iA Writer

Has anyone tried iA Writer for the iPad? It’s unusual in that they have used a specific font which looks quite easy to read on the screen. Nitti Lite I think it is. Syncs with Dropbox. Otherwise looks quite basic. I haven’t bought it (shame you can’t trial software form App store) so was wondering whether anyone here had and found it easy on the eyes. Don’t laugh, this is a serious consideration when you stare at a screen most of the day.


So, I’ve been playing with it for a few minutes. The first thing I tried was hooking it up with 2.0’s sync folder feature, which lets you export your Binder into text files in Dropbox, and then Scrivener can keep tabs on the changes made to these files and automatically incorporate them back into the original binder items.

Unfortunately, iA Writer in its current implementation does not support the browsing of folders, and its DB support is limited to one folder it creates at the root level which is just a flat list of text files. Scrivener’s system relies upon a hierarchy, so you can’t just export straight to this folder. I could however, copy the files Scrivener created into the Writer folder, sync them to the iPad, edit them, copy them back, and then sync to Scrivener. Not exactly automatic, but it seems to be the only way. I tried using symlinks to establish links between the text files in Scrivener’s folder, and Writer’s folder, but when saving, Writer completely overwrites the original resource. It doesn’t perform an ordinary save, but rather generates a new text file of the same name—thus wiping out the link. The changes were not automatically made to the Scrivener folder. This might be due to a limitation in the Dropbox API.

But, those steps aside, the process worked fine. I was able to write on the iPad and have all of my changes synced back to the test Scrivener project. If iA writer can implement folder browsing, then one could point Scrivener do the Writer folder to generate their on-the-go files and eliminate all of the above work-arounds.

So that stuff aside, the rest of the application is interesting. I didn’t play with all of it, but I especially liked the addition of common punctuation for writers to the default keyboard. No more accessing auxiliary keyboards to add a quotation mark! Navigation tools so you don’t have to be reaching up into the text to do something as simple as moving the caret back a few letters. I’d love to see some MMD friendly punctuation added to this, or as an option to it.

I was looking at it on a friend’s iPad at lunch. It was enough that I intend to buy it when I get home. U love the reading time estimates. That was cool. Focus mode , too.

Hearing about dropbox sync in 2.0 may cause me to get an account.

My hesitation on writer was that they don’t have iDisk as an option. (will 2.0?)

On a totally different idea: Ioa, since you have both writer and 2.0, can you try putting the files from the scrivener hierarchy into the writer directory and making the symlinks in the scrivener folders? Because scrivener, upon syncing would then get the writer written file an writer’s destructive save wouldn’t matter then, right? If that works, then I’m going to have to get db and just drink until 2.0 comes.

I liked writer enough and this sort of sync functionality was exactly what I was hoping 2.0 would permit.

The writer font is definitely good to stare at. And the screen color scheme is not tiresome for me so I think it’s a hit.

Writer clearly does not, and since there is no good API for iDisk, and Apple has in their great wisdom not seen fit to provide iOS tools for it, there probably won’t be until one of those conditions changes.

As for Scrivener though, the way I worded my first paragraph is important. Scrivener’s feature is very much a “folder sync”. It doesn’t matter where you put that folder. It can be on a flash drive, uploaded to FTP, iDisk, Dropbox, WebDAV, whatever. It’s just a folder structure with files in it. That it works very nicely with Dropbox is only gravy. Scrivener’s tool is way more powerful than being constrained to a single service.

I thought I had tried that but evidently not. Same problem persists though, so I suspect it might be something beyond the Dropbox API, or maybe just a Cocoa problem that acts like the Dropbox problem. In both cases, the applications overwrite the original symlink with a text file, breaking the connexion.

Hard links might work, though. I’m not sure if Dropbox has problems with them. It might see them as two separate files in its accounting queues. I’d have to look that one up.

I really like it to, and if they add folder support this whole problem goes away. Of course there is also PlainText, which isn’t out yet, but that one does have folder navigation.

The aesthetics of it are definitely a plus, though I would prefer a slightly smaller font. The main plus for me are those cursor movement keys! Cursor positions is such a pain on the iPad. Writer has word jump and single character movement. No up and down though, unfortunately.

Can somone please tell me when a character count (as in IA Writer) is ever more useful than a word count?

