It's been 6 weeks since I purchased Writer Pro for my iPad. As a very happy iA Writer user, I was eager to give it's successor a try. The concept of a writing workflow definitely appealed to me, albeit with a large grain of salt.
All comments and opinions below are based on my time with Writer Pro for the iPad. I've not used the desktop version to this point.
The feature set and announcement for this application excited me. Having firsthand experience with the previous version left me with a confidence in the people behind it. If anyone could take an already great writing experience and improve on it, it's the team at iA.
I admit that it took me a while to jump in and make the purchase. After all, I've grown tired of paying for upgrades to apps I already own. On top of that, early reviews were a little scathing, despite what the App Store blurb and iA's site had to say about it.
Without quoting anyone specific, the general sense was this:
What a waste of money! The various states of each document are just a change of font and colour! You lose your notes.
The basic complaint was this: Writer Pro took what iA Writer offered and added 4 different fonts and shades of colour to differentiate what phase of the writing workflow you were on, as well as syntax highlighting. And since the workflow seemed to not fit the needs of people, customers were dissatisfied.
Add to this the fact that Writer Pro was lacking two features of its predecessor (Dropbox integration and Markdown preview), early adopters seemed to feel like this was a bad $20 decision.
And I must admit I was a little skeptical that it would fit as well. As anyone who writes is aware, we all get to the end destination (a published piece of writing) in different ways. Software that claims to fit your workflow rather than forcing you to mold to its interface should usually be taken with a dose of skepticism. But again, my time with iA Writer allowed me to give the folks at iA the benefit of the doubt.
I can count the number of times I used App Store comments to evaluate a potential purchase on one hand. But this was one of them.
Near the end of December, I made the purchase and immediately started to use Writer Pro in place of Writer. I did so even though it had been confirmed that a document started in Notes mode would simply be in the exact same state when converted to Write mode. The font and colour of the icons change, but your content is exactly the same.
I wrote several blog posts and Sunday school lessons in Writer Pro. My flow was like this: create a new document, start plugging away, then get close to a finished product. Nowhere in there was changing the status of the document useful. I tend to take my close to finished product and put it into the environment it will live in. My site for blog posts, Keynote slides for adult Sunday school. I prefer to see how it looks in the end destination. Any tweaks are made there.
Suffice to say, my experience was like many others. Nothing in Writer Pro improved my writing experience. And the lack of Dropbox support and Markdown preview actually meant Writer Pro was a worse tool for me than Writer. To be fair, I expected this. A tool with a specific workflow will always take getting used to. You do have to evaluate your workflow, then adapt to the tool (hopefully only a slight adaptation).
The overall reaction to this aspect of the service seems to have taken iA a little aback. They've since changed their marketing of the app on their site, stating that the workflow is intended to be document based. What does that mean exactly? Simply this: you create a document for your notes & research, then a new one when you're ready to write.
Fair enough, but it only raises more questions for me. How do you refer to your notes when writing? Did they intend users to create yet another version of the same document for editing? Reading? The more I think of the vision, I can only assume the intention was that people would buy versions for each device. You refer to your notes on your iPhone or iPad while you write on the desktop. The application seems not to have been intended as a purchase for only one device. Their introductory blog post indicates this may be the case:
Mostly, the iPhone was used for taking notes. In direct opposition to that popular “consumption device” claim, the iPad is a relentless drafting machine. Editing functionality like Syntax Control will prove most useful on a Mac.
So, having time to use Writer Pro (on one device) and read through the documentation again, I come away with the feeling that the application was intended for a particular type of writing. The vision is for long form pieces, books and papers perhaps. The workflow certainly seems a little lacking when it comes to blog posts or other types of shorter content.
What about syntax highlighting?
I'll be straight up; I've not even used this once. Not that it couldn't be useful … I think it could. But it hasn't been a part of my workflow in the past and I haven't yet made myself change my writing habits.
My focus when considering purchasing Writer Pro for use as my primary writing environment was the workflow aspect. In time, my opinion may change as I (slowly) put this part of the application to use. There are others who feel this aspect of Writer Pro does not actually improve your writing.
But I'm going to give it a chance. It doesn't hurt to have this type of information available.
To be perfectly honest, I have hopes that this app will be a part of my toolset in the future. My time using iA Writer assures me that the talented folks at iA know what they're about. Writer Pro will improve and I can imagine it being my main writing tool at some point.
Just not yet.