What Scrivener on iOS means to me

Posted on Sat 16 July 2016 in Articles • 6 min read

Tl;Dr: it's about convenience and getting the job done!

It feels like my (creative) life's been on hold and oddly that's spilled over into other avenues: notably my choice of computer platform. Lately, I've been writing more and that writing's been in Scrivener again. Currently that means I have to choose been Scrivener on Mac (and thus be chained to my desk) or Scrivener on Linux (which sucks, but means I can use my Laptop). In short, I've been feeling the need buy a new device.

I've been at a crossroads between the Mac (and iOS) and Linux since 2014 when I bought a Acer C270 to replace my MacBook Air. I didn't go all Linux - I still have a Mac mini and I bought an iPad mini in 2015 - but the convenience of the laptop form-factor meant I was using Linux more that OS X.

Since then Apple's made some questionable decisions and for many people that's justified a switch. They've launched a product I don't like and they've hiked their prices in Australia. The two Mac models I love most (the Mini and Macbook Air) have an unclear future. Yet, they've also managed to improve the stability of OS X considerably with successive point releases of El Capitan. They've also released two very compelling tablets to wide acclaim.

On the other hand, my experience with Linux has been, at best mixed.

... desktop Linux environments have not been as satisfying to write with as OS X ...

Linux is arguably a much better development platform. I appreciate how well it performs, even on the meekest of hardware. However, desktop Linux environments have not been as satisfying to write with as OS X. This is mostly due to the hard graft Apple's done with Core Text, their powerful system-wide spelling and grammar checker, integrated Oxford English dictionaries and their elegantly designed interface that puts typography at the forefront. These are all lacking in desktop Linux, which is comprised of different, and often competing, application toolkits: use a QT app on a GTK-based desktop and you'll know what I mean.

It's macOS and iOS's underlying technologies, part of the Cocoa framework, that make apps like Scrivener and Ulysses so much better than anything available on other operating systems. Even Scrivener itself is not as good on Windows as it is on OS X. More significantly, Scrivener's been put on indefinite hiatus on Linux.

Like many, I've been waiting (and waiting) for Scrivener on iOS. The promise of it has kept me on the Mac. Then, when my kids wrecked my Nexus 7 last year it made the decision to buy an iPad easier. More recently, when I cracked my Nexus 5's screen I didn't go looking for another Android phone; instead I bought my wife a new iPhone SE and took over her old iPhone 5S.

Excitement has been building on the Literature and Latte forum ever since Keith Blount, the creator of Scrivener on OS X, decided to roll up his sleeves and develop the iOS version himself after a slew of third-party developers failed to deliver. It's undergone alpha and beta testing and Keith's been blogging a series of how-tos in anticipation of the release.

At last, Keith has announced that Scrivener 1.0 for iOS has finished baking. It's been approved by Apple and will be released on the App Store on the 20^th^ of July.

To say I'm looking forward to Wednesday is an understatement. No more third-party hacks and apps, no more syncing binder collections to flat-file folders, no more putting rich text through the ringer and hoping the formatting survives. No more creating notes in separate apps when I'm commuting on the train. Finally, we will have the officially blessed iOS app that will store our Scrivener projects in our pockets with their structure intact and with access to many of Scrivener's defining features.

For me, Wednesday's release also means that finally I can resolve my nagging indecision. If Scrivener for iOS is even half as good as I hope then any lingering doubts I have about returning fully to the Apple fold will be gone. My next decision when I buy a new device won't be Mac vs something that can maybe/kinda run Linux; it will be, do I get a Macbook or an iPad Pro?

My time with Scrivener on iOS will no-doubt go a long way to answering that question. It's a question that in essence has been asked many times in different ways but boils down to, can the iPad replace a laptop for productive work?

Naturally, that's down to individual preference and need. Before I owned laptops that were light enough to carry everywhere, I used to write with Palm PDAs using a folding IR keyboard. By contrast, the iPad mini is to the Palm what a Honda Odyssey is to a Model T Ford. The needs of the professional writer are easily met by the hardware of today's mobile devices and there's no shortage of people who actual prefer iOS as their primary operating system over macOS and Windows.

I've already had a taste of what's possible. I use Editorial to write content for this blog and last year's Nanowrimo. Pythonista gives me a means to create DIY solutions and simple apps. I've edited Pages and Numbers documents and have used Keynote for work presentations. I have the Slack client installed along with Working Copy for Git. Coda and Prompt open up the possibilities for web development and accessing my server.

I know iOS is sufficient for what I do.

I'm still on the fence but it wouldn't take much more than a breeze to blow me into the iOS camp. With Scrivener on iOS I don't need two Macs. If I bought a MacBook Air it would replace my Mac mini rather than my iPad, or more accurately the Mac mini would be relegated to a home server. A second Mac doesn't add anything new to my arsenal beyond the portable form factor. By contrast, an iPad Pro offers not only portability but also opens new possibilities for drawing and editing with the pencil.

Then, and perhaps most controversially, there's Apple's future direction. Although macOS is still ticking along, Apple is not showing the commitment to the Mac platform as they once did. The Mac line-up is looking ancient, and while it's fit-for-purpose (mine at least), it's obvious to those who study the Mac's refresh cycles its future is not looking very promising. It's not difficult to imagine a world where the Mac is relegated to a niche, professional machine used by iOS developers and die-hard Final Cut and Logic users.

Getting back to Scrivener and it's obvious to me that porting it to iOS was vital to it's long-term relevance in a market where competitors like Ulysses and Storyist have already nibbled at Scrivener's market and mind share. The demand's been there ever since the iPad's début. There's also calls (and plans) to create an Android version.

Whether mobile devices represent accessories or replacements to laptops and desktops is immaterial. Most people understand on some level that the best computer is the one you have with you when you need it. This realisation killed compact digital cameras and a host of other analogue and digital relics whose functionality have converged into smart phones and tablets. I rarely carry a laptop with me, but my phone and iPad are rarely out of arm's reach. The same applies to software. Scrivener for iOS won't be as fully featured as its macOS counterpart but it will be more convenient for me and a great many people.

Convenience always beats performance in the end.

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