UX Write: A First Class Word Processor for iPad, Part 2

| In-Depth Review

UX Write for the iPad is an excellent word processor for the iPad and includes Dropbox support. Last summer, it was reviewed by The Mac Observer and given a Solid rating. Since then the author has continuously improved this app, and now it includes the ability to export in the .docx format. This Part II is an update to the current state of the app and includes a revised rating.

Part 1 of the review was published on 17 July 2012. That's a good place to start if you want to review the features and functions. I'll reiterate that if you're looking for a serious word processor for the iPad that supports style sheets and can be pressed into service for professional content creation, UX Write is a great choice.

Developer Philosophy

One of the things I like about this app is that the author, Peter Kelly, has presented a development plan up front and has gone about the business of carefully and thoughtfully implementing new features. Along the way, Mr. Kelly has explained to me some of the nuances of implementing those changes, and so I see how he's approaching development. That, in turn creates confidence in the dedication of the developer and his commitment to the customers.

In this follow-up review, I want to discuss some of the issues I've encountered: Moving files, the new price and .docx support.

Moving Files

You can create new folders, and when you navigate to that folder, you can create new documents. One of the things I noticed -- and mentioned to the developer -- was that one cannot yet move a document from folder to folder. Mr. Kelly explained that there are serious technical complications to be considered, related to synchronization to WebDAV or Dropbox and Internet connectivity. Here's just a partial excerpt.

"One of the implications of the fact that UX Write is designed to provide full functionality while working offline is that it makes any changes to the local filesystem immediately, and then synchronises to the server in the background, when it can. If you're online, this will be very shortly after you make the change, but if you're offline, it has to wait until its next opportunity (i.e. the next time you open UX Write while being connected to the Internet).

So it's possible that there could be two different people working with a shared account -- or (less likely) one person working with two separate devices - who move folder X into different locations while offline, and then come back some time later and sync to the server. One device will 'win' and get the rename done first, and the other will 'lose' and encounter a failure on rename because the folder doesn't exist.

If this isn't implemented carefully, there's a possibility of data loss."

If you get the idea that the developer has thought this out completely, you are right.

The Price Change

The initial price of UX Write, US$14.99, according to the developer, was a guess. Subsequent market research showed that people were willing to pay more, and sales have supported that notion. It is now $24.99. It's not a toy, and it's not priced like one.

In the process of reviewing apps, I have encountered many apps that are needy in their pricing. That is, the developer undervalues the product, perhaps feeling insecure about its quality and worried what people will pay. In this case, I think UX Write, for what the customer gets, is priced properly and is on par with equivalent apps in OS X.

DOCX Format

The .docx format is an Open XML format, not proprietary to Microsoft, as .doc files are. The developer thinks that he has a very high level of compatibility with .docx files and has pointed out the benefits of that format in his blog: "One really major befit of .docx over HTML is that you can embed images directly in the document, instead of storing them as separate files. If you’ve been creating HTML documents in UX Write that contain lots of images, you’ve likely noticed your folder in the file browser fills up with lots of image files which you’d rather not see intermixed with your documents. When using .docx, this will become a thing of the past, and you’ll just see the document itself."

Combined with the Brydge, my favorite writing mode.

Testing

I wrote an outline for one of my articles with the latest UX Write and exported it in .docx format to Dropbox.

Article outline on iPad with UX Write. 
(Some bluriness due to my own compression.)

Then, on the iMac I use for TMO work, I double clicked it, and it loaded easily into MS Word. From there, I was able to drop the work into my publishing workflow. It was a simple process and translated perfectly at every step.

Double-clicked out of Dropbox.

I did this test as a proof of concept, but didn't test longer documents as a stress test. That will come, in time.

Recent Upgrades

Here are the most notable changes since I reviewed version 1.0. (The app was released on 7 July 2012.) The full list is available at Apple's App Store. I'm citing the list here to emphasize the continuous development since launch.

1.0.1 (9 Aug 12)

  • Autocorrect for all languages
  • Full, external keyboard support, including all keyboard shortcuts
  • Auto Save
  • Dictation

1.0.2 (18 Sep 12)

  • Performance improvements. For example, document load time cut in half.
  • Numerous bug fixes

1.0.3 (26 Sep 12)

  • Added support for CMD-B, CMD-I ad CMD-U (bold, italic and underline) for external keyboards in iOS 6.
  • Updated to allow full resolution of iPhone 5.

1.0.4 Bug fixes ( 6 Dec 12)

1.0.5 Added the ability to duplicate and rename files with a long-press on file name. (14 Dec 12)

1.1.0 Added capability to export -- and import -- docs in .docx format. (25 Feb 13)

1.1.1 Bug fixes (2 Mar 13)

1.1.2 Auto Save of .docx documents in the background instead of pausing the editor. (7 Mar 13)

Future Plans

As I mentioned at the top of the article, the developer has been very upfront about his development plans. That's a natural, responsive byproduct to having a serious app that professionals have come to depend on.

