I’ve been writing a lot lately and I’ve been doing most of it on my iPad. I love writing on the iPad. I’ve got an Origami case/stand with a full-sized Bluetooth Apple keyboard (of course I don’t write long-form content using the on-screen keyboard!). I’ve been testing out two writing apps recently: iA Writer and Prompts. Both offer distraction-reduced writing experiences and both offerings are quite honestly very compelling.
While both apps offer clean and minimal writing interfaces, the similarities end just about there. iA Writer’s biggest standout feature, in my mind, is it’s focus mode which grays-out all but 3 lines of text when activated to help you concentrate on simply getting the words out of your head. The focus mode keeps you from doing any heavy-duty editing and, true to it’s title, does tend to help me focus.
The keystone feature in Prompts, as the name suggests, is that it offers prods at the push of a button to help you get around that old arch-nemesis known as writer’s block. Sample prompts include include: “Add more personality,” “Explain it to a child,” “Emphasize a character trait,” and questions such as, “Why does it matter?” As a blogger, not all prompts apply to me, but it’s easy enough to breeze past the ones that don’t.
From my perspective, neither workspace is completely perfect, but both are more than enjoyable. iA Writer provides more whitespace/padding around the typed words than does Prompts and puts information such as word and character count at the top of the screen where it’s easy to glance at. I much prefer the default font in Prompts, however, over the screenplay-looking (typewriter-style) font employed by iA Writer.
Both apps are able to sync files with Dropbox, but Prompts throws in another very cool feature: writing statistics. Perhaps more of a novelty than a true productivity-enhancer, it’s definitely fun to see what day/time you are most productive. The ability to set a writing reminder is also pretty neat, though Siri works just as well. I do wish Prompts would auto-save my work instead of making me physically tap the save button. Why ask me if I’m sure I want to exit to the menu without saving instead of just making sure my work is saved automatically?
Both apps have similarly useful keyboard shortcuts. Option + up or down will move the cursor to the beginning or end of a paragraph quickly. There is a similar shortcut for skipping to the very beginning or end of an entire document. In both apps, pressing the eject button makes the onscreen keyboard appear or hide.
The truth is, both of these apps are pretty awesome. I wish that their excellent features could be combined into one powerful app. Choosing between the two will simply come down to personal preference. From a design and cognitive standpoint, however, I do feel it’s a bit weird writing in a font that looks like a typewriter’s output, especially as the editor of a blog about new technology. I believe every element should have a purpose. Since I don’t write scripts (which absolutely must be in that certain font with specific spacing, etc…) I have to ask what the point is? For now, I’ll probably continue writing in Prompts.
One final note: Prompts does have a few glitches here and there. For instance, if I accidentally turn the on-screen keyboard on, by the time I turn it off there’s usually a white block left in it’s place on the screen until I exit the document and reopen it. Also, there are times when (in portrait mode) the app doesn’t stretch text to the side of the screen without a bit of screen turning. These are only small annoyances, however, and won’t keep me from using the app. I’m sure they’ll get fixed in an update soon.