2 November 2010

#5: The iPad for writers – how it feels, why I recommend it and the applications I use

In this podcast I talk about what it’s like to write with an iPad. It’s not a review by any stretch, more a writer’s eye view of using this new and exciting piece of technology.

And it is exciting, you know. Most of the talk at the moment is about the e-revolution in the publishing industry and the effect of the iPad (and more so the Kindle, actually) on how people read books.

But I want to look at what the iPad means for writers. Most people initially saw it as a device for consumption, but I always thought that there had to be more to it than that.

As I said in a recent piece I did for Shawn Blanc, all you need is a blank screen and a keyboard. I believe that’s what the iPad provides and more.

So do have a listen and let me know what you think. I’ve split the podcast up into three sections to try and help you navigate my ramblings:

  1. What’s it physically like to write with an iPad?
  2. What are the main benefits of using an iPad?
  3. What applications do I use?

On a techno-note, there seems to be a small gap in audio two thirds in. It only last a second or two, but many apologies. My mistake I’m afraid – I’m much better at editing words than audio!

Listen to or download the podcast
Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes

Show notes

I refer to a number of things in this podcast, including applications that have been described and reviewed extremely well elsewhere. Here’s some links to help you make your iPad-related decisions.

Apps and accessories

Compass from Twelve South


iPad apps for writers
All you need is Simplenote
PlainText is my preferred iPad text editor
The Ultimate Dropbox Toolkit & Guide


  1. I found Pages (a $10 app) a real pain (possibly because I’m so used to Word; possibly because it’s crappy). Simplenote is fantastic. It easily integrates with Simplenote applications I downloaded to both my office and home computers. As a result all I need to do is cut & paste text files into word or Blogger.

    Reformatting is a bit of a pain, but as a Word user, Pages’ interface felt so foreign that Simplenote’s (erm) simplicity is worth it. (And there’s no track changes feature!)

    In terms of a keyboard, I recommend Apple’s small bluetooth model. It’s nearly as small as the iPad and easily fits in my bag.

    I tend to write notes for projects I’m working on or short blog posts on Simplenote. A wireless keyboard lets me set the iPad on the coffee table or airplane tray and keep the keyboard on my knees or lap so I can adjust my posture or pick up the iPad. I figit a lot and this is ideal.

    The iPad is a really fantastic device for all kinds of tasks. I’ve looked but found too few directed to writers. Thanks for posting this.

    • Iain Broome (Author)

      Sounds like we have pretty similar setups! Simplenote is just awesome and PlainText is also great for the syncing capabilities. I haven’te even bothered with Pages as I know what to expect. I too use the Apple Bluetooth keyboard. It’s a thing of beauty!

  2. Did anyone try Documents To Go for iPad? I have the Blackberry version and I like it very much for writing since I could easily synchronize and continue my work on both PC (at home) and Blackberry (to go). Although to be honest, I’m a little afraid if the answer is: “Yes, and it’s wonderful”, because I can’t afford an iPad (yet) ;).

    • Iain Broome (Author)

      Hi Astrid – I haven’t tried it but I’ve heard it’s pretty good. I do think there’s an issue here in finding an application that allows you to work on stuff you’ve already created in, say, Word.

      I think my approach is definitely going to be to use the iPad for all NEW projects, rather than to work on old documents.

  3. Writer for iPad is the best I’ve found with an optimised keyboard making document navigation a breeze

    Stephen Fry likes it too


    • Iain Broome (Author)

      Yep, Writer has had good reviews and the folks at iA know their onions, all right. I’m not sure some of the features are quite to my taste – three lines on view at a time, for example – but it’s definitely supposed to be a good app.

  4. It’s nice to hear such a thorough and positive review of the iPad for writing. I am an MFA/Creative Writing student (and writer, of course) and use my iPad for note taking and journaling when I’m away from home. On short trips, I no longer take my laptop as the iPad handles almost everything quite well.

    I do find the phone-style keyboard to be an annoyance and, when you’re using it, there’s less screen real estate to review your text. I am hoping to get a real keyboard sometime soon, as I am one of those people who touch types quickly (and loves it, by the way!).

    I use Pages and an app called Chapters. I love Chapters because each document can contain multiple entries. So, for example, in my seminar course, I might create an entry for each class. But it’s all contained within a single document. And I can email and/or save as PDF any or all of my entries.

    • Iain Broome (Author)

      Glad you approve – I wanted to try and dispell a few of the myths!

      I haven’t tried Chapters yet, but it sounds pretty good. That said, I’m a bit of an advocate for finding a system that works for you and sticking with it!

  5. I love my iPad, but I still find that my MacBook Pro is much more preferable for intensive writing. I do a lot of editing as I write, and selecting and manipulating text on the iPad is nowhere near as fast or efficient as a standard keyboard/trackpad/mouse. The larger screen is also much more appealing for long documents. As much as I would like to use it for writing, I find it cumbersome, though ideal for other tasks like research and note taking (I love Evernote for that), email, and social networking.

    Scrivener on my MBP is currently the ideal setup for cranking out a novel.

    • Iain Broome (Author)

      Hullo and thanks for the comment.

      I’m sure that I’ll continue to use my iMac to write longer, more substantial pieces, but for shorter work and especially first drafts, I think iPad is perfectly usable.

      I haven’t found it cumbersome at all, but perhaps with further use I might. Hope not though!

  6. I have several apps on my iPad for writing, but I keep returning to PlainText. It’s simple and streamlined (too often I get trapped navigating the bells and whistles!)… and now the simple sync with Scrivener 2.0 offers the mobility I’ve been wanting between home and, well, wherever!

  7. Eric Haywood

    Ironically, when trying to read this article on an iPad, a white rectangular box appears just a split-second after the pages loads that blocks the entire text of the article. The “Disqus” logo appears in the upper-right-hand corner of the box, but everything is obscured from the article’s headline until just before the Comments section.

    Refreshing the page doesn’t help, and this text-blocking box appears in both Portrait and Landscape orientations. Am I the only one seeing this?

    • Iain Broome (Author)

      You’re absolutely right, we’ve just started using Disqus and it’d not currently playing nicely with the site on the iPad. I shall speak to my special programmer pal and ask him to take a look at the problem. Many apologies, I appreciate the irony. Doh!

      • Eric Haywood

        No worries. FYI, I’m also seeing this happen on other articles on your site, not just this one. Good luck!

  8. For me, blank screen with keyboard is an AlphaSmart. Began with the AlphaSmart 2000 in 1998, and now it’s the AlphaSmart Neo (http://www.neo-direct.com/).

  9. Hey all, I’m a little late to this but I wanted to say that I use WritePad, the handwriting to text app. With a stylus and a little bit of a learning curve it’s so handy, you don’t have to worry about a separate keyboard or using the touchscreen keypad. I get so much more done on my iPad this way (I write a lot but I’m not a very good typist- I never learned to do it properly, haha) and even use it for my longer pieces. WritePad is an amazing app for any writer! No more handwriting then typing later, no carrying around an extra keyboard… Just the iPad in all it’s simple efficiency.

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