iA Writer for Mac review

by Dan Oliver

In September of last year iA – a design agency based out of Japan, also known as Information Architects – revolutionised the world of writing tools on the iPad with the launch of iA Writer for iPad.

The brainchild of iA’s founder Oliver Reichenstein, Writer reflected his obsession with typography and interface design, and brought a refreshing, new approach to the world of text editing. Prior to the initial launch of the app, I was lucky enough to get an early look at the iPad version of Writer. I loved the focus on the user (you know, us guys that have to write for a living); and the calm writing interface, with the option to go into ‘Focus mode’ – and concentrate on just three lines of text – was a revelation. However, it wasn’t all revery and drop-to-your-knees design worship, as I felt that the app had a huge blind spot: the lack of a word count.

Seriously? It’s just a word count

It sounds petty, doesn’t it? These guys had gone through hours of painstaking work to create the perfect marriage between productivity, balance and minimalism, and I was pissing and moaning about a word count. But there it is. And, small omission though it was, it convinced me Writer wasn’t for me. (This was despite a word count being introduced in a later update, as – by this point – I was using Pages for any writing I did on the iPad.)

iA Writer for Mac is now available in the App Store

So, when the news reached me that Writer was coming to the Mac, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it wasn’t greeted with much of a fanfare – but you’d be wrong. I was happy. Scratch that. I was over the fucking moon. Why? Because for me, iA Writer had always been the right app (that niggling word count issue aside, which I now knew had been addressed), but on the wrong device. But Writer on a Mac? Oo lah lah! OO-LAH-LAHHH!

What’s under the hood?

If you use the iPad version of Writer you will already be familiar with the core/only functionality, and you’ll also be glad to see that a move to the desktop hasn’t resulted in feature creep – in fact, there are a few features missing! (Dropbox support has gone, as have the iOS-specific touch functions.)
But the beauty of Writer is its simplicity. Column width, leading, contrast, and all aspects of typography have been skillfully utilised to help you remain focused, and a full screen option (Cmd+return) removes all the remaining screen clutter, such as the top menu bar. To get even more focussed, and hone in on just three lines of copy, you can hit Cmd+D (a double tap of D centering the text on screen), and also jump between sentences by either mouse selecting or using Cmd+arrow key. And that’s about it. It doesn’t sound much, does it? But when you’re actually in the process of writing, it’s all you really need; in fact, it’s pretty much perfect. (And those looking for spellcheck options will find them under ‘Edit>Spelling and Grammar’.)

Writer

Come out of Fullscreen mode, because – let me assure you – that’s where you’ll spend most of your time in Writer, and you can hover over the bottom of the UI to bring an info bar into view, which includes a word count (yay!), character count, and reading time. (It would be nice to be able to access this info in Fullscreen mode, via a mouse hover, but hopefully that will come in a future update.)

Conclusion

Firstly, I need to point out that iA Writer isn’t for everyone. If you work in an organisation where you need to quickly write and collaborate on docs, save in multiple formats (Writer is .txt only), mark changes, include and format tables, and other ‘fun’ stuff, then Writer for the Mac won’t cut it. And, as iA would no doubt be the first to point out, there are already a host of tools out there that offer this functionality. However, if you yearn for an app that enables you to concentrate your attention, and express yourself without having to battle the inherent noise of leading text editors, then look no further.

I can honestly say that Writer for Mac will now be my default text editor of choice, and if creative writing plays any part in your personal or working life, then I urge you to give it a try. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

iA Writer for Mac is now available in the Mac App Store, priced at £10.99.

(Note to Markdown users: iA Writer for Mac does support Markdown. I don’t tend to use Markdown, so can’t really comment on its support. However, you can find out more about this text-to-HTML conversion tool over at Daring Fireball.)