1Password 4: A strong app limited by iOS

By Nathaniel Mott , written on December 13, 2012

From The News Desk

I'm not a fan of 1Password, a security app developed by AgileBits, because I'm worried about my accounts being compromised by some intrepid hacker who wants to know just how bad I am at working my way through my inbox. I don't use it because Mat Honan had his accounts ransacked. And I don't use it because it's an awesome password generator – though I probably should. Instead, I use 1Password to keep track of my online profile, my credit cards, and notes that I don't want read by anyone else. The app is essentially my own personal vault.

That's really the beauty of 1Password, which originally shipped on the Mac before jumping over to Windows and iOS. The desktop app comes complete with extensions for both Safari and Chrome, putting its stored passwords, log-ins, credit card info, and "identities" just a keystroke or a few clicks away.

1Password 4 for iOS does all of those things (sort of – more on that in a bit), and it does them well. The update, which combines 1Password for iPhone and iPad into one, $17.99 (now $7.99) download, is a complete re-thinking of how the service should work on mobile devices. Though I won't touch on every update to the app – MacStories has an amazingly in-depth review, if that's what you're looking for – there's one bit that caught my eye: The new browser. Cheesy "1Browser" dubbing aside, 1Password's built-in browser is at once an example of what makes the app great and what makes iOS so frustrating.

First, the good. The browser is fairly speedy despite the fact that it doesn't have the "Nitro" JavaScript engine powering Apple's own Safari browser, and its ability to fill credit card, logins, and "identity" (street address, full name, etc.) is handy as all hell. Typing, let alone remembering, all of this information can be a bit of a pain – 1Password solves that issue with its browser.

The only problem is that it would be nice if 1Password didn't have to build its own browser in the first place. As nice as it is, having to go to something other than Safari (or Chrome, in my case) and then type in the master password – a purposely long, secure password to access 1Password, which is just about as many times as one can type "password" in one sentence – only to swipe over and head to the proper page after it "unlocks" is a pain in the ass.

This isn't 1Password's fault – the app is limited by Apple's restrictions on iOS, which keeps apps separate from one another. There's no such thing as a browser extension in iOS. You're either using the features that came with the browser or you're going without. People have been complaining about this for years, and 1Password presents the strongest case yet for letting people add to their browser of choice as they see fit.

Good on AgileBits for trying to overcome this with its own browser – something that many others, including just about every Twitter or RSS reader developer has had to do – and delivering a compelling solution. It's just that I wish it didn't have to in the first place.

Apps like 1Password show just how much care can go into developing a good iOS app. AgileBits has been working on this update for a long time, and it's clear that they took a lot of care making the app work as well as possible. Unfortunately, the iOS framework limits what AgileBits and 1Password are able to accomplish, which is a shame.

[Image courtesy marc falardeau]