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IA_Writer_LogoIt often feels like word processors aren’t keeping pace with the advances in user interface design. While cell phone operating systems are tripping over themselves to embrace flat, minimalistic design What's New in iOS 7? What's New in iOS 7? A new generation of iOS is nearly upon us, revealed at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference last week. Guided strongly by (Sir) Jony Ive, iOS 7 marks a clear departure from the skeumorphic UI elements of... Read More , Microsoft Word looks like the control panel for a space shuttle.

And yet writing is something we all use our computers for. Be it a school paper or a blog post, all of us at some point find ourselves in the position of having to dump a bunch of characters into a text file. This makes the lack of innovation in the word processing field so frustrating.

Thankfully, iA Writer bucks that trend, and is perhaps the most joyously simplistic text editor that you can find on the market today. Created by two Swiss designers with a well known pedigree for creating beautiful, elegant tools, it runs on Mac OS X ($9.99) and iOS (universal, $0.99), and it’s the OS X version that will be discussed in this review.

Focus Mode, Cloud Support & Versioning

It’s undeniable that iA Writer lacks the bells and whistles of Office, Google Docs Word Processing In Google Docs? 5 Important Tips To Keep In Mind Word Processing In Google Docs? 5 Important Tips To Keep In Mind For the majority of my life, Microsoft Word was the word processing tool to use if you were going to do any serious work. Sure, there were alternatives like Corel WordPerfect and later on OpenOffice,... Read More and iWork. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Not all of us require ever single feature in Microsoft Word, and sometimes even the scant features offered by lightweight word processor Bean Bean - The Best Lightweight Word Processor For Macs Bean - The Best Lightweight Word Processor For Macs Try out a simple word processor for Mac. Maybe you're unwilling to fork out the funds for Apple's Pages or Microsoft's Word. Maybe you're looking for something lightweight and speedy? Or maybe you just like... Read More  feel excessive. However, iA Writer embraces a number of features that make the writing process significantly more enjoyable and help increase productivity.

The first feature that is unique to iA Writer is something called ‘Focus mode’. This feature does two things. Firstly, it puts the cursor in the middle of your screen and keeps it there. As a result, your eyes are always in the same place and never have to move. Combined with fullscreen mode, this is a guaranteed recipe for distraction-free productivity.


In addition, Focus mode tries to hold your attention by dimming every sentence with the exception of the one you’re working on. An unintended consequence of this is that it is significantly easier to get an idea of how long each sentence is, in relation to the rest of your document. Personally, I have found that this feature has resulted in me writing more concise, less rambling sentences.

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Adding to the powerful feature set of iA Writer are its cloud capabilities. It comes baked in with support for Apple’s iCloud offering, as well as the online storage stalwart Dropbox. Saving a document to iCloud is as simple as clicking the title bar at top of the page and selecting ‘Move to iCloud’. If you have Dropbox installed on your Mac, it works in the same way.

Another helpful feature of iA Writer is version control. For the uninitiated, version control is something that is extensively used by software developers in order to keep track of the development of an application. If you make a mistake, you can revert to an earlier version of your code. No harm, no foul.

The version control found in iA Writer is very similar to that of Apple’s Time Machine. Versions are presented as a stack of cards and you can scroll back until you find a card that you want to revert to. Once selected, you are sent back into your text editor and the version of your document that you selected is the one you are working on.

Metrics & Markdown

If you’re a writer, it helps to get an idea for how long it’ll take your reader to digest your article. Just by dragging your mouse to the bottom corner of your screen, you will see some important metrics about your document. These include an estimated reading time, a character count and a word count.

It’s important to note that I didn’t have to go through any menu dialogs to get these metrics. I just had to make a single mouse movement, and my workflow wasn’t seriously interrupted.

One area in which iA Writer sadly falls short in is the filetypes which you can save to. Saving to .DOCX is simply out of the question. The default output format is Markdown, which is touted as a simple, easy to read alternative to HTML. Despite an incompatibility with other word processors, there are advantages to this, as certain websites such as Github and Wikipedia use Markdown as default. This means that you can take your document that you’ve edited in iA Writer and shove it into your Github repository with a minimum of fuss.

