App Review: Essay for iPad

UPDATE: Essay for iPad was removed some time ago when the developer joined the development team for Evernote. His code was implemented in Evernote, so he shutdown development of Essay for iPad. I would recommend you check out Pages or Evernote as your alternative writing apps in the absence of Essay if you weren’t fortunate enough to get a copy while it was available. Without further ado, here is my original—outdated—review of the app that was Essay for iPad:

Writing tools for the iPad have come a long way. When the device was first released, there weren’t apps for writing text documents. You could use a few apps like the email app and the notes app to write, but nothing at great lengths.

Good writing apps have come along and they are getting better as their developers continually update them (usually at no cost for the updates to customers who already own a copy of the apps). I’ve been reading reviews for months to find just the write one for me (pun intended). I finally found the one I like, have used it extensively, and I’m glad I purchased it.

Review: Essay – Write in Style

If you’re familiar with PlainText for the iPad, Essay – write in style is very similar. Essay writes the documents you create in HTML. Because it’s formatted in HTML it can be opened in most any computer writing application after you’ve wrote something in Essay (via file sharing with DropBox) and the formatting will remain the same. You can add simple formatting like bold, italics, headers, block quotes, et cetera. Many other iPad writing apps don’t support these formats, which I think is ridiculous. Essay has printer options, a word and character counter, highlighter…did I mention the popular sync with DropBox? Essay has all the necessary features I need and not one superfluous function. Essay is simple and easy to use in just a couple minutes; minimalism at its sweet spot.

The design of Essay is all it needs to be and not a pixel more. It’s has simple blacks, whites, and grays to layout panels and tools.

What I like about essay most is the price/features balance. It’s just $4 at this time. Other writing apps like Pages have a lot more features, and cost more than twice as much as Essay. Yet, other apps that have less tools built in than Essay are going for $5 and higher.

One feature I see that it lacks that I want: when you copy text with styles already applied and paste it elsewhere, the formatting is lost. I thought this was a no brainer—that the formatting should carry over when I paste the text elsewhere. I gave feedback to Dirk (the developer) and he stated this is something that will be fixed in an update soon.

Have I mentioned that I love it when I can communicate directly with app developers? I do. Dirk is awesome.

Some have said that another con for Essay is the lack of support for many keybaord shortcuts. Dirk has found a clever way around the iPad’s limitations to give you many keyboard shortcuts, but don’t be surprised that the shortcuts aren’t as sophisticated as those on computers (I wrote it was “clever” before I knew Wired used that same descriptive term). Tablets like the iPad are not meant to be feature-rich like computers. That being said, the features Apple has made available to developers they will use. Keyboard shortcuts are not yet supported on the iPad because Apple has not made them available on the iPad to the extent you find them on Mac computers.

Here the Essay’s keyboard shortcuts are demonstrated:

I think I will be using Essay for all my iPad writing. It’s good for taking notes, writing blog posts, articles, and scripts I use for web TV shows. Is it as powerful as writing on a computer? No, and I don’t want it to be. Essay keeps it simple and refreshingly easy to focus on my writing. I want it this way when I need to escape my computers. Essay get’s my tasks done, and that’s all I need from my writing application.