iA Writer: Minimalist Writing on Your iPad

When I write on my iMac I use Bean, an open source word processor that is simple to use, has a clean interface, does not distract me from my writing, and it’s free.

I used to use TextEdit, but found that it was a bit too simplistic. Bean gives me a wonderful full screen mode that inhibits distractions and lets me concentrate on what I’m writing.

Unfortunately, no writing application can help me with my oft-made technical mistakes, but at least I can get my thoughts down, and that’s the important thing.

On my iPad I use to use Pages. I had tried several other writing apps, but none gave me a writing environment as unobtrusive as Bean does on my iMac. That is, until I tried iA Writer.

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iA Writer in all its minimllistic glory, sans the virtual keyboard.

iA Writer was designed specifically for the iPad to be a very simple, very clean, and very satisfying writing environment. Information Architects, the makers of iA Writer, reduced the app’s feature set the barest minimum. There are no graphic options, no formatting menus, not even a set of fonts to pick from.

What you get is a clean sheet of virtual paper, basic editing and file functions (undo, save, new document, Dropbox sync), and a small handful of informational features that you might find useful.

If you’ve used any word processor in the last 10 years then you’ll understand how to use the editing and file functions in iA Writer. Type and your text appears on a large screen. If you use a Bluetooth keyboard you get to use the full iPad screen, but the virtual keyboard in iA Writer offers a few neat tricks of its own. For instance, iA Writer includes an additional row of keys for punctuation and cursor control — handy and something I’ve always wish Apple had done.

The text that appears on the screen is large and well spaced. This is by design, according the Information Architects. The font was specially designed to reduce reading fatigue, and spacing around text allows for optimum eye comfort.

The only concession to the inclusion of features is Focus Mode, where, at the touch of the lock icon in the upper right corner of the screen, all but the three lines of text you are currently typing on are slightly obscured so that you can concentrate on those three lines only. While in the Focus Mode, no spell-checking or other automatic and distracting features are allowed, letting you zero in on what’s important: your writing.

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iA Writer in Focus Mode. Basically a “Do Not Disturb” for your writing environment.

The few remaining attributes are concerned with document handling. I mentioned that there is Dropbox syncing available. Unfortunately it’s not automagic, but your document is auto-saved on your iPad every ten seconds. You can email and sync your missives in iTunes as well.

Creating a new document is as easy as hitting the big “+” icon in the upper left corner of the screen, and you can rename your document simply by typing the new title in the header. Files are saved in plain text format, which is readable by any modern word processor.

There’s also a word counter and a meter that estimate how long it would take a person to read what you’ve written. Both are small enough to go unnoticed until you need them.

That’s pretty much it. The big question is: does all of this minimalism work? Can a writer accomplish more in the iA Writer environment than he or she might using another, more feature rich word processor?

I’ve been using iA Writer for about a week now, tapping out everything from complete article text, including the text for this review, to chapters of a book I’m working on and I’ve concluded that a writer can get a lot done with this app. Quite simply, it works. Less is definitely more in this case, because iA Writer’s lack of features makes it about as close as one can get to typing on a typewriter, and that’s a good thing.

Understand that using iA Writer may require a change in the way you write, and maybe even a fundamental change in your writing philosophy. Many people are used to full featured editors and have adapted their writing sessions to make use of those environments. That means that they have come to expect certain amenities, including formatting help, a selection of fonts, and even grammar help on the fly.

For you folks using iA Writer may be a bit frustrating, but if you stick with it one major thing will happen: your writing will improve, both in content and on the technical side.

See, iA Writer forces you to think about what you want to say, and to express yourself effectively you have to consider how you say it. That, in turn, requires a better and more direct language command instead of letting the more feature full application’s auto-correct do it for you. In other words, iA Writer forces you to use your brain and not rely on gimmicks and crutches to muddle your way through a writing session.

Of course, the downside to using iA Writer is that you’ll have to perform all your formatting and some of your editing duties in another application after you’re done writing, but I think you’ll find it’s a small price to pay for making you a better writer.

In iA Writer, there is almost nothing that separates the author from his or her words. No eye strain, no format worries, just type until you get your thoughts out or you get tired, whichever comes first.

I say there’s almost nothing to distract a writer, and for all its simplicity, the makers of iA Writer forgot to let you turn off the only distraction they’ve added: that damned “Cursor Time.”

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Those little blue numbers on the right side of the screen? That’s the accursed Cursor Time.

Cursor Time is suppose alert you to the time it would take for a person the read from the beginning of your document to cursor’s current position (this is not the same as Read Time which shows the time it takes to peruse the full document). Cursor Time blinks on whenever your cursor stops for a few seconds, and it’s as distracting a hell. I would love to turn it off, but I can’t. Turning it off is not an option, but it should be.

Beyond that one niggling problem, iA Writer works. I can type in near perfect bliss with nothing (but that darn Cursor Time) to distract me.

And I saved the best part about iA Writer for last. The app cost just US$0.99! That’s right, you can own this minimalistic bit of nirvana for a mere buck. This price is not permanent. The original price was US$4.99, and I believe it was a reasonable price for the app. Information Architects dropped the price to a dollar in celebration of a birthday, and to see what would happen. I guess they are happy with the response or still celebrating (you party animals!) because the price is still a buck and it’s two weeks pass the date they say they would adopt a new price of US$1.99.

If you write on your iPad then this is the app you need. It’s inexpensive and very good at what it does. If it wasn’t for Cursor Time I would suggest you Get It Now, but that silly feature annoys me enough that I can only highly recommend* iA Writer.

Get it anyway.

Review Item iA Writer
ManufacturerInformation Architects

List Price

US$0.99 (currently)

Minimum Requirements

iPad, all models

* Note: My rating system goes like this;

  • Get it Now! - Highest rating and an absolute must-have
  • Highly recommend - Minor flaws, but a great product
  • Recommend - Flawed, but still a solid product
  • So-so - Problem product that may find a niche market
  • Avoid - Why did they bother making it? A money waster.