However, it’s not all bad news. Markdown also makes it really easy to add formatting to your document. Surround your text with asterisks, and you’ve underlined it. Surround it with two and you’ve emphasized it. It’s that simple. The use of Markdown also means that iA Writer can do away with the toolbars we have became so accustomed to in the likes of Microsoft Office.

Drawbacks

Unfortunately, despite its minimalistic exterior, iA Writer doesn’t exactly feel all that polished. Scrolling through your document breaks Focus mode and results in a random array of sentences being dimmed, whilst others are emphasized.

Furthermore, Focus mode makes it incredibly difficult to copy a large amount of text. If you have to move paragraphs around, you’ll have to exit focus mode and re-enter it once you’re finished. This is unacceptable for a word processor that is sold on its ability to keep the author focused, so hopefully an update will rectify these problems.

Conclusion

Despite these minor flaws, I absolutely adore iA Writer. In recent months, I have started using it exclusively as my word processor of choice. It promises a distraction free working environment, and for the most part it delivers. The integration with Dropbox and iCloud and the powerful versioning system makes iA Writer a very compelling tool indeed, and it is for these reasons why I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Download: iA Writer for Mac OS X ($9.99) / iA Writer for iPhone, iPod Touch & iPad ($0.99)

Have you tried iA Writer for Mac or iOS? What do you think? Are there better word processors out there? Add your thoughts in the comments below this post.

  1. Javvad
    February 10, 2015 at 3:14 pm

    Hey Matt,
    It's over a year since you wrote this - but, I must say thank you for introducing me to IAWriter. As someone that needs to write and simultaneously gets distracted, I found IAWriter to be just the app I needed.

    Thanks,
    Javvad

  2. Dr Evan Mitchell Stark PhD
    July 9, 2013 at 8:03 pm

    Oh, Matt, I forgot:

    Check out this one. Very neat if you like IA Writer: http://writer.bighugelabs.com/

    -Evan

    • Matthew Hughes
      July 9, 2013 at 9:14 pm

      Nice! Very similar to DraftIn. Give it a go!

      Cheers,
      Matt

  3. Dr Evan Mitchell Stark PhD
    July 9, 2013 at 7:51 pm

    Matthew,

    Thank you for the review.

    I collect apps for a hobby, and have a bunch of like "word processors," such as WriteRoom, Byword, etc. There are also apps like these online, as you would know.

    I'm a writer and find these apps useless and overpriced. I believe IA Writer first sold at 19.99. The emperor had no clothes, so they lowered the price.

    There is one minimalist word processor worth mentioning: OmmWriter. It's interface is elegant and beautiful; it's distraction-free, but unfortunately, like all these apps, it suffers from gaping holes in functionality.

    But if it works for you...

    BTW: You use the word simplistic when I think you were reaching for a different meaning. "Simple" would've worked fine, because according to the OED, "Simplistic" means "treating complex issues and problems as if they were much simpler than they really are."

    Warmly,
    Evan

    • Matthew Hughes
      July 9, 2013 at 8:32 pm

      Hey Dr Stark!

      Thanks for your comment! Have you checked out DraftIn? You might really get a kick out of it, if you've not seen it already. I'll check out OmmWriter. I must confess, I've never heard of it before! May I ask what you love about it?

      Cheers!
      Matt

  4. Oli Studholme
    July 9, 2013 at 5:25 am

    Hello Matthew,

    Thank you for reviewing iA Writer — I’m happy to hear you’ve found it to be a productive place to write. Regarding the drawbacks you mention, we’re aware of the Focus Mode issue when scrolling, and expect to fix this issue in the next release. I’m unsure about the copying issue you experienced while in Focus Mode, and would really appreciate it if you could start a discussion on the iA Writer Support site, so we can confirm and fix this.

    There are a couple of things I’d like to mention. Writer saves plain text files, and allows you to copy formatted text and export in HTML. Writer for Mac also includes export to RTF, and we plan to improve export options in the future. Finally, Writer for Mac is currently on sale for $4.99.

    Thanks again, and happy writing!

    Kind regards,
    Oli Studholme

    iA Writer for Mac, iPad and iPhone — iawriter.com

    • Matthew Hughes
      July 9, 2013 at 8:33 pm

      Hey Oli,

      I touched base with you, as you know. Thanks for your comment, and thank you for making such an amazing application. Seriously!

      Matt

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