When any new technology is introduced, one of the more condescending pieces of criticism that is often leveled against it, is being accused of being a toy, a trifle to be fiddled with, not a tool to be taken seriously. I think that one especially hurts, particularly those of us who want to take the iPad seriously, who see the gleaming potential of these shiny new technologies. We see it as a tool for productivity as much as it is a toy for entertainment.
But to be a true tool, an asset for the working professional, you need the right software. And if you’re a writer, there’s nothing more important than a good word processor. The word processor as a genre has had a long and storied history in the realm of personal computing. It was one of the first categories of software to appear on PCs, it’s become the yardstick any new era of computing is measured against. Is there a competent word processor? Can “real” people get “real” work done on it? And the post-PC era is no different.
While many companies, Apple included, are migrating their desktop apps into a form for the iPad, some enterprising smaller businesses are seeing an opportunity. They’re looking to make a name by approaching the iPad for what it is: something new. The app is called Daedalus Touch. The developers are The Soulmen. And they’re rethinking the text editor.
First, A Little History
In case my introduction wasn’t enough of a history lesson for you, there’s a subtle lesson in the name that The Soulmen have chosen for their next-generation text editor. When I started researching the app, making notes referencing it, etc., spell check wasn’t autocorrecting it. According to the built-in dictionary, it was a real word. And I wasn’t quite sure why.
Now, before the comments start filling up with those of you who actually paid attention to Greek mythology in school, understand: I figured out what Daedalus means. Actually, I discovered who Daedalus was. Most of you have probably heard of his son, Icarus. Yup, the with guy with the wax wings…
Well, Daedalus was Icarus’ father, and he was the one who made those wings for his son. In Greek the name means skilled craftsman, or artisan. For those of us who make a living crafting words, the analogy is clear, and encouraging. Why wouldn’t you want to use an app whose name literally means a skilled craftsman, an artisan. It’s a beautiful standard to reach for, isn’t it.
The Features, The Interface
In my estimation, an app lives and dies on its interface. It’s one of the things that Apple’s tried so hard to ingrain into this new post-PC era of computing. That we’re moving past features for features sake, and that implementation, and elegance in design are equally important qualities in good software.
Daedalus Touch is right at home in that world. The Soulmen have crafted a beautifully minimal, yet highly functional interface. Inline with Apple’s recently announced approach to documents and files, Daedalus Touch doesn’t use files in the traditional sense. They’ve taken a step back to a more analog metaphor: stacks of paper. Your pieces of writing are stored in stacks. Those stacks contain an infinite number of “sheets”.
You navigate throughout the app using gestures and tap sequences. You switch between stacks by swiping left and right. You enter a stack by double-tapping it. Once you’re in a stack you get a zoomed out view of the sheets within that stack. Again, you navigate by swiping, and you can view a sheet by double tapping.
Once you’re in a sheet, you’re ready to start writing. The UI is minimal, a simple toolbar across the top with some useful buttons, including controls for the typography of the editor, word and character count, and a popover that lets you open an in-app browser for researching purposes. That feature alone – an in-app browser – could win over a lot of professional writers.
Extending the sheet-stack metaphor and a gesture-centric UI, you can create a new sheet by swiping from right to left when you’re at the bottom of a stack. If you’re creating a lot of documents, or switching back and forth between a handful, Daedalus’ approach lets you be quick and efficient, utilizing everything that makes the iPad such a game-changing device.
Oh, and did I mention Daedalus offers full-text search across all of your stacks and sheets. And it’s quick too.
That’s a big one for me personally. A lot of my text document workflow relies on full-text search. I’m so happy to see The Soulmen put so much thought into their implementation of it.
A Wireless Workflow
No self-respecting next-generation text editor would be complete without some kind of cloud integration. The big one being Dropbox. Daedalus lets you import and export stacks. They come in from Dropbox as a folder of text files, and they leave in the same way, letting you round-trip with any of your current favorite text editors on any platform. Considering the cottage industry that’s sprung up around Dropbox-based text editors, it would be easy to lump Daedalus Touch in with them. But Daedalus isn’t just another Dropbox-enabled text editor. It syncs with MobileMe too.
Now, seriously, Daedalus is in a great position to implement a lot of the things Apple recently debuted with iCloud. In fact, I think the app will only get more useful and more powerful as iCloud becomes a reality and starts to form the backbone of a lot of professional writers’ setups. At it’s heart, Daedalus is banking on the same future Apple is, one without a filesystem.
Wrapping It Up
In case you couldn’t tell from the last 900 words, let me spell it out: I love Daedalus Touch. I think The Soulmen have a really great handle on what it means to be a text editor in the post-PC era, and as a freelance writer it integrates beautifully into my Dropbox-syncing text file based workflow.
I really can’t wait to see where they go from here. It’s a killer 1.0 app, and a welcome addition to my writing life.