Technology writers get unduly excited about very simple text editors. We’re looking at you, WriteRoom, the no-frills, full-screen word processor that emulates green screen text crunchers of old. Now there’s iA’s Writer, an application that strips down an interface that was already stripped down, so there’s literally nothing left but text on an otherwise blank screen.
The unique selling point, then, is lack of bloat. There’s just you, the keyboard and an Arctic space waiting to be filled with your novel, blog entry or a shopping list for a trip to Ikea. So, how does it do all that pesky essential stuff like formatting, text styles and that? The answer is, very cleverly.
Instead of selecting words and lists of words and paragraphs full of words, then doing things to them, you use Auto Markdown. These are in-copy character commands that tell Writer how to format – a little bit like HTML, but much more simple.
For example, to bold a word you use asterisks. To designate a headline you use a hash, and so on. It’s easy and quick to learn, drawing on the semantic shortcuts that have already evolved in chat room and message board contexts. If you’re a geek, you’ll soon get it.
All the hippest tools – like iA Writer – are ditching unnecessary features
Also very cool is Focus Mode, which enables you to type copy a sentence at a time, greying out the bits of text you’re not working on.
One of the most interesting things about Writer is that it started life on the iPad. There, its simplicity could be seen as a response to necessity. Here, it looks like the future of interface design.
Writer won’t be to everyone’s taste. If you want to create newsletters or fancy stationery, you’ll still need to go back to Word. But for creative writing, journalism and copywriting, this is a tool that successfully dispenses with distractions and concentrates the mind.