Writing on an iPad Pro

Can you comfortably write blog posts on it? Maybe even a novel? Turns out: Yes, you can!

Welcome to my series about the iPad Pro and whether it is capable of being a laptop replacement. Spoiler: For the average user, it is. For professionals who need to get work done, it’s complicated. The hardware is brilliant, but it’s sometimes held back by the lack of software and iOS restrictions. Have you wondered about the iPad Pro’s functionality when it comes to writing long copy like blog posts or a novel? Then hear me out and wonder no more.


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Good news! While my verdict regarding the iPad Pro’s ability to replace your laptop has so far been a lukewarm “partially” for use cases like web development and wireframing, I’m happy to report that this is not the case when it comes to writing. I absolutely love writing on the iPad Pro! There are some excellent writing apps available and I don’t miss my laptop one bit. In fact, this blog post is currently being written on an iPad Pro. Sounds good? Then let’s start by having a look at my three favorite writing apps: Scrivener, Ulysses and iA Writer.

Three apps to rule them all

Scrivener, Ulysses and iA Writer are three apps that, to me, really stand out from the crowd. Combined, they offer pretty much anything a creative writer could ask for. Scrivener is most often touted as being the first choice for novelists; Ulysses and iA Writer as great apps to write blog posts and the like. Personally, I think you’ll be able to comfortably use all three apps in both scenarios. However, each app has a unique focus on what it wants to do best. So let’s have a closer look.

Scrivener

Scrivener started as a Mac application and was specifically designed as a tool that helps novelists to write a book – from start to finish. To accomplish that goal, it offers numerous ways to keep track of characters, themes, scenes, the overarching plot and all of these things that a novelist needs to juggle in order to write a cohesive and convincing story. The iOS version offers a great amount of functionality that closely resembles the desktop application, but it’s not quite there yet. While this is a fact that I thought you should know about, don’t worry: The iOS app does work great as a standalone version and has nailed the core functionality of its bigger brother. You are able to keep track of the scenes you have written and yet to write; keep an eye on the bigger picture of how the pieces fit together; keep track of your characters… there are plenty of great features that novelists will appreciate.

In Scrivener, what you write is organised in projects. A novel would be a project, for example. These projects can be stored in Dropbox and, if you also use the desktop app, synced across your devices. I know, this article is trying to answer the question whether an iPad Pro can replace your Mac/PC, but it’s a nice feature nonetheless. Especially, if you’re already working with Scrivener – because the Dropbox support means that you can easily import all of your existing projects. Keep in mind that this feature does require you to setup a Dropbox account, because the way that Scrivener organises and snycs its projects is, unfortunately, not compatible with iCloud’s backup/syncing functionality.

It’s also worth mentioning that Scrivener’s iOS app has, unfortunately, a few shortcomings when it comes to exporting your work. Well, exporting works fine if you want to get your text into an app like Pages or Word. If you want to format and compile your ebook inside the app though, you’re out of luck. Third party apps like the aforementioned Pages or the desktop version of Scrivener are needed in this case.

Ulysses

Ulysses could be described as a minimalist’s approach to reimagine Scrivener’s functionality. As I’ve already mentioned, it’s an incredible app for writing blog posts and the like. As a matter of fact, this article is currently being written in Ulysses. And once it’s finished, I can hit publish and Ulysses will automagically push this article straight into my Medium account. The same applies for articles that you want to publish on your WordPress blog. It’s super convenient. And something you can’t do with Scrivener. Unlike Scrivener, you can also compile your work as an epub file on your mobile devices. So in the case of Ulysses “minimalist” doesn’t mean “lacking functionality” – which I find commendable; and, personally, I’m really digging the minimalist approach. I also like that the mobile app is pretty much the same as the desktop version (Ulysses is iOS/Mac only).

Although I mentioned earlier that Scrivener has a slight edge when it comes to writing a novel, I’m confident that you can also manage to write one with Ulysses. For some, it might feel a bit restricting because the research options within Scrivener’s projects are better at visualising your notes and are a tad more fleshed out. Others won’t care – because they tend to keep their notes and research material in a separate app like Evernote or Microsoft’s OneNote. This comes down to personal preference. In Ulysses, you organise your projects in groups and sub-groups (they function pretty much like folders). So if you’re writing a novel, you could create a character group and store detailed information in a sub-group for each character. Or if you’re running a blog for example, you could have a group called “Blog” with three sub-groups called “Ideas”, “Drafts” and “Published”. You can move your articles, called sheets, freely from one group to another, meaning that once a draft is finished and you’ve hit the publish button, you can easily move it from the “drafts” into the “published” group.

Both Scrivener and Ulysses have loads of additional features that I haven’t yet talked about (word count goals, keyword tagging,…), but the information so far hopefully gives you a good idea what the writing experience is like on an iPad Pro. Both apps are a great choice for writers and they make writing on the iPad Pro a fun endeavour.

iA Writer

Last but not least, let’s have a look at iA Writer. Its features are pretty similiar to what Ulysses offers – like WordPress and Medium publishing or the fact that both apps are markdown editors – and even the user interfaces of the two apps look somewhat alike nowadays, with iA Writer probably taking a cue from Ulysses’ very intuitive app layout.

The main selling point of iA Writer was and still is its simplicity: Only two font options, no formatting, no fiddling around with themes – just you and the sentence you are writing at this very moment. That is what iA calls Focus Mode, an option that highlights the sentence you are currently working on while fading out everything else. It encourages you to keep going, sentence after sentence, without looking at what you’ve written so far which might disrupt your flow and tempt you to start editing. It was a brilliant idea and something that I’ve grown quite fond of. To be fair: Ulysses does offer a similar option called Typewriter Mode. However, unlike iA Writer, Ulysses also offers a multitude of options to customise your writing experience – something that you might welcome but also something that might distract you from actually writing. Therefore, if you’re the type of writer who gets really easily distracted, you might want to give iA Writer a shot.

An external keyboard is a must-have accessory

If you’re serious about writing on an iPad Pro, there’s no way around an external keyboard. You have two options: A keyboard that was specifically made for the iPad Pro and its Smart Connector (meaning it will be powered by the iPad Pro), like Apple’s Smart Keyboard and Logitech’s Slim Combo, or any other third party bluetooth keyboard – be it specifically for the iPad Pro or not. While Apple’s Smart Keyboard is among the more expensive options, I’d argue it’s also one of the best. The keyboard is incredibly lightweight and attaches with magnets – meaning you can easily get it on and off, depending on what you want to use your iPad Pro for. It’s what I personally use and even though typing on it is not as satisfying as the clickety-clack on a mechanical keyboard with Cherry MX Blue switches, I’m still very happy with it.

Alright, so there you have it. The iPad Pro is a great machine for writers who are looking for a Mac/PC alternative. It’s lightweight, portable and with Scrivener, Ulysses and iA Writer there are three excellent writing apps at your disposal.


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