As I'd mentioned in my inaugural article, I intend to draft all of my writing for Vardy.me on my iPad. What I haven't decided is which writing app I plan to settle on to do so. The result: a ton of app testing. The first candidate is ia Writer by Information Architects. To be honest, what drew me to this app was Merlin Mann's post that satirized the notion of an app that allows distraction-free writing.1 After laughing in agreement, I went out and bought the app. I guess it's true that there is no such thing as bad press.
First off, I'll say that pretty much every app (whether it is a writing app or otherwise) on the iPad or iPhone can market itself as "distraction-free" should choose to do so. That's because the design and setup of iOS precludes true multitasking anyway. It's not as if you can have multiple windows or tabs open like you can on a traditional computing device, even though you can have multiple apps open. When an app is open, unless you're using it at the time, I'd say that it isn't "active" because it is out of the way and takes longer to access than a window or tab. That's the best way to look at multitasking on the iPad or iPhone.
ia Writer does what it does very well. It's streamlined and simple to use. It syncs with Dropbox2 and allows for drafts to be easily mocked up and synced. I end up adding tags and hyperlnks in "post" using the WordPress backend, but I don't expect any straight-up writing app to get me past the draft stage of a blog post, anyway. For writers who are looking for a different platform to publish their work on (print, for example), it can definitely get you through several drafts right through to publication.
Some of the keyboard functionality that it contains is extremely helpful and unique to the app (such as keys to go to the beginning and end of a word, one key that opens and closes parentheses, etc.) and it also allows you to lock the screen in such a way that almost forces you to just write away. This is called "Focus Mode" because it doesn't allow you to do anything but focus. No auto-correction, no going back to delete...nothing but non-stop writing. I'm not sure how useful this feature is for most writers, other than those that really suffer from lack of focus. That said, maybe those people aren't cut out to be writers. While i'm not for editing on the fly, I find that I couldn't help but focus on the errors as opposed to the flow. I know that for some this would be something they'd get used to, but after a month of using the app I still couldn't get used to it. I rarely used this mode at all.
You can email your text if you want, as well as copy it (useful if you want to have a local copy of blog entries...which you should want3) and the word count is displayed in the top right corner of the app's function bar. Nothing really groundbreaking on this front.
While the folks who made ia Writer make a big fuss about typography choice, I'm not sure how it is integral to a writing app on the iPad for me at this stage of my iPad usage. I may change my tune on this as I use a wider variety of apps during this exploratory phase, and if I do you'll hear about it. In the meantime, I will say that the predetermined typography that ia Writer uses is both functional and pretty.
Another feature is that the app performs a tally as you write that calculates how long it will take the average reader to read what you're writing. As of right now, for example, it should have taken the average reader 2:32 to read to this point of the article. I really don't know how useful this is either, but it sure is unique.
I like ia Writer, and it may suffer in that it is the first iPad writing app I've used in terms of how I feel about it. It is elegant and it simply works, and I have a feeling I'll return to it. At $4.99 (iTunes link) it is a bit pricier than some, but considering its feature set for that price it is definitely worth a look. Just don't expect it -- or any writing app -- to do the writing for you, despite its "distraction-free" environment.
You're the app for that.
1MeKNOWS Merlin is talking the piss out of iA Writer in this post. 2Don't have Dropbox? Get it here. It's incredibly useful...and it's free. 3Never trust the cloud completely. You don't own it. You own your computer. More on this in a future post.