OmniWriter breathtaking, but a little clueless

Spoiler alert! OmniWriter is the latest in a line of apps claiming to provide writers with a “distraction free” environment. But it may simply remove the standard distractions only to introduce others. The interface is gorgeous, but the app may be like the date you show off to your friends while you take someone else home to see your mother.


OmniWriter claims to be an app for writers, but it’s really more of an app designed to coddle and nurture budding young pre-writers. In many ways it reminds me of a very old SNL skit about nurturing birth with dim lights and warm bath, soft music, soft towels and everybody whispering. The idea is to bring the poor confused infant into the world with as little shock as possible.

Then Elliot Gould pulled out the jazz band and they tossed the baby back and forth like a football because real babies needed a harsh introduction to the cruel, real world.

This expresses my visceral reaction to OmniWriter. Real writers don’t need the soft music and nurturing backgrounds. In fact, most would probably find all the fru fru distracting. Not all of us, but, I suspect that most of us would.

OmniWriter goes several steps further than iA Writer and Daedalus when it creates what it believes to be the ultimate non-distracting environment. The app allows the user to choose between soothing backgrounds and a host of New Age music loops. With headphones on you should be able to tune out the world and let your words flow from your fingers.

One of the truly innovative designs is the floating virtual keyboard. You can move it just about anywhere on the iPad screen (in landscape mode at least, you can’t use it at all in portrait orientation) and enlarge the keyboard if you have bigger fingers. You can even adjust the transparency to see more of the background and text.

The floating virtual keyboard is marvelous. You can move it just about anywhere on the screen and resize it (to a point) to fit your fingers.

On the other hand, if you have tiny fingers you’re probably out of luck. The keyboard won’t reduce beyond the standard virtual keyboard size.

The developers haven’t done much with the keyboard layout, however, so it remains as clumsy as the Apple virtual keyboard. They really could have taken a tip from iA Writer who adds an entire row of common keys, such as apostrophes and quotes above the standard letter keys.

Fortunately, the app works fine with bluetooth keyboards, and you can even type with the app in portrait orientation. The only limitation is file management. The file editor doesn’t recognize the keyboard so you have to use the virtual keys to name and rename files.

OmniWriter allows you to customize just about any aspect of the interface by touching the wrench icon on the keyboard. You can choose one of four typefaces (including a script face, which is another indication this app was never intended for professionals) and four sizes from standard 12 point to a very large 24.

OmniWriter allows you to customize your background, typeface and even background music. The loops sound very good through headphones.

OmniWriter remains a pure text editor at its core, so novice writers should be aware they can’t format text. They can only change its appearance onscreen.

File management could be better. OmniWriter does have it’s own file folder, but no way to synchronize with Dropbox or Mobile Me. Other than the iTunes hookup, you are limited to email to move your files off disk. The developers seemed to focus more on interface design, using a pretty envelope metaphor. I prefer features.

And the file manager itself is a little clumsy. OmniWriter does provide a help window explaining the management tools. However, I spent several frustrating minutes trying to successfully save changes to a file name. This is after the frustrating fifteen minutes I spent trying to actually change the file name before I realized the manager doesn’t recognize the keyboard.

Finally I noticed the tiny (almost infinitesimally small) check mark at the bottom of the envelope window. I suppose the artist didn’t want the button to interfere with the beauty of his design.

The file management interface design is nice, but you can’t backup files wirelessly and actually changing file names can be a little bit of a challenge.

The app also needs to incorporate TextExpander. Sorry, but one of the best ways to help a writer streamline the process and focus on her writing is to allow her to not retype the same phrase constantly. Like the app name “OmniWriter,” for instance.

There seems to be a market for writing apps that encourage writers to focus on their words by removing formatting and feature choices. But I’m not sure OmniWriter hasn’t gone too far in the other direction. Sure, I don’t get distracted by formatting and writing feature clutter. But I’m not sure writers won’t be any less distracted choosing the perfect background and music loop to enhance the writing ambience.

Jenny Manytoes rates OmniWriter

Jenny Manytoes would take a nap next to OmniWriter. And I agree. This strikes me as the kind of app that will appeal to young writers who hang around writers conferences and read all the writing books and are still waiting for the mood to strike them before they can fashion that first perfect sentence.

But it sure is pretty.

The Jenny Manytoes Rating System

Jenny Manytoes, our polydactyl cat

  • When Jenny makes biscuits on a product she thinks she’s in heaven.
  • When Jenny purrs over a product she’s very happy.
  • When Jenny naps next to a product it’s okay with her.
  • When Jenny bunches her tail she can live with a product, but she has higher expectations.
  • When Jenny leaves it in the litter box….I don’t think I need to explain this one.
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About Phillip T Stephens

Phillip T. Stephens disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle twenty years before he was born, creating a time travel paradox so confusing it remains unspoken between physicists and sci-fi writers to this day. Follow @stephens_pt
This entry was posted in 3 Stars - nap, Journaling, Text Editors and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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