For those who’ve been aching for a classic word processor for the iPad, something familiar and Mac-intuitive, UX Write is a first class app.
One of my fundamental review routines when I encounter an app that’s a text editor or a word processor is: how long does it take me to create a new document, enter some text, then save it, all in an intuitive way. Then find it again. UX Write is stellar is that regard, and I took an instant liking to this app.
The key design element here is a nice synthesis between the design of an iPad app, that classic iOS user experience combined with the unique word processor mentality that we’ve all developed over the years on a Mac. That is, when is comes to treating the app as an iPad app, it works as expected. But when it comes to creating, saving, moving and reloading documents, the filing system is very intuitive and straightforward.
The User Interface
The UX Write app telegraphs this statement and intention right off the top when you launch it by displaying the storage locations with rather large icons at the top. There’s no mistaking how you’re going to save and share a document. One can’t say that for some iPad apps.
File location options are obvious, up front.
The very next thing you want to do is create a new document or folder, and the buttons for that are right there, at the bottom. Right away, all on one page, the app is suggesting an intuitive workflow without any prompts or documentation. The New Document popover is unmistakable, attractive and direct. I liked that a lot.
File (and folder creation) is bold, intuitive
From there on, touch a document to edit, close it to save it, and it’s date-stamped right there in your document list. This is basic UI design that seems quaint, yet produces an immediate affection.
Once you start writing, you realize that there are special, innovative tools to really help you write. For example, one of the banes of iOS, in my mind, is the magnifying glass to position the cursor for editing. The developer has trumped Apple by creating a touchpad at the bottom of the display. You have, basically, a flying cursor, controlled by the movement of a finger. To move faster, use two fingers. Alternatively, instead of a flying cursor, you can select text by dragging your fingers on the touchpad. It’s infinitely easier and more controllable than trying to manipulate those tiny blue dots in the default select.
And if you make a mistake, just press the Undo button. There are 50 levels of undo.
Like the Daedalus text editor, the top row of the keyboard has some added special keys that are often used in writing. And here’s a cool touch. There’s no need for both “(“ and “)” because after you type “(“, the special key automatically changes to “)”. Holding down the Format key brings up the classic direct format tools, bold, italic, underline. Plus some item list functions.
Note how when a paren is entered, special key matches to close: “)”
So as I’m working through the app, I’m getting the feeling that the developer knows what I need as a writer in a very direct way, unseduced by perhaps more iPad-like novelties. Instead, the app is focused on the art and science of word processing.
At the top of the page is a powerful set of icons to the right of the Redo and Undo buttons: Formatting, Insertion, Outlining, Settings and Sharing options. I’ll start with the last one first.
The default file format fo UX Write is HTML 5 which seems like a wise decision. It’s a lot easier to go from HTML to plain text than it is to mark up a page from text to HTML. And with that starting point, the app can then export to PDF or email or a printer.
In the Settings you get to define a Style and the page layout. The developer is thinking about the writer who’s working on a very specific kind of technical document, a proposal or a research paper. In contrast, Apple’s Pages has templates for more informal kinds of documents. For example, the Insert function allows you to pull in a figure or photo from the iPhoto library, define its width, and number your figures in sequence.
It’s going to require a little bit of patient practice to be able to create a Table of Contents or list of Figures, and the documentation is sparse in this regard.
This app supports Styles. As the author explains, “UX Write encourages you to use styles to format your document, instead of manually setting formatting options like font size and paragraph alignment on a case-by-case basis. Styles make it much easier to achieve consistent formatting throughout your whole document, particularly when you want to make global changes like altering the appearance of all headings.”
Once again, I sensed that this developer, a Ph.D., is keenly focused on the act of creating and formatting a technical formatted, document on the iPad. But if that seems a little too geeky, don’t be alarmed. The demonstration video shows how an experienced user can really exploit the power built into this app.
I should note that I never experienced a crash, freeze or any kind of visual defect with this app. That’s a solid achievement for a 1.0 version.
The preloaded file, “Getting Started.html,” is just a little bit too short to make the average customer happy, especially at a healthy US$14.99 price. While the execution of the app is brilliant, the primary concern I have for this app is that getting started file.
The author has big plans for future features, mentioned in that document. However, before that happens, I’d urge a very strong effort to document all the version 1.0 features, along with screen shots, in the style of the technical document that the developer proposes that we as writers might develop ourselves. It would have the added advantage of showcasing what kind of document the app can create.
The developer has stated that he has more features planned for future versions: Microsoft Word and LaTeX support, bibliographic citations, footnotes, headers & footers. I’d like to suggest that EPUB3 export also be supported.
There has been continuous discussion, in the early years of the iPad, about it being primarily a content consumption device. However, my take has been that as iOS matures and we move into the future with perhaps different hardware platforms and sizes that support iOS, it will also become a very capable content creation device.
UX Write showcases what the iOS and the iPad can do in this regard. Also, I am aware of rumors that Microsoft is preparing a version of Office for the iPad, and that means MS Word. Even so, there is ample space on both the Mac and now the iPad for word processing apps that meet different needs. I think this app will become an essential tool for writers of all kinds, but especially technically oriented writers, for a long time to come. That’s becase it is so direct and focused yet iOS intuitive. It’s definitely worth the price, but I would hope that the developer greatly expands the documentation — and makes it retroactively available to current customers.