Ever since I started using an iPad for some of my work in June, 2011, aside from Web browsers, the most-used app on my tablet has been the PlainText for Dropbox text editor. PlainText has been my mainstay Jack of all trades text application on the iPad ever since — save for a hiatus I’ll explain in a moment. I expect that it is likely so for many iPad users who, like me, rely on Dropbox is the nexus of their digital ecosystem to keep files synchronized, backed up, and accessible from all their connected machines. In my case the four Macs I have in daily service and the iPad. Well, currently more like three, because the hard drive failed in the 17 inch G4 PowerBook my wife has been using for the past four years as her daily driver, so she’s taken one of my two 14-year-old Pismo PowerBook G4 machines to tide her over. My plan is to hand the iPad 2 off to her when I upgrade to an iPad air or maybe an iPad Pro if I (and she) can hold out that long. I digress.
Anyway, I’ve often wondered what I would do without PlainText, and recently upgrading to iOS 7 created an “opportunity” to find out, at least in practical terms. Hog Bay software did release and iOS 7 upgrade of PlainText, but it turned out to be virtually unusable for practical purposes. I wasn’t enchanted aesthetically with the interface appearance change, but that was tolerable. What wasn’t was waiting up to two minutes for the app to open or reopen from the background, and/or for the page to refresh — partly due, I presume, to OS 7 being more demanding of the iPad 2’s puny memory capacity. I could still use PlainText, but it was exasperating waiting out the relentless refresh lags, especially when switching back and forth working with another app. The iOS’s lame app switching that Apple has the audacity to call “multitasking” is bad enough at the best of times, but this was ridiculous.
Consequently, it’s understatement to say I’m happy to report that PlainText has been fixed. It’s not back to the kind of smooth, polished, quick-responding performance it had in iOS 6, but the page refresh has been reduced to a few seconds, which is a a huge improvement, making the app comfortably usable again.
There’s also a new WriteRoom-like keyboard with an extra row at the top displaying dedicated keys for commonly-used punctuation marks and such, plus a couple of new keys at the ends for moving the cursor. A nice, incremental productivity tweak, although I still wish a quick access n-dash had been included, along with a case change toggle button.
There is a rudimentary search function, but PlainText still lacks a decent and speedy search engine, OS X Spotlight being a feature I really miss using the iPad.
Scrolling is still a bit rough and hesitant, but I suspect that issue would disappear on a faster device than my old A5 iPad 2. Incidentally, PlainText also works with iPhones.
Back in November, Hog Bay’s Jesse Grosjean posted a blog saying:
“I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not the right developer for PlainText. I’m now looking for another developer take over the project….
“I’m very hopeful that PlainText will find a good home where it will get the developer attention that it deserves. Last year it made a bit over 30k in ad revenue and its single IAP, and had about 450k downloads. I hope this will attract a good developer who can carry on the torch better then I can.
“Even with this recent disaster of a release I think it’s in position to do better, if given the right attention. I just spent 4+ months rewriting the app. It now has modern iOS 7 foundation. It supports iCloud. It uses the official Dropbox sync framework. And it has three new features as in-app purchases in addition to the original ‘Remove Ads’ purchase. It needs a few rounds of interface updates, but the foundation is solid and ready for the future.”
Now the really good news is that Plain Text is usable again with the recent release of version 2, and the app has been acquired by Jonathan Jordan’s 433 Labs, who appeal to users to be patient while they “make PlainText great again.” in the meantime, in-app-purchases (ie: no ads) are temporarily being offered free in PlainText 2. Jesse Grosjean says PlainText 1 will no longer be developed and will soon be removed from the App Store, and he’s hopeful Jonathan will have time to give PlainText more attention than he himself has recently.
Here’s what they are doing:
1. WriteRoom for iOS is free while they work on updating PlainText. It has all the same features as PlainText 1, plus extras. PlainText users are advised to switch to WriteRoom if they rely on PlainText 1 features.
2. The new developers affirm that they’re taking user feedback seriously and getting PlainText 2 back to the level users expected, noting that the problems are fixable, but they caution that this will take some time.
PlainText user interface features include:
FOLDERS keep your documents organized.
PAPER-LIKE INTERFACE keeps the focus on your text.
Extended keyboard – quick access to special keys
Passcode – keeps your documents secure
Syncing – Dropbox and iCloud
Universal – works great on both iPhone/iPod touch and iPad
Working with plain text files provides universal access to your files.
Want to edit you documents on your computer? No need to own expensive word processing applications.
Want to edit your files from anywhere? Setup Dropbox syncing and signup for a service like TextDrop (https://www.textdropapp.com/) to access your files from anywhere.
Want formatting? Markdown preview coming soon
Coincidentally, just as I finish, file, and post this review of PlainText 2, the LightWay Text folks in Japan have announced a free iOS device text processor called iWriters that has a raft of cool features and links directly to Dropbox and/or Evernote.
You can find my news article introducing iWriters and a download link here:
I’ve only had a chance yet for some early days iWriters interface exploring and experimentation, but my first impressions are overwhelmingly positive. I may have a new favorite iOS text app. The interface is easy on the eyes and highly customizable. Just because you’re working in plain trext shouldn’t mean that aesthetic austerity must reign. The keyboard is superb, and does include Case/Capitals toggling and a dedicated n-dash key. The only keyboard function still wanting is a forward delete key.
All iWriters functions perform smoothly and instantly, in contrast to PlainText 2’s hesitations, waits, and raggedy scrolling performance. In other words, iWriters performs a lot like PlainText used to before iOS 7, only with a lot more features. PlainText still has some advantages over iWriters, though, notably it’s wonderful and transparent automatic Dropbox saving and synching. That said, iWriters looks beautiful and performs great. My suggestion is to try both of these apps out and go with the one you like best. Personally, I’ll definitely keep using both, as they’re different enough to compliment each other.
PlainText 2 requires iOS 7.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. This app is optimized for iPhone 5.
For more information, visit:
PlainText 2 (433 Labs):
PlainText (Hog Bay)