With National Novel Writing Month approaching in November, it’s hardly surprising that interest has picked up in writing apps for iPad. Within this group there’s a subset of demand for “distraction-free” writing programs.*
I’m not entirely sure where this trend toward minimalism is coming from, though Pages may have a lot to do with it; it’s a lovely portable layout program, but as such it offers a featureset that’s usually too elaborate for straight-up text crunching. It’s essentially Pages (the desktop program) or MS Word adapted to a touchscreen environment. Thus many of its functions, such as auto-formatting, are either unnecessary most of the time, or downright invasive. (I don’t usually want auto-bulleted lists, for instance.)
To this we can add Pages’ somewhat clunky file handling interface. Its organization of multiple files (such as chapters) is essentially nonexistent; if you’re a writer like I am in terms of mechanics, you don’t write out long works in one single, linear document. Rather, you use a program such as the outstanding DevonNote to organize your chapters into individual files, contained within folders. This is — for me, at least — a far better way to break down a book-in-progress into manageable sections. Switching back and forth among these chapters in DevonNote is simplicity. It’s much harder to do with the desktop version of Pages (or Word), and even more frustrating on the iPad Pages.
Many software developers have been working to fill the need for a simple text editor that exists primarily to let you compose on the iPad without having to muck around with too much formatting, without having to worry about storage and retrieval on desktop machines, and with the ability to organize your work into a bite-sized, sensible set of files and folders. Some apps provide sync to Google Docs, others to proprietary servers, and still more to cloud systems such as MobileMe and Dropbox. Some have obligatory network reliance — you effectively can’t work if you’re not in range of a wireless net or don’t have a 3G iPad — and others offer a little too much of a distraction-free environment in that they lack real organizational control such as nested folders within folders. Most of them seem to have most of the features I want in a portable writing environment, but only one seems to combine them all into a single, coherent package.
I came across Notebooks sometime in early August. I was looking for an iPad text editor that presented me with an environment similar to DevonNote, which is the only desktop program I use for writing. (Layout and formatting happen in InDesign. Word and any other similar DTP program always strikes me as a poor hack, neither a workable text editor nor a layout environment.) After looking over the iTunes reviews and comparing it with other apps, usually by blog comments, I decided to take the plunge and put out the $9 for Notebooks.**
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