It’s not every day I get to beta test a new app, especially one as exciting and promising as Write for iPhone. Developed by Tanmay Sonawane, Write isn’t simply a quick-capture app like Drafts, or a text editor like Nebulous Notes. It attempts to be both of those things and even a little more, which is ambitious and admirable, but contributes to several glaring flaws I noticed while using the app.
When the user first launches Write, a quick tutorial appears to walk the user through several new features. [^1]
“But Harry, this app was just released. How can it have new features?” That’s a good question, disembodied sentence, because these features aren’t new to the app - they’re new to nearly every app on iOS.
* Cursor mode: Forget tapping your fat, smudgy finger to place the cursor where you want it. Just press and hold the cursor button on the toolbar and drag your finger around to move the cursor character-by-character, line-by-line to the desired spot. While cursor mode has the makings of a must-have feature, I found the cursor jumped and skipped full lines when I’d only barely moved my finger. It needs some fine tuning before I can fully rely on it rather than my finger tip for placing the “mouse” where I want.
* Two-finger tap for additional settings: Want to switch to night mode, adjust the brightness, and change the font? Tap and hold your active note with two fingers and a small dialog box appears to let you address those concerns instantly.
As for the layout of Write, don’t expect any skeuomorphism here. This app is flat. In a good way. The title bar is home to the name of the current document, as well as an icon featuring three lines, which represents “slide the current screen to the right to access the one underneath.” This action can also be activated via a swiping gesture, which I prefer to tapping the button.
There are four main screens the user interacts with at any given time:
When the user slides the My Files screen to the right, a toolbar displaying three options (New Document, Settings, and Sync) also appears. The screens lay upon one another like sheets of paper and slide just out of the way enough to get to the one underneath. On apps with gaudy adornments and ornamentations, this might make the experience seem heavy and lethargic, but the minimal interface and smooth transitional animations alleviate those feelings. The app launches quickly and doesn’t get bogged down.
Apps with “realistic” leather and stitching have never bothered me as long as their looks didn’t interfere with usability (I’m glaring at you, OS X Address Book), but there’s something to be said for simple, pure apps like Drafts, Clear, and Ink that eschew familiar interfaces for cleaner lines and fewer distractions.
Write is one of those apps and its “here’s your document, I’ll get out of your way now” attitude is a welcome change from so many note-taking apps that want you to ogle their rich Corinthian leather edges and paper-like pages. When all you want to do is put text on the screen, ornamentation tends to be more of a distraction than a comfort.
At the bottom of the composition screen is a toolbar with seven icons:
Share, which, when pressed, causes a new screen to unfold from the right so a note can be copied to the clipboard, sent to Evernote, emailed as plain text or HTML, or one of a number of other choices. Notes can also be opened in third party apps like Byword or ReaddleDocs, or sent to services such as Google Drive and CloudApp.
Dropbox Link: Tapping this copies a shareable Dropbox link to the iOS clipboard.
Search: In-text search, which highlights any found word of phrase in the active document with the expandable text-grabbers.
Favorite: Mark the current note as a favorite so you can easily find it later in the Favorites folder. This works especially well if you’ve got dozens (or hundreds) of notes to sift through in the main list.
Markdown Preview displays any Markdown-specific text fully rendered.
Info triggers a pop-up to display a note’s last modified date, file size, word, and character counts.
Full-screen eliminates the top navigation bar, iOS status bar, and the bottom toolbar.
Pinching two fingers outward also activates full-screen mode and moves the menu bar out of sight.
Unfortunately, with both the navigation bar and toolbar hidden from view, performing certain tasks is impossible, such as marking a note as a favorite, or previewing Markdown syntax as formatted text.
And forget about tapping on the text to edit in full-screen mode. The user must exit full-screen mode, tap the Edit button, then re-enable full-screen mode by pinching the top half of the screen. It’s a clunky process and I spent nearly all of my time composing notes outside of full-screen mode because of it.
Other problems I found were the inability to save a note directly to OmniFocus (though, that can be remedied using a custom URL action) and a lack of TextExpander support. If you’re writing a notes app for today’s iOS users, TextExpander integration is key.
Additional Features You Should Know About
Custom URL actions are supported here and Write also has its own directory of custom actions for things like Google and 1Password searches. They work just like the URL actions in Drafts, so there’s plenty of room for experimentation with your content. Importing .txt files using custom URL actions is also supported.
If you’re not near your iPhone (psh, yeah, like that ever happens), there’s a free Mac menu bar app called Write for Mac, which allows you to send text from your Mac to Write on your iPhone.
Finally, you can hide your notes behind a passcode lock for additional peace of mind.
It took me some time to realize that Write was not meant to behave like a typical text/note editor - one where the user is able to edit any note at any time. The multi-screen layout obscured Write’s intended purpose as a rapid creation and sharing mechanism for brief flits of information.
But Write is a 1.0 app and brings a lot more to the table than most 1.0 text editors. I commend the developer for taking a risk in squeezing as much as possible into the first release. The experience is unique and I’m excited to see where the app will go in future iterations.
In the meantime, I’ll stick with Drafts for my everyday use, but I’ll continue to come back to Write because it’s such a fun and inviting app to use. The quick look feature, pull-to-save/delete, and cursor mode make composing text files a breeze, and once the app gets native support for other services like TextExpander and OmniFocus, it may end up replacing Drafts in my dock.
Write is $.99 and is available today on the App Store.
Disclaimer: The developer provided me with a beta copy of the app for testing and review purposes. I’ve since deleted it and purchased it from the App Store.