Text editors have enjoyed a renaissance on the iPad. Especially with a bluetooth keyboard, the iPad is an ideal tool for bloggers and other writers on the go.
There is no shortage of terrific iPad text editors from which to chose. Many early text editors focused on creating a stripped down writing environment with simple formatting tools similar to the distraction free writing environments that have become so popular on the Mac. As iPad text editors have evolved, many have expanded to add support for services and tools like Dropbox and TextExpander to further ease the writing and publishing process.
London-based developer Anh Do stepped into this crowded field with Writing Kit adding a whole new dimension to the genre -- integrated research tools.
It's a Text Editor. . .
First and foremost, Writing Kit (iTunes link) is an excellent text editor with deep Markdown integration. Markdown, which was developed by John Gruber and Aaron Swartz,
is a text-to-HTML conversion tool for web writers. Markdown allows you to write using an easy-to-read, easy-to-write plain text format, then convert it to structurally valid XHTML (or HTML).
(via Daring Fireball: Markdown) Writing Kit is not the first text editor to add Markdown support, but its solution is particularly elegant. Like Elements, Writing Kit includes a preview mode that displays your source markdown text as fully-formatted HTML. But Writing Kit also adds a row to the top of the Standard iPad keyboard that adds nine types of common markdown syntax, including syntax for headings, bold, italics, links, images, code, block quotes, bulleted lists and numbered lists, completely obviating the need to drill down two keyboard levels to find, for instance, the hash tag needed to create a heading.
Writing Kit also demonstrates that there is still room for innovation in the crowded text editor field. Tap with one finger in the left margin to move the cursor one character to the left. Tap with one finger in the right margin and the cursor moves to the right one character. But use two fingers in the left or right margin and the cursor jumps a whole word to the left or right, respectively. This is a fantastic way to ease navigation without further cluttering up the UI.
Also interesting is the ability to adjust the type size by pinching and zooming. This is a clever feature, but it's a little hard to control precisely and the animation is a little laggy, both of which take away from the experience.
Although Writing Kit does support TextExpander, its main shortcoming is its lack of Dropbox support, which has become a feature that text editor geeks expect. The good news is that the developer's website says Dropbox support is coming soon. Until then, Writing Kit supports export through iTunes file sharing or email and uploading to a number of blogging services such as Tumblr and Posterous as well as Evernote.
With Research Tools Built In
What really sets Writing Kit apart is its integration of research tools. There are two primary paths into the research tools. The first is via a Quick Research button in the navigation bar, which triggers a popover search field. Search on a term and Writing Kit provides a definition, Wikipedia entry and search results from the Duckduckgo search service. Highlight some text, tap it and Writing Kit gives you the option to copy it into your document complete with a link and attribution (see the quote from Daring Fireball above for an example).
The second research tool is a full in-app browser. As you research, you can queue up links for later review, add items to Instapaper or Read It Later, open previously-saved Instapaper items, convert web pages into easy-to-read text using Readability, manage links in popular bookmarking services and share items through a host of services. The brilliance of this approach is that it eliminates one of the most distracting and onerous aspects of writing on an iPad -- the constant switching between apps to consult reference material. With Writing Kit you can do all of your research in the app, accessing links and articles saved elsewhere, and then publish directly to a number of popular services like Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook.
I have experienced a couple of crashes and at one point could not invoke the full browser without first fully quitting the app, but aside from those hiccups, the in-app research experience has been excellent.
Like Peanut Butter & Jelly
Writing Kit's solid markdown support and powerful research tools go together like peanut butter and jelly. I can see this becoming the go-to app for many bloggers and when Dropbox support is implemented, you should be able to combine Writing Kit with Notational Velocity for a great desktop/iPad writing combo. Writing Kit is a terrific 1.0 version that brings a number of innovative features to the party that cannot be found elsewhere. With the promise of DropBox support in the near future, it's a tool that should be in every writer's arsenal.
You can buy Writing Kit for $4.99 on the iTunes App Store here.