The iPad is a computer, and most computers have text editors. There are many stellar examples for the iPad, including Simplenote and iA Writer. For me, the choice is PlainText from Hog Bay Software. Here’s why I love it and how I’ve set up Apple’s TextEdit to take advantage of it.
It’s beautiful. Call me fickle, but looks count. I’m going to spend a lot if time staring at this app, so it should look good. The typography is fantastic and everything is clear and legible. A documents list on the left occupies 1/3 of the screen, while the currently open file takes up the remaining 2/3. This is true in both landscape and portrait orientation. You can easily dismiss the list and go full-screen with the current file if you like.
There are few settings to fiddle with. Tap the gear icon and you’ll find view options (sort by name, creation date or modification date) and an option to display file extensions. Finally, you can toggle all-caps headings on or off. You won’t be incessantly tweaking ultimately inconsequential details because, frankly, there aren’t any. There’s also a debug mode and TextExpander integration if you’ve got that installed.
To create a new document, you simply tap the new document icon. To create a new folder, tap the new folder icon. You can re-name a document or folder whenever you like. To begin typing, tap inside an open document to produce the keyboard. Saving occurs behind the scenes.
That’s all there is to it, folks. PlainText looks great, works well and has a friendly, legible UI. That’s 90% of what I need.
PlainText is on the growing list of apps that use Dropbox for synchronization. Setup is easy. Select Dropbox from the settings menu and enter your account information. PlainText will create a directory called PlainText at the top level of your Dropbox, and present you with several synchronization options:
- Sync on edit
- Sync on launch
- Sync on Open File
- Sync on Open Folder
I’ve got them all turned on so everything is saved all the time. The best thing is that, if you make a terrible mistake, you can browse each file’s revision history at dropbox.com.
Back on the Mac
Of course, the directory and all of its contents are accessible from any machine that’s hooked into my Dropbox account, including my Mac. That means I can use my favorite Mac OS text editor, TextEdit, to open and work on any of the files. Note that PlainText will only play nicely with plain text documents. By default, TextEdit creates rich text documents. But that’s easily remedied.
Open TextEdit and select preferences. Click the New Document tab and select Plain Text under Format. Close the preference pane and you’re done. You can now create a new plain text document with TextEdit to the PlainText directory and it will be available to read and edit the next time you launch PlainText.
The tipping point for me is that PlainText allows me to use my current workflow unaltered. As I said, TextEdit is my favorite Mac OS text editor. PlainText lets me use it as I always have. Likewise, I’m quite reliant on Dropbox, and PlainText brings that to the table, too.
Basically, PlainText invites the iPad into my workflow; it does not require me to force my workflow around my iPad.
PlainText is free with ads, $4.99 without. My advice: part with the five bucks.