I’ve mentioned several times in the past that I love to give indie developers money. But, recently, I’ve been singing the praises of Apple’s own stock apps.
This makes me feel a little uncomfortable, I’ll admit. But there are two reasons I’ll sometimes turn to Apple’s stuff rather than third-party apps and services.
The first is simple. No, literally simple.
Take Notes, for instance. I need a simple note-taking app, and Notes fits the bill better than any other app I’ve used for that purpose.
Then, there’s the impact on the battery life of my M1 MacBook Air. If I stick with as many stock Apple apps as possible, it performs to the lofty standards first indicated by reviewers (me included). Slap a few third-party apps into the mix, and it’ll drain quicker – because they’re not made by Apple. Simple.
Today, I want to talk about password management and why, if you’re welded into the Apple ecosystem, I can’t think of a single reason you’d stray from iCloud Keychain.
I hate passwords
We all do, right? They’re vitally important and need handling with care. They’re also a gateway to some of our most personal, treasured details. In the wrong hands, they can cause untold havoc, distress and financial ruin.
But they’re an absolute pain in the arse, aren’t they? They need to be unique, long, random and contain a precise number of letters, symbols and numbers. Some need changing every six weeks, too.
Passwords feel archaic in a world where you can unlock your phone with nothing more than your face. The countless aforementioned best practices surrounding them are ham-fisted and do nothing more than highlight how inherently insecure passwords are. Alas, if you don’t follow the rules, there’s a high chance nasty people will get into your stuff.
But, just like that doctors visit you keep putting off, it’s far easier to use the same password for everything, isn’t it? And who says you can’t make a note of your iCloud password in the back of your journal, just for ease of access?
Sooner or later, your reluctance to head to the doctors is going to haunt you. It’s the same thing with passwords – and I speak from personal experience.
Thankfully, we now have access to countless ‘password managers’. But there’s an inherent problem with those tools. They need a password, too. And guess what? That password needs to be ridiculously secure and impossible to guess.
Feels like we’re travelling in circles, doesn’t it?
So, why on earth wouldn’t you use iCloud Keychain if you’re an Apple-only kinda person?
What is iCloud Keychain?
In typical Apple fashion, we’re told that iCloud Keychain “remembers things”. But that’s exactly what it does. It’ll store usernames, WiFi passwords and credit card details in one of the most secure ways imaginable.
It goes further, though. If you sign up for a new online service, it’ll suggest an ultra-secure password for you and even fill in the infuriating ‘re-enter password’ field, too.
iCloud Keychain isn’t as exciting as Universal Control or the forthcoming updates to FaceTime. But it does have more of an impact on my day than any other Apple service.
I’ve tried several third-party password managers including LastPass and 1Password, but they always feel a bit cumbersome. They require plugins, extensions and integrations to work on browsers and across your apps. That’s not the fault of the developers, and it’s frustrating that only Apple (obviously) has the keys to much tighter system integration. But that’s life.
By comparison, iCloud Keychain happily sits in the background, making password creation and management as simple as they should be. It’s effortless.
Granted – this is for Apple-only people. If you ever use any other kind of device, iCloud Keychain is next to useless. But that’s not an issue for me. It is easily Apple’s best system-wide feature for someone who uses Macs, iPads and an iPhone, daily.
The killer feature: biometric security
The best thing about iCloud Keychain is the fact that it doesn’t require a master password.
Well, ok, it does (technically, that’s your device passcode or login password). But virtually every Apple device is now available with biometric security, which means I only need to show up with either my face or fingerprint in order to access my passwords, credit card details and WiFi logins.
There’s one exception to this rule, which always makes me feel slightly queasy, and that’s the two iMacs I own that don’t feature any form of biometric security. This means that once unlocked, anyone can technically access my logins for any number of websites, without knowledge of the password.
This is the case with certain third-party password managers, too. But it’s yet another reason it’s worth going for the Touch ID version of Apple’s Magic Keyboard if you’re buying a new 24” iMac.
Are we heading for a password-less future?
Hopefully. A recent article on sixcolors.com reveals that a new standard known as ‘WebAuthn’ is slowly and quietly being rolled out among tech giants and some of the world’s biggest banks.
This essentially relies on public key infrastructure (PKI), rather than password entry. In iOS 15 and macOS Monterey, there’s something called ‘Passkeys’, which is Apple’s implementation of the new standard.
Intended for testing only at this stage, Passkeys is a part of iCloud Keychain which completely removes the need for a password. When signing up for a new service, you simply create a username, and the operating system will ask you to confirm the creation of the new account. This is done via Face ID, Touch ID or your passcode – but that’s it. The unique passkey for the service is then stored in iCloud Keychain securely with no need for you ever to recall it.
It’s the most logical step forward for iCloud Keychain and, finally, an indication that a password-less future isn’t that far off at all.
But, am I being unfair on third-party password managers? Let me know what you think in the comments.