Features, presentation or both?
Right before my holiday trip I spent some time working on a couple of posts that I could finish off without much effort. These were all written on iA Writer on the Mac. Although I'm trying to spend quality time with the family, when I read that the developer behind my favourite writing app on the Mac had a new version, I had to sneak the laptop in the living room and download a copy of Writer Pro.
For me this purchase doesn't need a recommendation: I love to type on fullscreen mode on my Mac and see the word count after I have finished reading the sentence I just typed. Brilliant stuff. It's quite simple, and in combination with other apps, it's a basic element of my writing workflow. I even remember the day it came out buying the app on the bus and sending an appreciation email for the good work to the developer by the time I got home.
Eager to try the new Writer Pro I tried to open those drafts I had on iCloud play around with it for a bit. Of course they are not going to be recognised because iCloud is this ethereal place where apps can only recognise their own children. I copy and paste the text and there you go: new documents for proofreading exported to the new app.
Maybe as a result of this initial friction, in the first minutes Writer Pro doesn't really click with me. I would decide to finish my editing on the old app that same night and try to learn the new features when I have free time after Christmas Day. But then, other internet people are too quick to highlight what's wrong. I went to check what would the The Verge make of the 'whopping price' this time and just skimming through the article it sounded fairly positive. I also saw Shawn Blanc's initial impression, not wowed about the new release.
Is Writer Pro an impressive, beautiful, and useful piece of software? Absolutely. Is it going to find a place in my iPad writing workflow? I don’t think so.
Then, I found the call to action from Jonathan Poritsky at The Candler Blog. A headline like this it's going to be controversial at least. Without any context I cannot understand why this studio — which is not a traditional software development house to begin with — would get this kind of heat. These are the guys that have taste for typography and do cool infographics, right?
The article presents the main sources very well to understand what's happening. Certain circles are annoyed about the threatening style defending all the work that went into the word highlighter feature named 'Syntax Control', which Information Architects have tried to protect with a patent. This can divert to a whole argument about innovation and ideas; the issue for me is that the first version if Writer Pro is disappointing.
A different approach
Something has happened in the last three years from the people that gave you a tool to write and only to write. I use my iA Writer with some other apps in the background specialised in note taking and proofing. There is no need to bundle three workflow elements in an app that used to be sold as to write and only to write. I would be a bit upset realising these are mediocre implementations because I really like the original functionality.
Take the Note part of the workflow as example. The concept clashes with my habits because I like to have my notes and draft side by side, one window as a guide and another window with what I’m writing. I haven't played much with it but I’ll just assume Simplenote is more prepared to do a better job at collecting my thoughts than any debut feature.
Controversy aside, Syntax Control can be an useful aid for writers who cannot get feedback from someone before they publish. I my case I tend to use the awful Mircrosoft Word port to check punctuation and the odd typo, but what I really want is a tool like Linguisoft's Grammarian. Having a modern implementation of Grammarian's proofing window would be a very nice feature indeed. Weak grammar and punctuation is fixed teaching you from your errors, not highlighting how words are repeated and placed on your draft. It's too early to speak about Syntax Control, but I don't agree with the claim on the blog. It's not holly cannoli at all.