Each year at WWDC, TMO interviews a few Apple developers who want to tell their story. The result is usually a number of serious insights into the state of mind of the developer community. In our ninth interview, Dave Hamilton chats with Dave Teare of AgileBits, famous for 1Password on the Mac and iOS.
Dave Hamilton: I’m here with Dave Teare and Jeff Shiner from AgileBits, the 1Password guys. Thanks for taking the time to meet with me.
Dave Teare: Thanks for meeting with us Dave.
TMO: So, you guys have had a long history in both OS X and iOS development and a successful history. But that means you’ve got some interesting stories, too. So, go ahead Dave.
DT: Well, we have lots of stories. I’m not really sure where to start on that one. But yeah, we started close to eight years ago now. Roustem [Karimov] and I were both working full time at World Vision Canada, a very big multinational Christian organization. And we were just wanting to go out on our own. We actually just bought some Macs. Actually, there’s a really funny story there, if you don’t mind me going into it a bit.
DT: Roustem [Karimov] kept on talking about a Mac, because he wanted a Mac for the longest time. And he just kept on telling me about why it was so cool. Each week would go by, and he’d just keep on talking about it. And so one day, I was just at the store, and it was like, you know what, hell I’m just going to go buy this thing, and I’m just going to start using it. So then I sent him a Skype message saying “How does my Skype look coming from a Mac?” he couldn’t believe I had one. He was so jealous he had to run out and buy one. That’s kind of how we got started. So we started using them in our day jobs.
TMO: When was this?
DT: This was about eight years ago. It was a PowerBook G4 that we both got. So anyways, we took that back to our day job. And our day job was Java, and Java didn’t run very well, at the time anyways, it didn’t run very well at all on Macs. It was at least twice as slow. And so we had a choice there. We could either find a new job or switch back to PCs, and we liked our Macs so much so we decided we just wanted new jobs. And so that’s kind of how we got started. We went out on our own and played with a lot of things. And eventually we tripped over [the idea of] 1Password actually.
TMO: Obviously you make other products, but 1Password is clearly your flagship product.
DT: It is. Absolutely.
TMO: What was it that made you want 1Password?
DT: It’s actually a very funny story. The running joke is that it was a one month project. Because we were actually doing a lot of website design back then, a lot of Ruby on Rails, and we were doing a lot of testing. We were constantly filling out all the forms. You constantly had to fill out, like a good credit card form, a bad credit card form, all these different scenarios. We thought: wouldn’t it be nice if we could just save these forms and then when it comes time to fill it, we just click a button and we’re there. So, the original name of 1Password was OS X Form, at osxform.com, so we would allow you to save all the forms and everything. And then we thought, know what? We might as well allow you to save passwords while you’re there. It’s technically a form field, so you might as well save it. Right?
DT: And then we uploaded it to Version Tracker and MacUpdate. What was really cool was that a lot of people started using it and giving us feedback. You have to remember we were coming from these big organizations where we were highly discouraged from talking to actual end users. And so once they started talking directly to us and saying "What about this? Try this! I love it." and all that stuff, it was a huge adrenaline rush. So then it just caused us to invest more and more time, and as the joke goes, okay, we’ll spend another month on it. And now it’s been eight years.
TMO: You think you’re going to spend at least another month on it though?
DT: I think we’ll spend at least a few more months on it.
TMO: OK. Good. A few more months. This is a big commitment now.
DT: Well, it’s been successful beyond our dreams. Because we absolutely love what we do. We love being geeks. We love playing with software. We love doing all this stuff. And then to actually be able to help people and get that wonderful feedback. Because, really, that’s what keeps us going, talking to people and hearing how we helped them. It’s just makes you feel really good.
TMO: Absolutely. You spend enough time working, you might as well give your life purpose and enjoy it. You made the successful expansion, I’ll say, into iOS. I mean it’s not like you made the leap because OS X is still going strong for you.
