Writing Kit

Rating: +++


also: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/writing-kit-research-write/id426208994?mt=8

By Peter Hulm

WritingKit knows its niche. If you need to continually check facts while you write, it's hard to think of a better app for iPad.

Given the awkward 'multitasking' that Apple permits, hopping back and forth between your word processor and your reference material (particularly on the Web) is a real pain.

Writing Kit makes it easy. Simply press the reference button to call up a window where you can search for the information you need.

Built-in web browser

Should the query require more extensive exploration, the built-in web browser comes up automatically with the results it has found.

Incredibly, the browser lets you switch between a text version of the page (no ads) and the standard view. How long did it take Safari to do that? Years.

You can use the DuckDuckGo search facility, with over 1100 specialized search engines at your fingertips, or so it says.

When you highlight what you need it automatically insert the text into your file.

Up your game with Markdown

What puts Writing Kit ahead of its competitors is its support for Markdown, a simplified HTML (web coding language). This produces a readable text file to work on, but at any time you can press an eye icon and see how the page would look in HTML, and save or export the HTML code without any extra steps on your part (see aside).

For links, Writing Kit pulls up a window that puts in the code automatically for you, and for the other common actions. So your writers don't even need to remember how to specify the code. They have an onscreen facility to format plain text as headings, rating, italic or block quotes as well as inserting links or images.

It seems ideal for writing blogs, for example.

Exporting to other programs

You can export your HTML directly to Evernote, Facebook and Tumblr.

For even more efficient working you can open the file up in Pages – as well as in PlainText, EasySign and Teleprompt + (which seems not so useful: I'd rather it did Textastic and Safari or Knowtilus (a Web Browser and Editor combined). But since the file exported is simply the plain text file with Markdown coding, I am not sure how much this helps you, except to carry out operations like search and replace.

You can get your file into Textastic (which has a preview and find/replace). You need to export the markdown code or the HTML to the clipboard and then call up Textastic, create a new html file (i.e. with an html suffix) and then paste the text into the program. However, my html5 coding such as articles and sections were created as separate paragraphs, with the coding inserted. Not so smart.

That said, it imports and reads HTML files without a problem, and allows you to mix Markdown and genuine HTML.

Sync with Dropbox

It gets even better. If you have a Dropbox account, you can save your file automatically into the WritingKit Dropbox subdirectory.

That is really handy for the iPad and iPhone user. It means you can pick it up from your ordinary computer without problems.

To make your files available to Writing Kit, simply put them into Dropbox's WritingKit subfolder.

Automatic saving

With WritingKit you don't even have to think about saving. It does that automatically every ten keystrokes.

It seems just adding cream to the cake to allow you to change default fonts and size in a plain text editor or replace the standard stylesheet with your own for the HTML. Note that you can't switch styles within the text.

Speed buttons

To simplify your Markdown coding tasks, Writing Kit's onscreen keyboard gives you a permanent row of buttons for the most common actions, such as headline, rating, italic, insert link, insert picture, code block, block quote and ordered/unordered list. If you have an external keyboard, this line stays onscreen at the bottom of the text.

Problem areas

Despite these advantages, Writing Kit has a number of problems for writers.

Deprecated style

Writing Kit uses inline HTML, deprecated in the latest version from the W3 Consortium: deprecated means they don't like it but browsers will still read it correctly. Its HTML is in conformity with version 4 (using strong and em instead of i and b).

Also, you have to put a double return to ensure paragraph returns. Otherwise, Writing Kit – like standard HTML – ignores spacing and runs lines together. You have to put a double space at the end of the line to get a single carriage return without line-feed. Nifty, but that means in Word you have to get rid of them if you don't want extra spacing all over the place.

The choice of # (atx-style) rather than = (Setext-style) to indicate headings is logical, but means you cannot use # for in-page links, since anchors are not part of Markdown in Writing Kit 2. For my writing work, that requires a lot of same-dic referencing this is a major drawback.

Scrolling bug

I've had some difficulty getting Writing Kit to scroll up as I type, since it doesn't seem to recognize that the easy-type line is at the bottom of the screen. You can consider it a hint to keep your texts short, if you want. But for me it's a bug.

FYI, if you are using the Logitech keyboard Ctrl-downarrow takes you to the end, even if you can't see it. A couple of return-key presses will usually bring the last line into sight. A duh-solution, it seems to me, good only for Homer.

Note, too, that when you press the HTML-view icon (an eye), Writing Kit takes you to the beginning of your text. So it is no good for flipping back and forth between Web-view and your text while writing.

Destructive styling

I am also not happy that when I use the styling bar it highlights the next work and destroys my it when I type, unless I deselect the word. I generally put my headings in afterwards, so this is a major bother.

No search and replace

What I find significant failing in the app is that Writing Kit 2 lacks a search and replace facility. It is a facility I use frequently in my work. For example, here I discovered late in the review that what I had been describing as WritingKit is in fact Writing Kit. There was no way to correct this except word by word.

The major rival Textastic does have a search and replace facility, as well as the ability to color-code files from various text formats (php, Javascript, etc.)

Keyboard or touch screen?

I similarly wish that having committed to working with a keyboard, I could stick with that for navigation and code entering, instead of having to hop back and forth between touching the screen and tapping the keys.

Both I don't mind, but having to call up the onscreen keyboard to enter \, the default escape character, and not being sure whether the up and down arrows will work is a real drawback.

So far as I can see, the easiest way to produce heading levels is to use the Alt key and 3 to produce #. But I haven't found a way to keyboard the \ (escape character).

For other quick ways of producing unusual characters with the Alt key, see my review of the Logitech keyboard. If you are an – (en-dash) fan, like most print publishers, try Alt+-. Alt+Shift+- gives you — (the em-dash).

PDF Guide

Writing kit has now produced a PDF guide online for using its gesture capabilities to move the cursor letter by letter or word by word, select paragraphs, indent and undent paragraphs or text selections, and undo or redo the most recent change.

By the way, as I learned from the AppAdvice review of text editors, as with many of the programs, you can save outside the default directory in Dropbox by prefacing the filename with /.


Better HTML compatibility

For the next version, I would wish it was more compatible with HTML5. I'd like an automatic way to add section and article ans aside code to my texts, without having to invest in TextExpander.

Fix dubious spellchecking

Though I write in English, I live in Switzerland and my Logitech keyboard is French-Swiss. When I switch over to the non-virtual keyboard, the spellchecker redlines virtually every word as wrong.

I love spellcheckers. I just wish Writing Kit enabled me to choose a different input language from the keyboard layout.

As it is, the very useful 'suggest' button that appears above a highlighted word and gives you the chance of finding a synonym is no use at all: it offers me only French possibilities.

I know this is an Apple problem, but it still needs fixing by software writers.

Toggle the formatting ribbon

And I do wish it would allow me to get rid of the formatting ribbon when I don't need it.

Final Rating

For these reasons I give it only three stars out of five, though all its other features make fit a strong contender for the writing tool of choice (it is already mine — Pages has more than I need for most jobs).

# PH 15 November 2011, updated 21 June 2012

Other reviews of Writing Kit

http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2011/05/get-writing-text-editor-is-a-mobile-research-room-for-ipad/ (May 2011, before Dropbox integration): at $5 "ridiculously cheap".