Monday, August 22, 2016

Vesper Shutting Down

Jason Snell (tweet):

The app, developed by John Gruber, Brent Simmons, and Dave Wiskus, featured a tasteful interface design. (I used it a lot, especially for recipes.) But it’s hard to compete with Apple’s own Notes app, especially after Apple upgraded it dramatically with iOS 8. The last post to the development blog was in February 2015 when the app was updated to support iPad screen resolutions.

Brent Simmons (tweet):

We at Q Branch just released the final version of Vesper. It does one crucial thing: it allows you to export your notes and pictures. See the new Export section in the sidebar.

Sync will be turned off Aug. 30 at 8pm Pacific. We’ll destroy all the data, and neither we nor anyone else will be able to recover it.

Brent Simmons (tweet):

The iOS document provider feature — which was introduced after Vesper shipped (it was originally an iOS 6 app) — was just what we needed. It meant we could write the notes and pictures as files in a folder, and then a document provider could upload those files to iCloud Drive, Dropbox, or wherever.

Perfect. It works whether you’re syncing or not — it has nothing to do with syncing.

And it will continue to work even after sync shuts down. It will continue to work as long as you have the app on your device.


Belief inside Q Branch: if we had started with a Mac app rather than an iOS app, Vesper would have been much more successful. That wasn’t clear at the time we started, though (Dec. 2012).

Nick Heer:

All things must come to an end, and all, but it’s heartbreaking to see it happen to a great app like Vesper, especially since this serves as a de facto acknowledgement that a Mac version is never coming as well.

Evadne Wu:

I still firmly hold the belief that iOS applications are either loss leaders or loss generators, that iOS devices themselves are thick terminals, and that a proper iOS execution strategy must be backed with a useful service either involving real world consequences (i.e. get a ride or get groceries delivered), or a wider cross-platform strategy (i.e. build your document on one platform, revise on another).

Stephen Hackett:

Props to Q Branch for putting time into a dying app to make it possible to export user data. Too many apps and services don’t get that part right.

However, I would argue that apps should have an export feature from the first version.

Update (2016-08-24): John Gruber (tweet, Hacker News):

iOS 7’s appearance was so different that even an app like Vesper that was designed with many of the same ideals needed a thorough redesign. So we spent the summer of 2013 not building a sync system, but rather building an iOS 7 version of Vesper.


We suffered an enormous chicken-and-the-egg problem with our decision to keep to a small team and self-fund our efforts through revenue from the app itself. A notes app is only of interest to many people if it’s available both on their desktop and mobile device. The number one reason, by a long shot, that people didn’t buy Vesper is because it wasn’t available for the Mac. I get that. It makes total sense. Hell, I even cheat, personally, and run Vesper on my Mac in the iOS Simulator. The bottom line is we needed revenue from the first version we built to fund development of the next version, and I think we would have made money from the Mac version.


Ultimately, what we should have done once we had versions of the app for both Mac and iOS is switch to a subscription model. Make the apps free downloads on all platforms, and charge somewhere around $15/year for sync accounts. That’s where the industry is going.


With “Vesper” we were thinking things like beautiful, smart, clever, strong. In the end, the name was more apt than we knew, because it also carries heartbreak.

John Gruber:

From first comp to 1.0.

But the one on the right is what we shipped before we ever saw iOS 7.

We pay more for the server in some months than we do for Ideal Sans for the year.

Colin Cornaby:

It’s kind of bizarre the only healthy developer market in the Apple ecosystem right now is the outside-the-Mac-app-store Mac market.

David Sparks:

For years now I’ve been talking to app developer friends and they are nearly universally wondering how long they will be able to survive in a business where consumers expect to pay less than $5 for an app and expect that app to be maintained for years at a time with no further revenue to the developer.

This problem is holding back productivity software on the iPhone and–even more dramatically–on iPad. The iPad Pro hardware is, performance-wise, competitive with a laptop. The difference, however, is that people are simply not willing to pay the same for iPad productivity software as they are willing to pay for Mac productivity software.

