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iA Writer 5.2: Better Typography and External Library Locations

As I wrote in my roundup of must-have iOS apps, I’ve been using iA Writer as my text editor, primarily because of its integration with Working Copy, beautiful typography, and syntax highlighting mode. As a non-native English speaker, I find the latter particularly useful when editing articles. iA Writer was updated to version 5.2 last week, and I’d like to point out a few welcome enhancements in this release.

Once again, the folks at iA have focused on improving the app’s typographic options in this version, and the results are fantastic. In addition to mono and duospaced fonts (iA Mono and Duo, which were based on IBM Plex), iA Writer now comes with Quattro, an iA-designed font that supports four widths for a cleaner presentation of text, especially on mobile devices. The developers have shared a lot of technical details about the new and redesigned fonts in a blog post (if you’re a type nerd, I recommend going through their explanations), but what I can say is that I instantly fell in love with Quattro. To my eyes, it retains the legibility of a monospaced font but shares similarities with a proportional one, making everything a bit more compact on the iPhone and iPad. With Quattro, iA Writer saves space on smaller screens, which I appreciate when editing a story on the iPhone or iPad in Split View. I still alternate between Quattro and Duo, but I find Quattro to be an overall superior choice for my editing needs.

From left to right: iA Mono, Duo, and Quattro.

From left to right: iA Mono, Duo, and Quattro.

iA Writer 5.2 comes with a fully rebuilt export option for Microsoft Word (which is also compatible with Pages and Google Docs), but I haven’t used it because, as I mentioned before, we share articles with the MacStories team using GitHub. Still, it’s pretty remarkable that iA Writer can generate Word documents with support for local images, footnotes, tables, and more – so if you’re into that sort of thing, I recommend checking out the new option under the app’s ‘Export’ menu. I’d love to see EPUB support (with customizable templates) in a future update as well.

What I’m really happy to see in iA Writer 5.2 is the same kind of open-in-place integration for folders that Working Copy received last month. Called ‘Library Locations’, this feature allows iA Writer to open any directory from the Files app – including folders from compatible third-party storage providers – and keep them “synced” as external locations in the app’s library. This means you can add any folder from iCloud Drive, repository from Working Copy, or directory from a third-party app that supports open-in-place and make changes to files contained in them directly from iA Writer, without importing or duplicating them.

TextEdit's iCloud Drive folder, opened-in-place with iA Writer 5.2.

TextEdit’s iCloud Drive folder, opened-in-place with iA Writer 5.2.

iA Writer already was one of the few apps to support open-in-place for individual files, but extending this integration to entire folders from other apps is a major step forward that puts iA Writer on the same level of flexibility as Working Copy. Want to edit notes from Drafts’ iCloud Drive folder in iA Writer? Just add it as an external location and, as you export notes from Drafts, they will appear in the bookmarked folder in iA Writer too. The same applies to any other folder from iCloud Drive: for example, I imported the Shortcuts and Scriptable folders from iCloud Drive as locations in iA Writer, so now I can edit text files used by those apps with the same text editor I use for everything else.

Adding a folder from iCloud Drive as a library location in iA Writer.

Adding a folder from iCloud Drive as a library location in iA Writer.

As you can imagine, I’ve also added various repos from Working Copy, which lets me edit articles from the MacStories team in a text editor that supports a custom template that looks just like the MacStories website. 1 If a folder contains image assets in addition to text files (as was the case for a recent story by Stephen that he shared via his repository in GitHub), you can tap the file in iA Writer’s library to preview it in a popup.

A repository from Working Copy as viewed in iA Writer after it was added as an external library location.

A repository from Working Copy as viewed in iA Writer after it was added as an external library location.

This is not MacStories, but a custom, MacStories-like template in iA Writer.

This is not MacStories, but a custom, MacStories-like template in iA Writer.

The biggest downside of open-in-place for folders, as I mentioned last month, is that it’s up to third-party developers to support the feature in their apps, and in my experience most of them don’t. Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive, for instance, won’t let you open folders from other apps such as iA Writer or Working Copy. Furthermore, Apple’s Files app doesn’t offer any indication as to which third-party apps support open-in-place and which aren’t compatible with it: I’ve often found myself selecting an external folder from a third-party app in Working Copy or iA Writer only to discover, via an error, that the app didn’t support open-in-place at all.

Thankfully, good Files citizens such as iA Writer, Kodex, and Working Copy exist, so I’m able to accomplish the majority of my document-related tasks with these apps. However, I can’t help but feel that this situation could be improved by Apple if they required third-party Files extensions to support open-in-place or if, at the very least, the Files app provided some kind of status indicator for external locations that are not compatible with open-in-place. There’s nothing iA Writer can do to work around these limitations for now; the app tries to make the best out of a fragmented ecosystem of apps that integrate with Files on iOS.

I continue to be impressed by iA Writer’s blend of an “opinionated” design with support for native platform features that are too often eschewed in favor of proprietary solutions by some third-party apps. Besides its beautiful typography and best-in-class syntax highlight for parts of speech, iA Writer is among the few apps that take advantage of the full spectrum of Files APIs in the modern iOS, which is something I’ve increasingly come to rely on for my work. The combination of iA Writer and Working Copy yields what is, quite possibly, the most useful, integrated, and versatile writing environment I’ve had on iOS in years.

iA Writer 5.2 is available on the App Store for Mac and iOS.

  1. iA has documented how you can create your own templates here↩︎

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