There’s something special about using a typewriter – something about the clack of the keys, the slide of the carriage, and the satisfying sound of a line return makes it a unique experience that just can’t be replicated by a computer. It’s why The Times plays the sounds of typewriters to motivate its writers.
Tom Hanks’ new free iPad app Hanx Writer attempts to bring this feeling typewriting to the mobile world, so let’s take a look at how it does.
Why a Typewriter?
Being a MakeUseOf reader you’re probably pretty fond of modern technology, and are wondering why anyone would want to use a typewriter instead of a Bluetooth keyboard and an iPad. Typewriters have a huge following around the world; even though they’ve fallen by the wayside technologically, there’s an undeniable aesthetic appeal – both visual and aural – to these machines.
Tom Hanks is one of those aficionados. An avid collector, he actually sent three of his own typewriters to Hitcents, the app developer, while they were working on Hanx Writer. They spent some time typing on the machines, and took a number of font samples from various vintage typewriters to create three totally unique fonts for the typewriters in the app.
Tom Hanks says that the app isn’t meant for writing a term paper or a legal brief, and is better suited to things like journal entries and love letters — things that “stick around for a while.” There’s no doubt that the distinct experience of typing as well as the gorgeous fonts of Hanx Writer are great for that. But how does it compare as a text editing app?
Through the Paces
At first glance, Hanx Writer is like any other iPad text-editing app—there’s a cursor, a blank page, and a keyboard. But once you start using the app, you’re transported to another time. The “paper” moves back and forth like a page in a typewriter. You can even see the type bars slamming toward the page. And, of course, you get the all-important, satisfying typewriter sounds that keep the writers of The Times hard at work (Hitcents describes them as “SHOOK SHOOK” and “FITT-FITT!”).
Three different typewriters that serve as themes are available in the app: the Hanx Prime Select (free), which is black and creates a satisfying clicking sound when you type; the bright green 707 ($2.99), which makes a heavier, more mechanical thwoking, and the Golden Touch ($2.99), which provides a higher-pitched, almost cash-register-like key sound.
Each writer uses a slightly different font, as you can see in the images throughout this article, and they’re all very authentic and keep the theme consistent.
Of course, we’ve made some pretty significant technological advances since the days of typewriters, and most people won’t want to give them up. Things like the ability to easily delete text, copying and pasting on the spot and the ability to choose different fonts and format our writing.
Fortunately, Hanx Writer has incorporated a number of these improvements without eliminating the feeling of using a classic piece of writing machinery. It doesn’t feel quite as authentic as using an actual typewriter to type on your iPad, but it’s a close second.
You can choose to use a traditional deleting mechanism, whereby all of the letters that you delete are struck through with an x, or a more modern one, where they’re simply deleted. You can also choose from black, red, and blue fonts; different text alignments and a cursor or cursor-less display. The ability to save to Dropbox or Google Drive keeps your documents safer than typing them out and stashing them in a drawer, too.
If you’re looking to use a text editor with a more modern feel you can turn off the sound and animation, turning the typewriter simulator into a simple, attractive iOS text editor. One thing that you won’t find, however, is auto-correct. There’s no option for it, and I wouldn’t count on it appearing anytime soon. For this reason, I found it best to use the app with a Bluetooth keyboard, where I could type much more accurately.
Hanx Writer isn’t packed with features, but it’s not meant to be. If you’re looking to do some heavy-duty mobile word processing, you’re probably better off with something like UX Write (free), which lets you change your font size and color, create tables of contents, add images and tables, use auto-correct, edit Microsoft Word files, and export to LaTeX. But that’s not what Hanx Writer is about – it’s about creating a rich typing experience and a unique way of creating documents.
If you can accept the idea that it’s not meant to replace your main text editor or writing up, but to enrich your life, Hanx Writer is a great app. It’s difficult to describe why it engenders the emotional reaction that it does, but it’s a beautiful app both in its looks and its sounds, it’s easy to use, and it creates fantastically realistic typewritten documents.
The app is free, so the best way to see what I’m talking about is to download it and check it out for yourself.
Download: Hanx Writer (free)
How does Hanx Writer compare to typing on a real typewriter? Share your analogue experiences, below.