For the past few years I have been an avid fan of Scrivener for my writing. Until last year, however, I had held off using Scrivener as my primary writing tool. Instead, I’d typically create content in a Markdown editor, and import it into Scrivener to create structure for my projects.
The reason for this two-step process was Scrivener’s lack of an iOS version. The iPad is a wonderful writing tool. The screen is brilliant, it’s incredibly portable, and the on-screen controls allow for an remarkable amount of creativity in UI design. By the time I purchased my first retina display iPad, the writing process simply looked better on my tablet. So I wrote in Markdown, synced it to Dropbox, and manually imported text into Scrivener.
Over time things began to change. I acquired a Retina display MacBook Pro and successfully set up an externally synced folder for each my major projects. This allowed me to edit my material in Editorial on my iPad. Gradually, Scrivener became my default writing environment, and my iPad became my secondary editing machine. There were shortcomings to this setup. Externally synced folders, for example, show as regular text files – so the visual project structure was lost. I also never felt comfortable creating completely new content in the synced folder, as I didn’t trust the process. Still, it served me well and I was largely content.
Suddenly I have my document binder set up as I have it on my desktop. I can create documents and sub-documents and folders which will be available to me the next time I sit down at my MacBook. I can create new material on my iOS devices and not need worry about it messing up my project. I’m actually working with my Scrivener projects directly! It’s a thing of beauty. In fact, I wrote this post in iOS Scrivener using nothing more than the soft keyboard.
Things I really like
The design of this app is extraordinary for a initial release. There are numerous little touches which make the app a joy to use.
Pinch to zoom text
If the font is too small for tired eyes, or if you want to see more of your writing on screen, there is no need to drill down into menus to change the default font zoom. You simply need to use a two-finger pinch to enlarge or shrink the text. It just works, and seems to enlarge the screen font in point increments 1.
Customizable extended keyboard
As with many other text editing tools, Scrivener includes an extended keyboard row by default. This extra row of buttons contains several keystrokes which normally make an iPad typist change the keyboard state to access 2. It also provides access to Scrivener features such as footnotes, comments, and highlighting.
The brilliance of this extended keyboard, however, is in its customizability. The extra row contains three panes, each of which contains eight buttons. If a user doesn’t care for the default options, a long press on any one of these buttons will allow it to be re-mapped. I quickly set up a pane with several characters commonly used in Markdown. This customizability is extensive, but not complete. I couldn’t assign a button to the upward-pointing caret, needed to create MultiMarkdown footnotes, for example. Still, I can almost create a full Markdown keyboard in iOS Scrivener. It’s an amazing feature.
It’s even more simple in its iOS incarnation.
Unlike the desktop app, there is no dedicated outline view. Instead, when the move button is tapped in the binder, documents can be selected and shifted in all directions through the project using the appropriate buttons. The simplicity of this process blew my mind.
An outline view might be nice in future versions, as this would allow for each document’s synopsis to be displayed, but the feature as implemented is incredibly slick.
Things I miss
No app is perfect, and here are some things I miss in iOS Scrivener.
No Scrivenings view
On the Desktop, multiple documents can be selected in the project binder and displayed as one long document. This is called “Scrivenings view,” and is great for keeping the flow of material together.
Due to limitations in iOS, of which users were forewarned, this view is not feasible in Scrivener’s iOS incarnation. I’m bummed, but I knew this to be the case going in so it’s not something I’m upset about.
No Composition view
On the desktop, Scrivener’s Composition view may be one of my favorite writing environments of all time. I place one of my photos as a backdrop and the editor becomes a semi-transparent sheet laid over the image. All other screen controls are hidden by default, and writing becomes a place of bliss.
iOS Scrivener has a full screen mode, but doesn’t have the Composition view I have come to adore. It’s still very appealing and well-organized, but it lacks the “wow factor” I experience from the desktop experience. It’s far from a deal-breaker, and given the limitations of real estate in most iOS devices I understand it’s absence, but I’d love to see if it could be implemented at some point.
No ePub export
My first interest in Scrivener was, in fact, the ability to create eBooks using its compiler. Strangely, this is missing from this first release and I hope it appears in the future.
No Markdown or HTML export
While I tend to write in Markdown almost exclusively, I have to admit I’d love the ability to use Scrivener’s footnote and link tools when I’m writing. On the desktop this is possible, because I can export my content as either Markdown or HTML 3. I’d love these options to show up in the iOS version in future versions.
This is a no brainer. If you use Scrivener to write and own an iOS device, purchase this app.
- Scrivener’s final output is determined in the compile step, so zooming the font has no real impact on the final look of the content. ↩
- Such as smart quotation marks and common punctuation. ↩
- Even on the desktop I don’t actually work this way, however, because it requires me to save the content as a file and copy from there. I would much prefer being able to export the compiled text to the clipboard for pasting elsewhere. I do understand why Scrivener doesn’t work this way. The first time someone tried this with a 400,000 word project their computer would melt and people would get angry. I’d still love to be able to do it. ↩