introducing Research Atelier, ios app, open source

Well I wanted to say something. I posted a while back about a course project where I had to implement a text editor. That went well enough and ended up being a scrivener inspired nonlinear LaTeX editor using ncurses in the terminal.

I have tried virtually all of the notable writing apps on the iPad and I have been at least somewhat dissatisfied with all of them. Some come very close to what I like(Daedalus Notes, Writing Kit), but there are still niggling things which I believe could be improved.

In my work as a computer scientist/researcher, writing is deeply entwined with the stimulation of ideas that comes from reading. The sources that I work with are typically in the form of both web and conference publications and journal articles. When I write, I do so in plain text, usually in LaTeX or markdown. Since I have yet to be satisfied with writing on the ios platform, I am implementing my own program.

Here are the features that I would have in my ideal writing and research environment, semi ordered by importance, but really a braindump

  • Nonlinear project based data model. When I say nonlinear think scrivener. The data model must be able to accomodate both writing documents and sources(pdf, webarchive, etc)
  • The ability to quickly dump data into the project, tag it, group it, and search it.
  • quick transition from writing view to research mode. I have seen some implementations of this. A split view in a single window does not seem to work very well on a small screen even on an iPad. Rather I like the implementation in “Notes Plus” where one simply swipes with two fingers to the left to bring up the browser/pdf viewer. However a popover displaying a webview can be considered
  • tabbed document view in both the browser and the writing view.
  • full screen mode, but have the ability to pin toolbars and navigation if desired
  • from the web view, 1 button click to dump currently visible website into a bin as a webarchive
  • from the web view, popover with bookmarks synced from pinboard, etc.
  • in writing view, incorporation of a Stacks paradigm, think daedalus touch, but add a view where one is able to see the full layout of the pages
  • WikiLinks, and the ability to link a page of a pdf into a text document a la DevonThink.
  • The default home web page is a mashup page of search engines, data engines, scientific sources, and other discovery resources, but allow the sources to be user configurable.
  • when visiting, e.g. google scholar, be able to quickly import a source, with its bibliographic content automatically inserted. very good implementation of this is Sente
  • an assortment of visual themes and fonts. ideally allowing the user to add their own fonts(inkpad does this, not sure of other apps that do)
  • the level of annotation supported in the pdf view I am still considering. In my opinion nobody has gotten it right yet. Sente, Mendeley, Papers all have nonstandard annotations, highlights and notes. PDF Expert, iAnnotate and their ilk have standard Adobe compatible annotations, yet they require the full size of the document to be uploaded on sync rather than the delta changes.
  • quick capture of text blocks and images from web pages or pdfs, however I don’t think these could be added to an NSTextView at this time. So more thought has to go into how to incorporate it. Webviews are a possibility.

I have a repository, though I haven’t uploaded my code yet. It is located at
github.com/rcloud/ResearchAtelier

I would say for anything that is aimed at (M)MD / LaTeX authors, you need a toolbar/aux keyboard row that makes typing in punctuation easier. Many of the types of punctuation that these systems rely upon are on the third shift keyboard which can make adding something as simple as a bullet list unwieldy, let alone a footnote. Trunk Notes is a wiki style app that uses Markdown as its format, and it has a few touch keys for formatting lists, but a dedicated app for this could do better. Consider something like the MultiMarkdown TextMate bundle, or MultiMarkdown Composer, where you needn’t actually type in everything yourself. Daedalus has a keyboard system that makes some of this much easier. With its enclosing marker style system, you can do quite a bit once it is set up to do so, but since it isn’t focussed on MD, it lacks a few things that would be nice, like enumerated lists that add the number+dot for you when hitting Return.

That sounds pretty much an ideal environment for working in iOS. However, I know no one that writes only in iOS. Are you also thinking of making the app able to sync all these features (including PDF annotations) in Mac OS?

Also, I do use Sente, but in iOS I mostly use it syncing it with the Sente servers. I import a source only in Sente in Mac OS. Are you saying that you can import a source into Sente for iOS? I didn’t think that was possible. Am I wrong?

Thanks

Yes, I didn’t really talk about the custom keyboard functionality because I abhor typing using the ipad touch screen. I always use a bluetooth keyboard(apple wireless bluetooth). In fact, I would really like to add custom keyboard shortcuts to the program. On the mac, I always change the modifier keys for caps lock to be control and that trips me up when I write on iOS, navigating around the document. Textastic has very nice support for bluetooth keyboard and you can write markdown.

However, and I don’t want to say very much, but with iOS 6 I think we may start to see a plethora of writing apps that support more than plain text.

regarding syncing: While having a dedicated mac app would be ideal, I think it will be best to start with dropbox.

Unfortunately this project will move fairly slow at the beginning. I have to go into the hospital for the next few months and will have limited ability to work.

Hope you’ll be well soon! Sure you will!