by Collis Ta'eed, CEO, Founder, Reformed Web Designer.
Back in October when we started Inside.Envato I found myself rediscovering writing. In order to write a lot, it’s important to find a tool that helps you find flow. Fortunately there are a lot of great distraction-free text editors on the market. As we’re using markdown based Ghost for our blog I selected iA Writer for its excellent markdown enabled tool.
When iA released their new Writer Pro product recently promising to more or less reinvent the writing experience, it felt like a no brainer to purchase. But overall, as many others have commented, it’s not everything I’d been hoping for — especially after watching their rather exciting intro video. Still I really liked that iA had a stab at something different with their latest product. I think it shows a lot of promise, and I’m still using it, so I hope it gets better. And yes, this post was written in Writer Pro.
Leaving aside the patent/PR issues (which are a separate discussion altogether) I thought it would be interesting to talk about how iA's new Writer Pro could be improved from here. It’s all from the comfort of the pundit’s armchair, free of execution responsibility, and accountability. With that major caveat, here’s my opinion on how I would change the product for v2, would love to hear what others think!
(1) Permanent ‘Notes’ that can be sidebar’d in
I wish that the Notes I write would be retained in some way when I switch to Write mode. At the moment there’s no actual distinction except to remind me that I should start with some notes - but I already do that!
It would be cool if I could display my Notes in a side panel with a keyboard shortcut to make them appear/disappear while I’m writing. Then I could quickly remind myself what I wanted to write about, without having them all up in my actual writing (which is something I can already do with my old iA Writer, or any other editor for that matter).
(2) Notes Attached to Sections
For Notes to be really useful they have to be tied to the part of the document you are writing. This would need some sort of document ‘section’ concept. So for example you could have some notes for the ‘intro’ section of an article, and when you are in Write mode see those notes only when you are writing that part of the article. This would have some UX challenges to make something like this feel intuitive. Fortunately that’s iA’s specialty!
(3) Read My Final Draft Back to Me
The way I edit is to read out loud. For an amateur writer like me, I’m much more likely to hear bad grammar than to see it. I don’t know how you’d do this, but it would be super cool if Writer Pro could read my article/post/whatever back to me in the Edit mode. Preferably this would be done using Morgan Freeman’s voice because that would make all my work feel extra important.
(4) Enable Multiple-Edits
At some point most people get someone else to edit their content. My wife Cyan graciously does this for me for anything important. Normally this process involves me handing my laptop to her, a whole lot of editing, and then me getting my laptop back. This works for me because I trust her edits. But it would be neat if there was a way I could maintain multiple versions that I could tab between in Edit mode. Maybe show edits and notes in a better way that MS Word’s tracking features (which are functional but a little ugly).
(5) Add Some Horsepower
The original iA Writer was a minimalist product, whereas Writer Pro is positioned as an expert tool. As such, I’d expect it to carry a bit more in the way of functionality. In fact I think this is the great opportunity - there are already a lot of minimalist distraction-free writers around. Here’s a place to differentiate. The Note and Edit modes are a great start, but here are more things I’d love Writer Pro to do:
- Projects - Have you ever tried to write a book? I wrote three using Writeroom and you quickly end up with a sprawling collection of documents, revisions, folders, and mess. Help me organise and link multiple documents together, manage my old revisions, and keep track of my project.
- Instant Public Web URL - I’d love to be able to hit a button and have my article publish to an account at say, writer.pro/collis/post_title. This would instantly bring Writer Pro into the field as a bit of a Medium competitor.
- Dropbox integration and Multiple iCloud Syncing - Just on a practical level it would be nice if I could pass documents between iCloud accounts or Dropbox accounts to help with collaboration.
I suppose what all this is going to say is that the idea of a Note and Edit mode is really cool. I sure hope iA builds on this and makes something more formidable out of each of them for the next version. And I hope they flesh out the rest of the writing toolchain further to create a real pro product.
I think there’s a great opportunity to take the writing experience up a notch and carve out a big niche. Companies like Medium, Draft, and Quip are all having a red hot go. With some work, I think iA's Writer Pro could take an even stronger swing in its next incarnation.
I can’t help feeling like iA put their reputation in the toilet for a few swirls with some of the drama around this release, which is a shame as they do some great work and are good software craftspeople. Maybe with the next version we’ll see them put that stuff behind them and get back to being known for great products.
What do you think, how could Writer Pro be better?