One of the most anticipated new features of OS X Mavericks is the iCloud Keychain. This resurrected and upgraded feature again allows you to sync your Keychain between Macs, and brings iOS into the Keychain syncing family. Additionally, Safari will now suggest passwords for you while creating new logins or even changing existing passwords. Prior to release, we speculated that this might be the next 1Password killer. Does it live up to the hype? Read more to find out.
After using iCloud Keychain for nearly a week, I’ve come to love many of the features it offers. It works wonderfully, but is clunky in ways that most password managers are not. Creating and saving new logins is a nearly seamless experience, and so is logging in again or updating an existing password for better security. This process works wonderfully on a Mac and syncs quickly for the same easy use on an iPhone or iPad.
Unfortunately, not all is perfect. Not every website supports iCloud Keychain. I blame this more on Safari’s ability to properly detect a username and password field than on the websites themselves. Hopefully this will change with future updates and detection will become something you can rely on. If Safari doesn’t detect the username and password field, you can’t use iCloud Keychain. Amazingly, Safari does not see the username and password field on some parts of Apple’s own website. That’s right: you can’t use iCloud Keychain on portions of Apple.com. Ouch. Oh, and there’s no support for any other operating systems.
To get the full benefit of iCloud Keychain, you need to toggle on the “Allow AutoFill even for websites that request passwords not to be saved” option within Safari on your Mac and the Safari settings in iOS. These can be accessed on a Mac through Safari Preferences -> Passwords -> and checking the relevant box at the bottom of the window. For iOS, head over to Settings -> Safari -> and toggle “Always Allow” to on. Safari will now AutoFill your logins for banking websites (and many others). Cool!
While creating and updating usernames and passwords is a breeze, finding them again is not. The Keychain Access app on a Mac makes it fairly easy to find and retrieve these details later, but on iOS the process is much more difficult. You can see this stored information, but it’s buried under Settings -> Safari -> Passwords & AutoFill -> Saved Passwords. Hardly quick and easy. Saved Passwords on iOS, regrettably, lacks a search option – instead requiring swipes through your entire list of saved logins that have also been pulled over from your Mac. Years of logins might be displayed and swiping through all of these is far short of an enjoyable experience.
To make up for iCloud Keychain’s current shortfalls, using 1Password alongside it turns out to be a nearly perfect solution. I found that allowing Safari to create and save my passwords and then letting 1Password’s Safari extension save them, too, was a great joining of both worlds. Doing this allows me to log in to websites using Safari across all of my Apple devices. 1Password for iOS then lets me easily copy/paste logins for iOS apps and 1Password for Windows enables access through browser extensions. For logins created through Safari on iOS, however, another step is added when manually adding these logins to the 1Password app – it can’t happen automatically.
iCloud Keychain is not yet perfect and should probably be avoided by power users for now. My work-around with 1Password is a functional, expensive, and not ideal band-aid. If you currently use and rely on a password management app, like 1Password or LastPass, iCloud Keychain is not yet for you. Lack of compatibility with Windows might also be a deal breaker for many, and Apple is not likely to change this. If you aren’t currently using a password manager, using iCloud Keychain will allow you to create more secure logins and easily update insecure ones you have already created.
Apple will likely continue to perfect iCloud Keychain by expanding its intelligence in detecting username and password fields. Hopefully they’ll also make it more fully featured and give it a proper management tool for the logins it stores. Once this happens, iCloud Keychain may finally become the free 1Password killer that we want. It’s not quite there yet. Stick with 1Password until it is.
We’ve contacted Apple for more information on future compatibility and feature updates to iCloud Keychain. We’ll update this post when we hear back.