Feature-Packed Writing With Writing Kit

I can’t tell you if there are a lot of people who write on iPhones or if a lot of writers work for sites like this, but we review a lot of writing apps regardless. Most of the time these apps are very minimal in design and frequently just as minimal in the feature department.

But sometimes minimalism just doesn’t cut it. Don’t get me wrong, I love being able to pop open an app and see nothing but my text. But sometimes you just need more functionality, and more functionality often means dropping the minimalist design. Writing Kit is one such app. It’s full of features that the minimalist writing apps are missing and has amassed its own legion of followers over the years. Is the app worth your hard-earned cash? Read on to find out.

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An Introduction

Writing Kit feels a lot like many other plain text-based writing apps on the App Store. It supports not just the Markdown syntax, but also Fountain, a plain text syntax for screenwriters developed by John August (writer of Big Fish and Frankenweenie, among others). There is an in-app preview for both of them, and to my knowledge, Writing Kit is the only app for iOS available with the ability to preview Fountain. If you write screenplays in that format, this app is an automatic must-have for you.

Preview exists for both Markdown and Fountain plain text documents.

Preview exists for both Markdown and Fountain plain text documents.

Writing Kit, like most writing apps, uses Dropbox as a file storage method. Unlike most writing apps, it has a built-in browser to support research while writing. It’s designed to get you to webpages as quickly as possible; there’s an in-app web blocker and even a Text Only view for webpages that works surprisingly well. Writing Kit’s browser gets bonus points for using Duck Duck Go as its search engine, which allows fully private searching without ads.

I customized typeface, font size and even the colour theme.

I customized typeface, font size and even the colour theme.

Writing Kit is meant to let writers feel as at home as possible, which means that it’s as customizable as all get out. I’ve changed the font, the theme and the typeface size (I love Helvetica Neue. I’m one of those people). I have to give credit to the developer for keeping its fonts as up-to-date as possible; it already features a new font for screenwriters with Retina displays called Courier Prime (it’s beautiful, by the way). It’s got a handy outline view that’s insanely useful, particularly for screenplays. Everything about this app feels fully-featured.

The Web Browser

The browser could merit a full review on its own because it is, in fact, a fully-featured web browser. In fact, if you really like it, it’s called Cyberspace Web Browser for iPhone/iPad and you can purchase it separately to use as your main browser in the App Store. But I’m not sure I’d recommend making it your main web browser, and although I appreciate its inclusion in the app for easier note-taking, I don’t think it’s all that great.

I find the browser isn't as reliable as it should be.

I find the browser isn’t as reliable as it should be.

The first problem is that it’s a little buggy. It gets stuck in landscape or portrait mode occasionally and force quitting the app is the only thing that could fix the problem. Although the app supports Instapaper, Pocket and Readability (and allows you to access your cue right in the app), it failed to authenticate my Instapaper account and there’s no easy way for me to log out and then log back in to try again.

Searching is done through Duck Duck Go, which is great, but some syntax is going to be too advanced for beginners and too simple for advanced users (such as placing an “!” in front of a website to search just that website specifically). Bookmarks are supported, but there’s no access to iCloud or Chrome bookmarks, which makes the whole thing feel sort of limited as a full-on web browser.

Quick search is a great idea.

Quick search is a great idea.

That being said, quick note-taking is supported with a Quick Search function. It’s meant to be used for things like calculations or fact-checking, and it’s great that it’s there. In all honesty, I prefer it to the actual browser. Most of the time, it brings up a quick result in Duck Duck Go and that’s it. If you find something you like in either the full browser or just from the quick search, you can copy it to the in-app clipboard and paste it into the document with a quick tap.

The Interface

Designing an app with this many elements must be an incredible challenge, and I’m largely impressed. There could be some small improvements in the colour scheme, which feels less like 2013 and more like 2008, but that’s a minor complaint.

There is a toolbar above the keyboard that is reminiscent of Byword, but a little less functional. Most of the important buttons are there, including quick access to lists, photos and quotes.

Note the toolbar above the keyboard.

Note the toolbar above the keyboard.

I’m particularly fond of the toolbar on the bottom of the screen when they keyboard is hidden. I’ve already raved about the Outline view, but that’s also where you’ll find access to the settings, quick search and export tools (and there are a lot of export options).

I love the Outline view.

I love the Outline view.

The Internet is accessible with a compass-like button on the top right. The browser itself is the most obviously crowded feature aesthetically. And that’s the only word for it: Crowded. Put into context, the entire app feels crowded on an iPhone interface (although it’s particularly more useable on the iPhone 5’s 4″ display).

The Final Word

I like Writing Kit. I don’t think it’s the only writing app you’ll ever need, but I do think it’s the one that could end up being one of the most useful. The Fountain preview is great, and Outline mode is particularly useful. I love how customizable it is.

But I think the app needs a quick fresh coat of paint. It needs to get rejiggered so it’s a little less cramped on the iPhone display. But more than anything, its browser needs a little work because I’m largely disappointed with it (but quick look is great).

When Writing Kit is great, which it is most of the time, it’s fantastic. It’s great to have access to tools you might need to use that Byword or iA Writer don’t provide. But when it’s not great, it’s often a mixed bag. I recommend using it alongside iA Writer or Byword for some of those more complicated projects. My setup is usingĀ iA Writer for basic text, but Writing Kit for basic research, outlining and screenwriting. At the end of the day, the developer is always working to improve it and Writing Kit is one of the better writing apps in the App Store. Recommended.


Summary

Writing Kit is a fully-featured writing tool that a lot of writers will appreciate, but its design could use some freshening up.

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