TMO: But you made the expansion to iOS, and a successful one in my mind. I’m curious how that went, and also if you don’t mind talking about it, what percentage of your customer base is using it as an expansion and what percentage is using it only on iOS?
DT: It’s actually quite surprising. So, yes, at the beginning it totally was an add-on, for lack of a better word. We were 100 percent Mac and then iOS came out. If you remember at the beginning, there were no applications. We actually developed a bookmarklet that allows you to access all your data through that, because there was no other way.
TMO: I remember that. I liked it.
DT: And then of course, we slowly iterated as Apple gave us more and more tools. In fact, just in December, we just released a major update, 1Password 4, that was actually a 100 percent complete rewrite of all the code that had got us there because we had kept on iterating. Apple kept on adding a little bit here and there -- well not a little bit. They kept on adding massive things here, massive things there, and we just kept on building on that software base.
When it came to 1Password 4, we thought, you know what? It’s time to actually just start over. And that’s why we target iOS 6. We wanted to use all the new goodies, and that’s going to be our new building block for the next five years or so, or whatever it will be.
As we were going through this process, we found more and more people would contact our support site and say: "Well, I have an iPod and I have an iPad, how do I sync [passwords with] them?" And our response was, well I don’t really understand the question because you set up Dropbox on your Mac or Windows and you have that all set up and then you just plug into that. And some said, "I don’t have a desktop."
That kept on happening more and more and more. So of course, in 1Password 4 we addressed that. You can now sync through Dropbox and through iCloud without any need for a desktop whatsoever. You have to remember, we started out as, again, on Version Tracker and MacUpdate, like very technical people, right? And as we progressed, we just told users, add Dropbox to your machine and almost everyone said, "Sure, no problem." But as time went on, it was more and more like, "Well wait a minute, what is Dropbox?" We found ourselves moving into different segments of the user base.
TMO: Yeah, sure.
DT: An increasing number of people were asking, "Well what is Dropbox? What does that do? How does that work?" And all these types of things. And so we started becoming really excited with the iCloud possibilities. Because a lot of people, a lot more than I care to admit, just in general, have like no idea about technology. Like my wife, for instance. She doesn’t even like setting up Dropbox. I set up Dropbox for her. For iCloud, they’re able to do it a lot easier. For this segment, they can just go and buy a new iPad today, start it up, they have iCloud configured as part of the setup screens, and then they download 1Password, tap the icon, and it just starts syncing right away.
TMO: The data’s there.
DT: Right. It just says "Hey, what’s your password?" It’s a really slick experience. People are really excited (and scared) when they get a new device. They wonder, "is all my data going to be there? Now it’s just there. It’s great!"
TMO: So what segment of your iOS users are using it solely on iOS? Or do you even know?
DT: See, we’re a security company, and we try not to collect all this information on users. And it really is a good thing. Because, we never really wanted to be that company that was data mining. But it does have its downsides at times, because I actually can’t answer that question. So that’s challenging. And then of course, that makes it challenging to know where to invest resources as well. So we’re kind of going by our, you know, just by feel.
TMO: You’re hearing from customers with support issues and such, so I’m sure your gut feeling is informed.
DT: Exactly. But I don’t know. I’d probably say 10 percent or something like that would be no desktops at all. A very large number of people are starting with 1Password on an iOS device, that is much, much bigger. They’ve never heard of 1Password before, they start using it on their iPhone, and then from there making the jump back to the Mac. That’s a much, much bigger group.
TMO: That’s interesting.
DT: One thing we can track easily is sales. That has become very close to 50/50, that’s been kind of our new breakdown between desktop and iOS. It’s been very good.
TMO: So you’re doing iCloud syncing. Some third parties have had great luck with it, and some third parties have had terrible luck with it. Mostly the terrible luck seems to be coming from the people trying to do it on the Mac.
