iA Writer: An Astonishingly Simple Way to Write

The concept of a minimalist writing app is nothing new. These programs abound on the Mac, and it seems like everyone has a different take on why or why not these programs do or do not work, including myself. So what makes iA Writer so different?

Instead of just rambling on about it, I decided that for this review I would write the entire document in iA Writer and see how it works in the real world. Is this the best writing app for the iPad, can it possibly eclipse Pages? Let’s take this show on the road and find out.

The Concept

IA Writer is a minimalist writing app. The concept is that a good writer needs an area to write that’s free of all distractions, so they can concentrate on just the writing, and not the formatting of the page or how cool the fonts are.

Regular mode keeps the menu bar up top and all the text visible.

Regular mode keeps the menu bar up top and all the text visible.

To do this, iA Writer uses a few different tools to optimize the experience. The big one is called Focus mode. Touch the little padlock in the top right corner of the screen and all of your previous text fades away – only three lines are left visible.

The spellchecker and all formatting options disappear as well, because the idea here is that you want to focus on your writing, not on the superfluous things that stop you getting the job done. After all, many writers find themselves bogged down in the minutiae of the traditional word processing program, spending 10 minutes or more trying to figure out if Helvetica 11 or Futura 12 would better represent their words.

Focus mode keeps only the last three lines of text visible, making it easier to work.

Focus mode keeps only the last three lines of text visible, making it easier to work.

The Typing Issue

The first hurdle to overcome is typing on the iPad, something that was looked at in length here. It should come as no surprise that attempting to write out long-form essays on a touchscreen can become frustrating at times, while the obvious solution of pairing the iPad with a Bluetooth keyboard makes the device considerably less portable.

But with iA Writer, the keyboard is different. Up top there’s a pair of keys that orient the cursor either in front of, or behind, the word. This alone makes the app worth the cost, because it minimizes having to touch the top portion of the screen to move the cursor around.

The most commonly used punctuation marks are in a row, as well as a pair of arrows used for navigating around the document. It’s not surprising that in the app’s FAQ that people have asked if they can switch the standard Apple keyboard to this format, because it’s a welcomed improvement!

The intuitive controls don’t stop there, you can even use a two finger swipe to the right or left to Do/Undo!

Although typing in portrait mode is doable, landscape mode is much faster.

Although typing in portrait mode is doable, landscape mode is much faster.

In Practice

So how well does it function in the real world? The more I use the program, I’m realizing that I like it in spite of all of its selling points. 

I feel pretty strongly that I should be able to write in the middle of a hurricane if life presents itself that way, so a minimalist writing app for the sake of productivity doesn’t mean squat. But, what I do like are the little things.

The font reminds me of an old typewriter, and while I’m too young to have used one for regular writing, I do remember using a typewriter before my house had a personal computer back in the 80s – and this experience seems to evoke those memories.

File management is pretty simple on iA Writer.

File management is pretty simple on iA Writer.

Another particularly nice feature is the word count and time in the top right corner of the screen. The time is supposed to indicate how long it would take someone to read this document, which really means nothing to me.

But the word count is a frequent need of mine, as almost all of my work has a minimum or maximum count that I need to keep in mind. And since it’s all out of the way, I can just glance at it quickly instead of it becoming the focus of my article.


One of the biggest selling points to me about the program is its Dropbox synchronization. After going through a small setup process, every doc you write in iA Writer syncs with your Dropbox account – making it simple as pie to transfer your documents from your iPad to your Mac or PC. 

The only real caveat here is that the syncing isn’t automatic. There’s a refresh button in the corner of the folder window that you have to hit to update the files. A change in iA Writer doesn’t automatically mean the file in Dropbox is going to be the same. That’s something they say they’re working on, and I hope they work it out pretty soon myself.

IA Writer checks for Dropbox sync problems, and prompts for a fix when necessary.

IA Writer checks for Dropbox sync problems, and prompts for a fix when necessary.

The Verdict

I bought this app for myself because, not only did my writer friends give it rave reviews, but I wasn’t happy with Pages. It’s not that Pages doesn’t do a good job, it’s just that navigating the page seems touchy at times, and it’s difficult for me to get things done.

After typing on it for the past few days, I can honestly say that I like iA Writer; Not for the minimalist properties or the fancy Focus mode, but because it’s a genuinely good word processor.

Yes, leaving out font choices and formatting options makes it quicker and easier to get things onto the screen, but a truly good writer shouldn’t have to rely on a minimalist writing app to keep them on task. Here, it’s the keyboard that makes it all worth it. That extra top row saved me tons of time typing, something that I couldn’t have done in Pages.

If you’re a writer, you should seriously consider giving this app a shot. It’s cheap, it functions well, and makes writing on the iPad just that much better. For me, it added an extra feature to my iPad that I had previously dismissed, the ability to truly write – and that makes it worth more than the cost, that’s for sure!


A minimalist writing app for the iPad that's packed with great features. It could completely change the way you view writing on the iPad!