Paper is a unique macOS text editor for iA Writer and Word 2016 fans

The biggest risk for a startup is building something that nobody wants or needs. Competing in a crowded market can be tough, so if you’re developing an app that’s solving a problem already being addressed by 20 competitors, it must offer something different.

This is an area that Paper, a distraction-free minimal writing app for macOS, succeeds. It exists in a product category that’s littered with heavyweight apps all jostling for productivity aficionados’ attention spans; from old-timers iA Writer and Ulysses to newer entrants such as Bear. Luckily for the Estonian developer of Paper, anybody looking to beat writer’s block tends to be open-minded about trying new tools.

For a few years now I’ve written online articles using a combination of iA Writer (for interview transcription), chosen for its low input latency, and the Windows version of Word 2016 ran in Parallels (for article writing).

Some people hate Word’s ‘smooth cursor’ animation, but I’ve always thought that the effect syncs quite nicely with typing on a Topre mechanical keyboard. Bash keys at just the right speed and it’s possible to enter a kind of ‘Flow State’ where text can be hammered out effortlessly for long periods of time. It will sound ridiculous to some, but six years of being a journalist makes you appreciate the comfort that comes with using certain tools.

It may seem that I’ve digressed, but no: Paper is special because it’s the only writing app out there to combine the elegance of iA Writer with Word 2016’s animated cursor effect. But you won’t find it on the front page of the App Store; oh no: it’s likely to remain its best kept secret for some time.

When I first came across the app last year, my initial impression was ‘iA Writer on steroids’ — it looks almost identical and is equally as fast. Paper has, shall we say, ‘borrowed’ a few of the seven-year-old app’s ideas: Focus Mode darkens all text except for the line or paragraph that you’re typing, and Typewriter Mode positions the line you’re typing halfway down the screen at all times. Its word counter can be positioned along the bottom of the screen or inconspicuously to the left of the line being typed.

Paper differentiates by offering a number of ways to customise the editor view. Holding down the alt key reveals a number of hidden menus with sliders that let you tweak paragraph spacing, line length and height, in addition to text size (in increments, as opposed to iA Writer’s three options).

Like iA Writer, choices are limited to a black or white background, adjustable to various shades. And, where iA Writer offers a single font in Nitti Lite (two fonts if you count its duospaced version), Paper serves up a platter of 10 — five regular and five monospaced, including the clean and attractive San Francisco.

And then there’s Paper’s killer feature — its animated cursor, which can be activated in one of the hidden menus. Admittedly, it’s something of a niche luxury and getting rid may well be the first thing you do. But it’s a fact that no other distraction-free writing app on the Mac offers the feature, which came about after I asked Paper’s developer if they could bake it into the app. They duly agreed, and I helped test various iterations of the animated cursor until it felt like a natural addition.

Whether you’re looking for a more flexible alternative to iA Writer or want to get hold of Word’s animated cursor in another app, Paper is a fine choice that’s earned its place among its peers and deserves to be brought to the attention of more Mac owners.

Paper — £20, App Store (14-day free trial)