iA Writer: Simple, Beautiful Text Editing On Your Mac

There are already many options available to those of us who’re after simple writing tools. These apps encourage their users to focus in on the evolving text, minimizing distractions by cutting back both on visual clutter (I’m looking at you Microsoft Office) and on informational overload in the form of too many options and tweakable settings. We’ve previously reviewed Byword and Writeroom, as well as running a round-up that added a few alternatives. We also published a discussion piece on whether such apps are necessary, which got some interesting debate going in its comments.

Such apps abound on the iPad too, and on that platform one of the most popular choices has been iA Writer. Now Information Architects, the design firm that developed iA Writer for iPad has turned it into a Mac app, available for purchase on the Mac Appstore.

I’m going to settle down for a while, open up iA Writer for Mac, and walk you through its features.

What it Does

Well, actually, this won’t take very long. That’s because iA Writer has been deliberately pared down to the essentials. It saves your writing in plain text, so there are no formatting controls or layout features to think about. So that means no agonizing over what font to use, no time-wasting about anything to do with how your text will look on the printed page. In fact, the app doesn’t even have a Preferences menu, so there’s absolutely nothing to adjust or fine-tune.

In fact, there’s really only one thing you can adjust in iA Writer: whether or not you’re in Focus Mode. With Focus off, your text fills the screen.

iA Writer in Action

iA Writer in Action

In Focus Mode, the app switches to typewriter scrolling, placing your current sentence in the middle of the screen. You’ll also notice from the screenshot that all but that current sentence is greyed out.

Greying out Content

Greying out Content

In Focus Mode you can use [CMD]+[arrow keys] to jump backwards and forwards between sentences and quickly jump through your document.

If you want to add some basic formatting – headers, italics, bold, lists – you can do so using the popular Markdown syntax. This is decidedly not WYSIWYG editing, but it does allow you to prepare texts that other apps can convert into formatted pages.

Nice touches

iA Writer is a very nicely designed app, full of thoughtful and effective little touches. Colours and fonts are well considered, so your text is easily legible onscreen. Rather than ordinary white, the background is eye-savingly slightly-off-white, with a subtle paper-like texture. And that blue cursor – well, I find it lovely.

The Blue Cursor

The Blue Cursor

When you exit fullscreen mode, the windowed view includes some useful information: word and character counts and an approximate reading time.

Useful Information

Useful Information

The developers have said on Twitter that the next update will include fullscreen word count too.

How Does it Compare to Writeroom?

Of all the ‘distraction free’ writing apps I’ve tried, the one I’ve come back to again and again is Writeroom.

WriteRoom

WriteRoom

I believe Writeroom was the first of the lot. It aims at the same end, but gives you a lot more control over how the app looks, and various other things – from adjusting text and background colours to changing the default document encoding.

All these things are useful, but the truth is that I set things as I wanted them a long time ago, and haven’t made any changes since then. And even with that fine-tuning, I far prefer the appearance of iA Writer. What I do miss, though, in switching from Writeroom is realtime spell-checking – I hope that iA Writer might add this feature in the future.

Conclusion

I think the difference between these apps points to an interesting observation about freedom and constraint. Writeroom gives you enough power and control to be able to set things up more-or-less exactly as you want them (though you can’t get a subtly textured background, sorry). iA Writer, by contrast, gives you no control – in fact, rather, it takes away options. In a sense, then, Writeroom offers freedom and choice (within the limitations of a full-screen, distraction-limiting writing app), where iA Writer imposes limitations. And yet, I for one will be choosing to use Writer from here on – and I expect many will agree and do the same. Well-considered constraints and limitations occasionally win out over power and freedom.

In a way, that truth is demonstrated over and over in the world of Apple hardware and software. In choosing a Mac over a PC, or just in choosing iPhoto to manage your photos and allowing it to arrange them in the opaque folder structure it uses, you make a choice to allow someone else’s solutions to govern your world. Some PC users find that a maddening fact about Macs. But when those solutions are as well thought through and carefully designed as iA Writer, the choice to accept limitation and embrace constraint seems easy.


Summary

Everyone's favorite iPad text editor comes to the Mac. Simple but capable, iA Writer couples a minimal writing environment with great benefits like auto save and markdown support.

9
  • http://www.boastboy.com Marcel

    I enjoy using WriteRoom but I also enjoy OmmWriter, a little more distracting but an enjoyable user “experience”. There is some interesting competition in the single purpose writing app so good luck to iA Writer though with apps I own like WriteRoom & OmmWriter this is one app I won’t be purchasing.

    • http://techinch.com/ Matthew Guay

      OmmWriter does offer a very immersive experience, especially if you use it with headphones. Plus, it’s one of the only high quality writing-only apps for Windows for those of us using PCs. I’d love to see iA Writer on Windoes myself!

