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Writing on the iPad

When it comes to writing I have a love-hate relationship with just about every product I’ve ever used on my iPad. None of them are really the one stop solution that I want.

For me, the gold standard is MS Word. Why am I not using Word for everything you may ask? Well because Microsoft hasn’t released a version of it for the iPad, and more and more I’m working on my iPad–even if the experience is mildly frustrating at the best of times.

I like word, in a large way because you style things semantically not visually, even if it doesn’t seem that way. That is, you define text as a heading 1 and then tell Word to make a heading 1s look how you want them. Ultimately this translates very nicely to eventual publication on my sites via Wordpress. H1s become H1s and the website styling gets applied, there’s no serious translation or rewriting involved.

Working with this train of thought, I first started with Apple’s Pages. In a way, Pages does a lot of what I wanted in a word processor, well kind of. The behind the scenes things were great, pages could write out a Word doc file and save it to a WebDAV server. Since I already run a Linux development server, and Apache supports WebDAV pretty much out of the box, it was a no brainer to turn WebDAV on and mutually share a folder on both WebDAV (for the iPad) an CIFS for my Windows workstations. Easy-peasy and data is flowing from iPad to workstation for final editing and publication.

Unfortunately, the experience with Pages was less than seamless for me. It worked, but there were enough minor hassles that I couldn’t quite get over that Pages, to Word, to Wordpress wasn’t quite the way I wanted to work.

Enter WriteRoom.

When I bought it, I almost immediately had buyers remorse. The thought, “what did I just waste $5 of my money on,” was pretty prominent in my head. Now that I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks, I actually like it.

WriteRoom is not without it’s flaws, and man are they gaping holes–in my opinion at least–but since WriteRoom isn’t a fancy rich text editor there’s not a whole lot of room for incompatibilities moving the data from WriteRoom’s text files to something else. Moreover, the UI is clean, and it plays well enough with a bluetooth keyboard, which is a fundamental requirement if you’re actually trying to write on an iPad.

That said, WriteRoom falls down in three major ways.

First, there’s no way to resize the width of the document, the writing area remains the same width regardless of whether the iPad is vertical or horizontal. When writing in 18 pt, which is quite comfortable to work at, the page is only 53 characters wide, even though there’s a good inch of margin on either side of the writing area with the iPad horizontal. While this may be ideal for reading, I find it to be somewhat less than ideal when I’m writing. That said, I do appreciate the ability to change the font size and line spacing, even if things feel a bit claustrophobic.

Second, there’s no way to reorganize documents after you’ve created them. Well there is, but it’s one of those workarounds that only an idiot would consider acceptable (copy the content from one doc, paste it in to a new doc, and delete to old doc). The in ability to sort things however, is rather frustrating when you have to move more than one thing around.

Finally, WriteRoom will only sync via Dropbox and iTunes–or you can email yourself the file.

I’m sure there’s probably a ton of people who don’t have a problem with that, I’m not. To me, dropbox is a liability not a feature. It’s yet another service that I have to have an account with, yet another unique password to manage, and yet another place my email address or other personal information can be lifted or lost from.

Unfortunately, from what I’ve been able to determine from the WriteRoom feature/request discussion group, that the author would rather focus on features for WriteRoom instead of writing a WebDAV library for it. As much as I don’t want to fault him for not wanting to add WebDAV support, I do; I also fault Apple for not including WebDAV client support as a basic part of their iOS APIs.

In the end, perhaps the most amusing thing about all of this, is that ultimately I’m publishing most of what I write to a Wordpress blog and there’s a native iOS Wordpress app. So why aren’t I using it for the writing?

Well in truth I do a little. However, the Wordpress app is occasionally broken when using an external keyboard. Which is odd, but apparently there’s a bug in either their code or the iOS virtual keyboard driver/screen resizing, that causes the keyboard’s advanced formatting bar (which I don’t really need or want anyway) to cover the last line of text if the on-screen keyboard hadn’t been docked at the bottom of the screen. Since I use the on-screen keyboard split almost always, the glitch almost always bites me. It’s a big enough PITA to fix, that it’s just easier to write in WriteRoom and copy it over when I’m done.

In the end, WriteRoom is a pretty good piece of software, I certainly like it better than Pages for writing. It’s certainly made my iPad a little more productive, though ultimately I keep finding that although the iPad shows little glints of genius in terms of what it could be, the design and software continue to fall just slightly short of being a real good productivity tool.

Published inComputersiOS