Word processors are among the most sought-after apps by those seeking ‘mobile productivity.’ And with good reason. After all, most of our tasks revolve around writing something – a mail, a note, a document, a status update, a tweet. And with a lot of people depending increasingly on mobile devices for keeping in touch, a lot of this scribbling is happening on smaller screens, minus ‘real’ keyboards. Which in turn has spurred the demand for apps that let you write easily on these devices. In general, these fall into two categories – basic note taking apps that offer nothing beyond a few formatting options, and desktop clones that try to give you everything from fonts to indents to word counts on your mobile device. The former tend to do too little, the latter tend to be complex to use and expensive, to boot. It is, as a friend lamented, a choice between “MS Word and Notepad on a small screen.”
Fortunately, there is an app that bridges these two extremes. It has done so on the Mac and is doing the same on the iPod and iPhone. It is called iA Writer, and is a 4.1 MB download from the App Store. No, it is not free but at less than a dollar, is the next best thing. What’s more, the developers have made a point of updating it regularly, quashing bugs and adding new features, without meddling too much with its basic soul.
And a minimalistic soul it is. Launching the app will show you a screen with basic information written in a font that will remind you of Facebook. Start a new document by tapping on the “+” icon in the corner, and you will see what appears to be a totally blank page with just a filename on top. Next to it are a grand total of three icons – one for opening a new file, one for sharing your document or opening it in another app, and one that simply shows the number of documents made using the app. Touching any where on the blank screen invokes the typewriter, and removes the bar with the filename, leaving you with your document and the keyboard. And while it is the stock iOS keyboard, there are some very nifty touches to it, courtesy a new line of icons above the normal QWERTY layout. And very handy these are too – you have arrows to move the cursor to either side (no more jabbing on the display to point out where the cursor will move), and some basic punctuation marks, saving you the need to move away from the standard keyboard. There is also a handle-like icon in the middle, which you can use to pull down the keyboard when you want to read rather than write. There is a spell check and auto-correct option too – handy but nothing outstanding. And if you are on the iPad, you get a few extra options. There’s a small focus icon, tapping which will highlight only three lines of the text near your cursor literally letting you focus on that part of the document. It also has a character and word count right at the top, letting you know just far you have got into an article. And the keyboard comes with the option of letting you move your cursor across one word at a time in either direction.
Now, let’s get into what the app does not let you do. On the surface, stacks – no playing around with fonts (not even bold or italics, let along selecting fonts), no tables, no options to insert symbols, no bullets. In fact all you can do on the app is type out your document and if you feel like it, mail it, copy the text and paste it elsewhere, print it off a printer connected to the device, or open it in any of the apps it supports (Pages, Documents to Go and Box were supported on our iPhone 4S and iPad 3rd Generation). Yes, all it lets you do is write in a clean, elegant interface without any distractions.
Now, read that last sentence again.
That is exactly why iA Writer is special. It takes the complexity out of writing. Yes, there is a while lot that we wish it did. But after using it for a while, we are grateful it does not. This is one insanely simple app. Pretty much the right choice for all those who love to write, and place words above the fonts and designs that accompany them. Or should that be “write” choice…
Available from: iTunes App Store