  • http://techinch.com/ Matthew Guay

    iA Writer’s best feature is its brilliant treatment of Markdown formatting. Check out the screenshots of it in action on their website. And the developer has said on Twitter that they will add HTML export from Markdown in the next update.

    The clean interface, beautiful Nitti Light font, and focus mode all add up to make it a great app on the iPad and Mac. And, it should be mentioned, while much ado has been made over iA Writer’s price, it’s actually cheaper than the ever popular WriteRoom. And, in my opinion, iA Writer looks better and is nicer for focused at that!

    • http://techinch.com/ Matthew Guay

      Actually, turns out the recent updated added an option to export Markdown formatted text as HTML. Awesome!

  • http://www.appforthat.de Julia Altermann

    Unless I’ve overlooked it, iAWriter doesn’t offer any sync options via Dropbox or comparable services.

    Anyone know if that’s in the making? How can I write on my iPad and have the text available to me on the Mac instantly without me having to mail it to myself?

    • http://www.appforthat.de Julia Altermann

      Never mind, my bad. Just discovered that the iPad version has Dropbox integration. Sorry for that.

  • Leonick

    Simple, beautiful and extremely overpriced.

    • Me

      No doubt. $17.99? And people complained when Reeder came out for $9.99. Crazy.

  • Tim

    Nice app but price is like a joke. Probably developers love them selfs a lot :D

  • http://dapl.me Dan Palmer

    I find it strange that people like these apps so much. They don’t really do anything.

    Pages, Word and TextEdit will all allow you to do so much more, and still provide just as much of a distraction free environment if you maximise the windows. And if you want that feeling of no clutter in the way at all, use TextMate or another code editor; most of their functions are accessed through keyboard shortcuts so don’t have icons all over the screen.

    iAWriter for iPad is good because it is cheap and has Dropbox sync. But for Mac, everything has Dropbox sync if you want it and there are considerably more advanced apps and many you may already own.

    Now I realise that the design on these apps is nice but for the amount they cost, I can’t see what makes them worth anywhere near it.

    • Amin

      This app is for folks who find so many features of word distracting – when all they want is to write.

      I remember when every software used to be astronomical prices. $18 – is well worth it – if its a useful tool.

      Its not for everyone.

  • http://modernisten.co.vu/ Robin Lundgren

    iA posted an article about the price.
    Read it here: http://www.informationarchitects.jp/en/ia-writer-on-prices-and-features/

    It’s well written. But the one thing that nugs me are two quotes they have posted. The first quote I’m thinking of is the one about how you can’t compare Pages and iA Writer. The second one show shortly after and comapres iA Writer with the price of a large pizza.
    So, software VS. software is a no no! But pizza VS. software is a valid comparison?

    I would have loads of use for iA Writer, but I will not pay that price (which is ever higher in Sweden for some reason)..

  • wvit

    iA Writer is good but too expensive. I feel that the reason they claim in that really nice article is just a way they try to make you believe it’s not expensive. If I want to I can achieve the same effect by using most of the currently available editor, even pages can do it. When lion come out, I believe that most of the editor then will be able to utilize the full screen mode too.

    Personally, I think OmmWriter is the best. While some may feel that it is quite distract, I found it help a lot. The background music is nice for me, it repeats in a way that will silence all the noise around you so that you can focus on writing. The best thing is there is a free version too.

  • skz

    what about spell checking? without it is quite useless…

  • cdm

    Did you folks set WriteRoom to look so bad compared to iA Writer on purpose?

    I don’t care about iA Writer’s price reasons in that article, it’s still ridiculously overpriced. Even more so now with all the misdirection. Essentially they say a higher price makes people _think_ their product is better. iA have plenty of competition, Apple in their market has not.

    It will be interesting to see for how long this will be developed as well as going without a reduction/discount. Many minimal writing applications seem to stall in development after some few updates. May it be there is after all a finite number of ways to do it?

  • Pingback: Notefile: Cross Platform Note Syncing | iPhone.AppStorm

  • Pingback: Notefile: Cross Platform Note Syncing | iPhone Begin

  • http://www.free-ipad-books.org/ Mudda

    I wonder who thought of the name “iA”, I definitely like the name. it’s as simple the the text screen.

  • Pingback: iA Writer for Mac - Text Editor without Settings | iMobileKUB

  • John Camaney

    iA Writer is a cool app, but I think Byword is better better. Both are similar, but if you write in Markdown (and I think that would be a main reason to use any of these apps), with Byword you can export as HTML or RTF and with iA Writer you can’t.

    Here’s a good review of Byword: http://www.disturbancesinthewash.com/journal/2012/3/29/review-byword-for-iphone-and-ipad.html

theatre-aglow
theatre-aglow
theatre-aglow
theatre-aglow