DT: I, by no means, have read it all, but the majority of what I see is about Core Data syncing. That’s the majority of the issues that I see.
TMO: That’s right. And you’re not using Core Data?
DT: We are not using Core Data.
Jeff Shiner: We’re using document syncing.
TMO: Document sync. Ooooh, okay....
DT: Also, we were fortunate enough to be able to work with Apple. Because, remember, we were starting from scratch. So we wanted to find a document format that’s going to work as best as it possibly can on iCloud. We were able to work with them and design one that would take advantage of all their features.
TMO: To be fair, all the people that have been using Core Data for six years thought they were doing the same thing.
DT: That’s true.
TMO: I’m glad it’s working for you.
DT: It’s such a complicated system, there are so many moving parts. Of course we have our share of support requests claiming something isn’t syncing, and so absolutely it’s not without issues.
TMO: But it works, and that's what's important. So, what’s next?
DT: Well, 1Password 4 for iOS has been a really big success. That was in December we released that. We learned quite a bit from that. And of course we had to iterate from there. I think we’re up to 4.2.2 now? So, we’ve iterated in iOS a little bit there. Adding new features like sharing and things like that. That’s been a great success.
It’s now time to bring all these new goodies back to the Mac side. So that’s what the majority of the team has been focusing on in the past, well, pretty much since December. One of the things that was very difficult with the iOS release, was again, it was a complete rewrite. We were relearning a lot of things. On Mac, it’s much nicer because I can start leveraging the things we learned the hard way on the iOS side.
TMO: Very cool.
DT: That’s exciting. Things like favorites, bringing favorites to the Mac, we’ll be bringing sharing to the Mac. What am I missing?
JS: Custom fields that you can add.
DT: Demo mode like I was talking before the interview, that would be certainly something we’d bring to the Mac, because that’s so handy when you want to demonstrate 1Password’s features to your friends.
TMO: Without showing them all your data.
DT: Right, and for the readers, if you just go to Settings, under Advanced, you can enable demo mode on the iOS version. Once enabled, you can enter the password “demo” and go unlocked with some nice sample data there so you can actually demonstrate 1Password’s features to your friends without showing them your actual passwords.
And we actually have quite a few other goodies for Mac that I can’t wait to share, and we’ll be sharing them soon. We’re actually entering beta mode right now. The response has been really great. We’ve been asking for your email address so we can invite you when it’s time, when we’re ready for you. And I think we’re over 20,000 signups now, so it’s actually been a very amazing, very humbling to have so many people sign up.
I can remember in our first betas, it was kind of like we were begging people to try out the betas and now everyone wants in. So now I’m in this interesting position where I can’t invite 20,000 beta testers. So we have like slowly roll it out, which is going to be fun.
TMO: That’s fun!
JS: So we had ten thousand beta signups in the first six hours. To our beta newsletter. Ten thousand.
TMO: Wow. That’s fantastic.
JS: That is fantastic.
DT: Amazingly, that was mainly through Twitter. Through Twitter and these types of social channels. And then we had our newsletter and we invited people on the newsletter, and it was about the same. And our newsletter is quite large. To be honest, I’m just surprised, I guess I shouldn’t be, but Twitter’s influence is becoming just so amazing.
TMO: It’s something else. Well, I think we need to wrap it up here. Than you so much for taking the time to chat.
DT: Thank you Dave.
TMO: I appreciate it. Anything else?
JS: The one thing we did add, probably obvious just for completeness, obviously iCloud syncing will be in 1Password 4 for Mac since we didn’t say it.
TMO: I’m glad you said that!
JS: It’s probably the most asked question.
TMO: Okay, this was awesome. Thank you both.
Interview by Dave Hamilton, transcription by Julie Kuehl, editing by John Martellaro. Note: This interview happened at WWDC before the keynote, which is why there was no discussion of Apple's upcoming iCloud Keychain. AgileBits did make some comments about it, and I'm sure will have more as time progresses.