  • Support for Open Document Format documents (.odt), and LaTeX documents (.tex).
  • Enhanced table editing (incl. styles).
  • Enhanced structured writing: headers, footers, footnotes, bibliography, and citations.
  • Find and replace and word count.
  • Equation editing.
  • Document comparison and change tracking.

Documentation

As the app grows in its capability, it's going to need, in my opinion, more complete documentation. Instead, the author has focused on development for now. Still, first class documentation is the mark of an outstanding app, so there is still a bit of work to do there.

System Requirements

UX Write 1.1.2 is a Universal app, compatible back to iPhone 3GS, iPod touch (3G) or any iPad.  It requires iOS 5.1 or later.

Summary

Some apps are a fly-by-night affair. You're never sure of their staying power. (That even applies to major services on the Internet.) On the other hand, some developers have the knack of inserting themselves into the cultural mainstream and become an enduring icon. Daniel Jalkut's MarsEdit (Red Sweater Software) is like that.

I think this is where Peter Kelly is headed with UX Write.

Product: UX Write 1.1.2

Company: UX Productivity Pty Ltd

List Price: US$24.99

Pros:

An iPad word processor with lots of flexibility and control. Stable. Style sheets. Good sharing options: WebDAV and Dropbox support. PDF and DOCX export.  Works well with external keyboards. Excellent UI. Auto Save in background. The included Getting Started document is updated with each major release.

Cons:

A formal manual is not yet available.

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5 Comments Leave Your Own

vpndev

“The .docx format is an Open XML format, not proprietary to Microsoft, as .doc files are.”

Sort-of. The XML part is indeed open. The binary-blobs within the XML are old-style .doc stuff and are proprietary to Microsoft. OOXML should never have become a standard but MS stacked the standards committees and now we’re stuck with it.

Peter Kelly

vpndev: You’re correct about OOXML (docx). I’m also of the view that ODF should have become the standard; we’re now stuck with both now unfortunately. I wrote about this a while back (http://blog.uxproductivity.com/2012/10/01/a-tale-of-two-standards/) - at that time I’d hoped to have ODF in for 1.1 as well, but docx ended up being so complex and time consuming to implement that I ended up deciding to postpone that till a later release.

Fortunately a lot of the infrastructure work I’ve got in place now to support docx can be reused for ODF, and I’ve already got bits and pieces of it in place in my development version. When this work is completed, ODF will enjoy the same level of support as docx does currently.

Despite all the political turmoil surrounding the file format war, .docx is still a huge improvement over the older .doc file format (which I won’t be supporting).

Peter Kelly

I should probably add though that I haven’t encountered any problems relating to binary objects embedded in the files in the work I’ve done with docx; all of the information needed by UX Write to correctly open and save the document is fortunately encoded in XML. I think this is mainly an issue with Excel and Powerpoint files.

Riaz Ahmed

UX Write seems to be a good product with lots of potential. But so far, I feel extremely frustrated & regret buying it.  It, still, seems to be infancy, pricey and short of required features. It cannot, even, handle docx files correctly. I like its design but it still needs a lot of work to deliver its promise.

Currently, I am using a combination of Docs Unlimited (to open any document file & upload it to Dropbox) and Pages to open and use it. Pages is still miles ahead of UX Write.

I do regret buying it. I have stopped using it. I will wait & see how it goes.

Peter Kelly

Hi Riaz,

As we’ve discussed in numerous emails, I’m very keen to work with you on resolving the issues raised. As a professional QA analyst with many years of experience I’m sure you’re well aware of the importance of detailed bug reports which highlight specific issues. “It can’t even handle docx files correctly” is useless to me; specific individual bug reports, preferably with sample documents, are the only way to resolve these issues (you’ve already sent me a couple of these, which I’ll address as soon as I return from my trip to the US for WWDC). I’m continuously adding to my database of over 3,000 automated tests, which ensures that once a bug is reported & fixed, it stays fixed - forever.

I’m surprised at the extent of problems you’ve run into, particularly given the very small amount of info I’ve received from you about these, as what you’ve described above doesn’t match what I’ve heard from the majority of users. However people use UX Write with many different types of documents, so it’s likely that the specific features of docx you’re using may be what it’s having trouble with; I’m not trying to claim the problems you’ve run into aren’t real. Please contact me with detailed bug reports so I can fix them - this is only the way the quality can be improved (particularly on a one-person development project like this where a dedicated team of QA people is beyond my budget).

I’d rather lose a sale though than have an unhappy customer, so if you’re truly unhappy with your purchase, there’s instructions here on how you can request a refund via iTunes:

http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2012/02/how-to-get-a-refund-from-the-app-store/

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