Paul Ockenden explains why iA Writer is so handy when you need to use an iPad to type a report, article or even a book.
When I wrote about tablets three years ago, one of my biggest concerns was the lack of professional software and, perhaps more importantly, the lack of professional features in so-called business apps.
For example, I complained that Apple’s word-processing app Pages didn’t even have a word count - something that’s essential for any professional writer.
As it turns out, within a couple of weeks of my writing that column a new version of Pages came out with a built-in word count. A more immodest writer might claim credit for this, but I was only one of many thousands crying out for this essential feature.
Scrivener: a brilliant tool
Scrivener: brilliant, but wasn't on the iPad at time of writing
You’ll find that many professional writers use a piece of software called Scrivener on their desktops or laptops, which is a brilliant tool targeted at those who churn out words for a living. It isn’t only suitable for journalists and authors, but also those who write corporate reports, proposals and so on.
It’s Scrivener’s focus on the words and structure of a document, rather than its formatting, which makes it great. If you take a look at the ribbon at the top of your copy of Microsoft Word, or browse through its menus, you’ll see that almost all of the tools are concerned with layout and format, but such matters are a huge distraction when you’re simply trying to get your thoughts down on (virtual) paper. What you really need is a clean environment that focuses on the message rather than the medium, and Scrivener provides just that.
For some time now, Literature and Latte, the creator of Scrivener, has been promising that an iPad version is in the works; at the time of writing, it’s yet to see the light of day.
iA Writer: a plain-interface writing tool for the iPad
iA Writer: $0.99 on the iPad at the time of writing.
There is, however, a rival product. Information Architects’ iA Writer stands up well against Scrivener as a plain-interface writing tool for the iPad, iPhone and Mac. These sync nicely with Apple’s iCloud service (and Dropbox, if you prefer that), so changes made on one machine show up a few seconds later on others.
For many wordsmiths, iA Writer makes for a very productive environment - you can work on a document at your desk, then while you’re on your lunch break you can continue making changes via your tablet. When you head home for the evening, you can again use the tablet on the train, and finally continue on your laptop at home.
This works well, and it’s a setup I’ve been using for some time. There are certainly other applications available that can sync changes across multiple platforms, but none offer the pure writing focus you get with iA Writer.
In many ways, I now actually prefer iA Writer to Scrivener, especially when writing articles such as this one. It presents even fewer distractions than its rival, although this is at the expense of some of the “planning” tools you’ll find in Scrivener; if you’re intending to write the script for the next series of Game of Thrones, for example, you might find it underpowered.
iA Writer is keenly priced, too, at US $4.99 for the Mac version and US $0.99 for its iPad cousin. By contrast, the Mac version of Scrivener is US $45.