friends decided that they could work together on apps. Simmons would develop the apps, Wiskus would design and Gruber would orchestrate the work of the team.
Vesper is the first fruit of Q Branch. As Gruber describes the app, "Think of it as a cross between a notes app and a to-do list, inspired by the simplicity and clarity of Twitter. What's the difference between a thought, an idea and something you want to do? I don't know exactly. That's why we made Vesper."
We don't know if Apple's going to "flatten" the iOS 7 UI design in the future, but Wiskus may have anticipated the future (or just followed a current design meme) with Vesper. It's a very flat and simple UI. Launching the app brings you to a set of notes that -- surprise! -- are also the app tutorial. To add a note, you tap a plus sign. The first paragraph of a note is automatically bold-faced, following paragraphs are in a regular style. Type in a web address, and it automatically turns into a link. You can also add an image by taking a photo or selecting one from your photo library. Those images always appear at the top of the note, blog-style -- I personally wish that they'd let the user slide the image to any location in the note. It's also impossible to add more than one image to a note.
Notes can be viewed in a list of all notes, or by tags. Yes -- like blog posts, Vesper notes have tags. Items with the same tag are automatically grouped together. Tapping the "hamburger" icon on a tag list moves that list of notes to the right, revealing a simple drawer showing "All Notes" and the individual tags. Tap a tag, and you see all notes that have been tagged that way. There's also a place for archived notes -- to archive a note, you simply swipe it to the left. Want to delete a note forever? Tap the "share" icon to reveal a popup for sending a note via email or Messages, make a copy of a note, or delete it.
Searching your thoughts is equally easy. Tap on any tag to get a list of notes, pull down the list to reveal a search field, and type in your search term. When it comes to adding tags, Vesper anticipates the tag you wish to apply by suggesting previous tags. It's one more way to simplify the thought-capturing process. If you want to sort your notes somehow to give them a priority, you just tap and hold one and drag it up or down.
One thing I also thought was interesting was the built-in browser. Tap on a link in any of your notes, and the page opens up. There are forward and back buttons to navigate through your browser history, a share button (open in Safari, send as a Message, email it, or copy the URL), and a Done button to get you back to your note. The browser uses pull-to-refresh to reload a page or display the loading status of a page; it then gets out of the way so most of the iPhone screen is filled with the page. Considering the widespread use of Chrome, it would be nice if Vesper would detect that browser on your iPhone and display a popup showing Chrome or Safari when you choose to open a page in another browser.
Vesper has no settings to worry about, which makes it a rarity among apps. There's no choice of typeface, no themes, and every action is plainly marked. Wiskus did a wonderful job of designing an app that just gets out of the way of taking notes. I found Vesper worked very well with Siri dictation -- open a new note, tap the keyboard microphone and speak to get a "title", tap the return key, and then tap the keyboard microphone again to dictate the body of the note.
Another thing I'd like to see in a future version of Vesper is a way to sync the app with a Mac version and/or iPad version. Although I pretty much always have my iPhone with me, I don't like changing my personal focus to another device to create or check a note. And I'd kill for a way to assign a note a deadline date. Being able to do something like assign a date, then have the bold-face headline slowly turn another color as I got closer to that date. That would be an easy and subtle reminder of an approaching deadline without having to use another reminder app.
All in all, I think Vesper does a pretty decent job of letting you collect and organize your thoughts without getting in the way. Since that's what the developers at Q Branch were intending, I'd say they were right on target with the 1.0 release. I look forward to seeing what they can add to the functionality of the app without messing up its simplicity and clarity.