I think some countries and job types do use character counts instead of word counts; it could be the nationality of the software developers align with this regional preference. What I think is a bit odd is the emphasis on reading time. It’s not a bad metric, but everyone’s reading time is going to be different.

Being a “someone”, in Sweden (and I assume all the Scandinavian countries) whenever you write for a newspaper or a magazine, your target is always in characters (including white space), never in words.



Well that explains it then! Live and learn.

Character counts are also often used when it comes to translation. The amount translators charge will be based on that, not word counts.

Another iPad/iAW/Scrivener user here. Closer integration between iAW and Scrivener would be a very good thing indeed.

I believe the character count thing is due to program efficiency, presumably easier to count characters than scan for white space. A reasonable approximation is to divide characters by 5.1 (OK 5, divide by 10, multiply by 2 - how easy do you need it to be?)

if my Sinclair Z88 from 1988 could count words I’m sure an iPad from 2010 could manage it without screaming program efficiency. Seems either an omission or an oddity from IA if you ask me. A ridiculous one too. You wonder if they actually talk to their potential customers.

The developers are Japanese aren’t they? I’d imagine (he says, naively venturing into territory he knows nothing about) that a character/kanji count is much more important than a word count to glyph-based writers.

Character counts are used in publishing to accurately determine the page count of a book or magazine article. Word counts are only approximate, because words vary in length, and because the space(s) between words vary in number. Character counts tell you precisely how much real estate a piece of writing will occupy.

You have no idea how much this amused me, similar line of argument to “I wrote a shopping list once, how difficult can writing a novel be?” I actually had a look at the site and couldn’t find the reference I thought I had seen so maybe I made it up.

Anyway they must have dug out their old Speccy and had a look, the most recent version now supports both character and word counts.

Different characters take up different amounts of space in proportional fonts, so you’re still relying on averages if you try to translate number of characters page size.

There’s also the matter of content structure – long expository passages as opposed to tight dialogue, for instance. I haven’t run any surveys, but I’d expect Charles Dickens to deliver more words per page than Elmore Leonard.


Yes, in languages using the Roman alphabet.

Character counts are also commonly used for kanji-based languages, which in my (limited) experience rarely use proportional fonts.

And in any case, character count is more accurate than word count, given that
See Spot run
integrated circuit technology
are both three words long.


In Chinese — and I expect the other CKJ languages including Japanese Katakana and Hiragana — characters all occupy the same space irrespective of the number of strokes. This is normally true of punctuation marks too, though IMKQIM for Chinese allows you to turn “Full-width space” and “Full-width punctuation” on or off, though I’ve never seen a text with non-full-width spaces or punctuation.
This has infuriating results:

  1. Chinese people never use tabs and indents, because they can line things up with spaces in Chinese. The result is documents in English that look like a dog’s dinner because they don’t know about proportional fonts and spacing, and think they can line things up the same was as they do in Chinese.
  2. They use the roman character set within the Chinese font. This is generally badly designed and kerned, and worse, only involves the alpha-numerics, so you get widely spaced Chinese punctuation in the English text, and because there is apparent space after the punctuation mark, they don’t put a space in themselves.
    Issues like these frequently take up an inordinate amount of my time in editing texts for the university intended for publication in whatever form.
    But texts are counted by characters, not by words … that makes life easy in Chinese. In 2002, I think it was, I was asked to record the commentary to a very important video. The video had been fully edited with the Chinese sound-track already in place. I had to make the English sound-track fit the timing of the Chinese as closely as possible. But English takes up to one-and-a-half times as long to say things as Chinese, so it involved a lot of thinking and careful re-structuring. I managed it absolutely, but the only way to do it was to go down to counting syllables … dead easy for the Chinese, incredibly fiddly for the English. But the reward was the look on the video editor’s face when he watched it with the English sound-track playing and realised he wasn’t going to have to change a thing!

It just goes to show how a narrow outlook can make one blind to the experience and needs of others. I’m glad I asked the question!

Another iPad/iA Writer/Scrivener user here. Just a brief update. iA Writer now lists Subfolders as “coming soon”. So looking forward to that!

I wrote them to request a version with built-in screenplay formatting and import/export of the .fdx file format. They responded with “we’ll give it some thought” … but since the concept of Writer seems to be ‘formatting features free’ I won’t hold my breath.