More thoughts on the iPad as a writing tool

Sections: Features, iDevice Apps, iPad, iPhone/iPod touch/iPad, Opinions and Editorials, Originals

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I’m finding myself using my iPad more and more for writing, for reasons for not entirely attributable to the tablet’s easy portability and flexibility of where I can use it, although those factors do play a role. Macworld’s Jason Snell posted an essay last week about how he enjoys writing on the iPad even though he can type much faster on a Mac or PC with a keyboard.

Snell recalled a time when, during a bout of illness that had him stuck on his back for two weeks with only a pen and paper to write with, he was intrigued to note that the writing process felt appreciably different from typing, and he found himself more carefully considering every sentence and every word choice simply because he couldn’t just effortlessly delete it and rephrase. Snell says the result was some of the best writing he’d done up to that time, although upon recovering he immediately went back to the keyboard.

Flash forward some 20 years, Snell finds himself on the road with only an iPad to write with and a deadline looming, discovering while on the plane, tapping on the iPad’s onscreen keyboard, he found himself reminded of his years-earlier experience with writing longhand on his sickbed; and that while he can type on an iPad much faster than he can write with pen on paper, it’s nowhere as fast as the speed he can achieve on a MacBook keyboard. He says that using the iPad slowed him down and got him to think about what he was writing in a way that using his trusty MacBook Air never would.

I’ve noted similar results from composing on the iPad, although with some substantial differences. First, I’ve found myself liking the iPad’s virtual keyboard a lot more than I ever thought I would. I still like a good freestanding keyboard better, but not enough better that I ever bother connecting a Bluetooth keyboard even when I’m working in a location where that would be little hassle. The virtual keyboard’s untetheredness and spontaneity trump a real keyboard’s speed and precision.

I’m not as fast as the 120 words per minute that Jason Snell says he can manage on a conventional keyboard—more like 50 or 60 wpm on a good day. Also, due to the chronic fibromyalgia and polyneuritis I’ve struggled with for the past 15 years, I’ve never really switched away from longhand composition, although I work either way on occasion. Often I will rough out a draft longhand and then enter it on the Mac using dictation software. I find longhand the mode I feel most comfortable composing in, and straight dictation without a longhand draft the least comfortable, although I even do some of that from time to time. I love Nuance’s powerful Dragon Dictate for Mac, but their free DragonDictation app for the iPad is slick and convenient if you just have some thoughts to crystallize in text, and quicker than typing. I find its accuracy surprisingly good, despite the fact that it’s not trainable.

However, I find composing on the iPad’s virtual keyboard a happy medium of sorts. It’s faster than longhand plus dictation, while still providing the more thoughtful pace that Snell observes, theorizing that he suspects he’s not only taking more time to choose his words on the iPad, but actually using different parts of his brain when he writes that way, so not only does the actual act of writing feel different, but the end result feels different to him as well.

Presuming that others are experiencing writing on iPads similarly to Snell and myself, it’s another explanation for their phenomenal popularity.

As for iPad writing software tools, I do miss my heavily AppleScript-macro-customized TexEdit Plus and TextWrangler text editors on the Mac, and the convenience, speed, power, and precision of doing final finish edits there (Dropbox makes working with the same document on multiple machines simple and easy). However, Infovole’s trio of iPad “text processors” gets better and better with each revision, and they are my usual writing tools of choice.

The three apps share a similar array of basic writing and editing tools, two of which I find particularly useful being a change case button and the forward delete key that is so woefully missing from the iPad virtual keyboard, plus much else. My recommendation would be to try the $0.99 Easy Writer, which has plenty of what you need to get you started. If you like it, and the respective feature enhancements of the $2.99 Schreibkraft or $7.99 Textkraft appeal, you can always move up. The prices are reasonable whichever you choose.

There is also a free Easy Writer Lite version, and even it has a pretty deep feature set.

Quick Profiles:

Textkraft 2.0.5 for iPad

Marqueed by Infovole as “The Language Specialist For Professionals,” besides the various basic editing functions, Textkraft offers you detailed text information for professional writing and an extensive offline-dictionary with synonyms and possible follow-ups. Textkraft is available with various language-specific dictionaries.

Product [Textkraft]

Schreibkraft 2.0.5 for iPad

Billed as “The First Multilingual Text Processor,” Schreibkraft supports 10 languages in 14 country-specific flavors. There is no need to switch regions or keyboards. The App supports the user in all needed languages at the same time. The magic éüç-button sets all diacritical marks, accents and umlauts. Paired with many of the professional Textkraft’s editing features, Schreibkraft makes an ideal text editor for global citizens.

Product [Schreibkraft]

Easy Writer 2.0.5 for iPad

At the bargain price of $0.99, Easy Writer for iPad offers an overview of your text and many important editing features (including my aforementioned case change and forward delete faves).

Product [Easy Writer for iPad]

Easy Writer Lite for iPad

It’s freeware, but Easy Writer Lite 2.0.5 for iPad still supports the basic Infovole set of editing features. It comes without Dropbox synchronization, however, which requires an in-app $0.99 upgrade. So, if you need Dropbox (and who doesn’t) you might as well get the standard Easy Writer.

Product [Easy Writer Lite for iPad]

My full overview, read Ten ways Infovole’s text processing apps enhance your iPad writing experience.

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