Erich got me an iPad for Christmas, and after an initial struggle getting the damned thing to boot up (neither one of us knew it would be completely non-functional until I registered for an iTunes account), I’ve grown fond of it. Not fond of it in the I-want-to-have-Steve-Job’s-baby kind of way that seems to grip a lot of people , but…fond of it.
But after playing a bunch of games and watching “The Two Towers” on it, I’ve begun to ask myself, “Is this all there is?”
My first attempt at making my iPad useful was copying my stories to the iBooks library, so I could proofread them. This had a nifty little feature, where I could tap on a word and a little yellow sticky note image would appear, which I could type revisions on. This was helpful, but of course the revisions weren’t actually being incorporated into the documents. I needed a way to make revisions directly in the documents, and preferably to do some writing, as well.
My friend, Claire, directed me to DropBox. DropBox is a cloud-computing program which is supposed to store your documents online, basically through Google Apps. You upload a document and it becomes available to the iPad, while you’re connected to the Internet. When you’re not connected to the Internet — which is the situation, when I’m at work, since there’s no wi-fi I can connect to there — it appears to store a copy on the iPad. Then it synchronizes later, when you’re connected again.
All well and good, except that DropBox isn’t an editor. To actually edit my files, I needed to get an editor. And not just any editor. It had to interface with DropBox.
Claire’s suggestion was PlainText. It was, after all, free. Unfortunately, it couldn’t understand .doc format, which is the document format I use for my writing. I could change the format I use, but I refuse. For one thing, I use italics extensively in my current novel, to denote dream sequences and words in the three languages spoken by humans and the gods. (Which, incidentally, Erich wrote for me. Did I mention that he’s frigging brilliant?)
So I turned to an Office app for iPad called QuickOffice. QuickOffice worked okay, except that I couldn’t figure out how to get it to interface with DropBox, setting the cursor in the correct place was difficult and there was no “undo” key. The latter doesn’t seem like a big deal until you accidentally delete something. Then it would be nice to just click a button to undo it, rather than re-type it. But no. That would be too easy.
QuickOffice also looked pretty grainy.
So I then bought an app called Office HD (neither Office app was free — they both cost about $10). This one quickly proceded to wipe out all of my paragraph indents, for no explicable reason. It did keep my italics, but then, so did QuickOffice. The look of it was a bit better, and it had more controls, including an “undo” button and the ability to place the cursor precisely, rather than tap around until your finger starts bleeding. (Tap, then hold your finger down, and a little magnifying glass pops up. You can then slide your finger around and place the cursor exactly where you want it.)
Getting it to interface with DropBox has been a challenge. I thought I had it set up correctly, but it kept failing to save. Or, worse, it would save one time, then fail a few minutes later, even though I hadn’t done anything differently. Erich fiddled with it yesterday and figured out that it works best if you open Office HD, then open the document from within the shared DropBox folder, and save it that way. What I’d been doing was opening DropBox, opening the document, then selecting the “Open in Office HD” button. This opened it, but when I tried to save, it kept insisting it had no idea where the document had come from, or that it was read-only. Silly me — I expected competent programming. Alas, it’s only 2011, and nobody can write a decent software program in these Dark Ages.
It’s still flaky. Last night, I typed for a while in bed, then saved. Then I typed for a few minutes longer, and attempted to save again. Once more, I was told that the document was read-only, and somehow, attempting to tell it where it should save to, I managed to close the document. Except that it didn’t “close” — it vanished. All of my changes were gone.
So, I cursed, which woke Erich. Then, after he’d gone back to sleep, I opened the document from DropBox, made my changes and saved without a problem.
Do I recommend using the iPad to write on? Not on your life. Maybe after I’ve hammered out these kinks — if they’re possible to hammer out. But come on, people! What were you thinking?