Ruffin Bailey:

I think the most important take home here is that The Marco Effect is greatly overestimated.


At the time I was using Evernote and for me it gets the job done. I was getting tired of seeing good note apps for iOS but not a lot on the Mac. I only got into the app when version 2 came out but I never really used it that much because it doesn’t offer a Mac app.


Several bloggers have expressed curiosity as to why public interest in the App Store has waned so much. I can’t answer for everyone, but at least within myself, I’ve noticed an increasing and persistant reluctance to try new apps. It’s just that I’ve seen same pattern crop up over and over again. Somebody releases an interesting new app, touting fantastic design and improved productivity. The app gains some (but not overwhelming) traction. The app gets a few updates. The app lingers for a few years. And finally, the app untriumphantly rides off into the sunset, taking entire years of not just developer time, but thousands of users’ ingrained habits with it. The case is clear: most apps — and especially indie apps — cannot be reliably expected to continue operating.

Cesare Rocchi:

That said, hats off to the dream team for building a well done and well engineered application. The diary that Brent wrote about synching is still a great read, after three years.

This is an adventure that every indie should learn from. Sometimes a great design, a great production and a great engineering is not enough. There’s many more factors to take into account[…]

John Gruber:

Vesper has had more downloads since Sunday (when it went free, and was announced EOL) than it did in 3+ years as a paid app.

I think it’s a little more subtle than that. They will pay, but not if there are free options. And most of the time there are.

John Gruber:

We didn’t omit export from 1.0 because we didn’t think it was important, we omitted it because we found no good solution.

Update (2016-08-25): Brent Simmons:

Way back in 2002 I wrote Why I Develop for Mac OS X — it’s because of what Joel Spolsky called an “emotional appeal.” […] It’s still true, 14 years later. And it’s why Vesper didn’t start as a web app, and why we’re not converting it now.

See also: Under the Radar, Kirk McElhearn, Eddie Smith, Importing to Ulysses, Jonathan Poritsky.

Update (2016-08-26): Trello Importer.

Update (2016-08-30): Brent Simmons:

We will make Vesper for iOS, Vesper for Mac, and Vesper’s JavaScript sync service open source on my personal GitHub account. This code will also be provided as historical artifacts: they’re not intended as active projects. They’re also not intended as examples of how to write apps these days.

Update (2016-09-06): Allen Pike:

Software is deeply impermanent. While it is often built painstakingly and methodically, it is experienced ephemerally, in the moment. Apps are hard to preserve for study or posterity. Network-backed apps, doubly so.

Update (2016-10-07): Adam Rush:

Some people are finding success on the iOS App Store — and I congratulate those folks. This includes Omni, where I work.

But I do think it’s far more difficult to make a living as an indie iOS developer in 2016 than it was as a Mac developer in 2005. My suspicion is that in the Mac market, 2016 is not very different from 2005, and you can still make money there. But iOS is like a giant curtain laid across the map, so people don’t see the opportunity.

1 Comment RSS · Twitter

In fact, I reject ANY database-line application that does not allow me to get my own data back, in a format that can be processed further (which means that a PDF printout does not qualify).

Therefore, I would NEVER have considered Vesper for any serious note-taking.

This is why I refused to upgrade into Day One 2.0 when it launched:

- With version 1.0 I could dive into the Dropbox sync folder and retrieve nicely-formatted XML files which included all the metadata. For example, I considered adapting the static site generator Pelican to publish Day One entries.

- With version 2.0 I was forced to use an opaque sync service, and all export options were crippled. HTML and TXT export options did not include all the metadata collected by Day One.

Day One has since added a JSON export option that probably solves my issues.

However, FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) remains: I expect that the proprietary sync option will eventually become a paid subscription. And these subscriptions seem to come at prohibitive price points: these €5/month subscriptions add up really fast.

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