Looking around the Apple section of Microcenter, I overheard a conversation someone was having with a sales person about buying an iPad. Apparently the customer has concerned about the "Great American Novel" he was writing and whether the iPad could handle it. The sales associate suggested converting the novel to RTF (Rich Text Format, an older file format for Microsoft Word) then using the RTF with Apple's word processing app, Pages. This isn't a bad solution, but a couple of thing occurred to me. One--why switch to RTF? Pages will import Word files direct and skipping the unnecessary conversion may well preserve graphics and table information that would otherwise be lost. On the other hand--why assume the laptop goes away? It's probably paid for and getting rid of it isn't going to get you much. Why not continue to use it at home and use the iPad when you are mobile. Since the author didn't seem to mind switch to RTF (I'm guessing the novel doesn't contain much graphics--most don't), it makes sense having the project readily available to both machines. You just need to use Dropbox so the RTFs are accessible, and an iPad app that supports editing RTF documents... an app like Textilus from knowtilus. This way you don't lose any functionality, and gain the ability to work on the novel when inspiration strikes.
Bringing in Word Files
RTF is Microsoft Word's legacy file format (it's first file format), and it tends to be recommended when you need to maintain maximum compatibility. However RTF is a very old format too, so it isn't surprising for you to encounter documents from newer versions of Word. How well does Textilus handle importing them?
Above is a sample Word file in the Mac version of Microsoft Word. Note that even the Mac version sometimes has problems reproducing an exact representation of a Windows Word document. Most people live with the differences... what choice do they have?
This is a RTF conversion, so as expected the graphics and table information is gone. However the numbered lists also seem to have lost their formatting too. Bold, italics, and other character styles seemed to have translated well. Paragraph alignment has also been honored. While the table formatting has been removed, the table data itself has been preserved. While you wouldn't want to import documents this way periodically this isn't bad for a one way conversion.
As a comparison above is the same document imported into Apple's Pages app. You can see much greater document fidelity. Graphics, tables, formatting... all preserved to a greater degree.
Why not use Pages, then? Well, repeated document conversions tend to cause weird things to happen. They all add more steps to a workflow that you want as seamless as possible.
Syncing RTFs via Dropbox
Dropbox is a cloud storage solution that works really well connecting multiple machines and people together. For iOS it also works really well as a common document storage location, allowing you to share data between apps. Here we are going to use it to keep our desktop and iPad synced with a common RTF document. Obviously get an account, install Dropbox on your desktop, and get the app for your iPad. Next launch Textilus and link your Dropbox account. In the Documents screen, tap the Gear icon for settings. Then tap Link Dropbox.
On your desktop place your RTF document in /Dropbox/Apps/Textilus. Dropbox will then sync it to all your computers and devices.
I used a e-book conveniently available in RTF. See the document on both machines below. On my Macbook Air, I use the free TextEdit application. Don't use a Mac or don't use TextEdit. Use whatever RTF application you like.
Make a change in one document and they also happen in the other. Be careful with paragraph styles though, since Textilus doesn't support everything changes to them may get lost. I added a column width in TextEdit that not only wasn't reflected in Textilus, but wiped out when Textilus synced back the document. Sometimes this also happened with paragraph alignments.
What Textilus Does Well
- Textilus allows you to import, edit and save your content in one of the most compatible document types which preserves basic formatting (like font styles, paragraph alignment, headings...). This may documents created with this app will open and be editable in most word processing programs on any device (including desktop computers).
- You can use the standard iOS software and hardware keyboards, and use Siri voice dictation (if your iPad supports it). It also adds a custom bar to the interface that allows to easily input special characters, add formatting and styles.
- iPads are connected devices, and Textilus allows you to lookup reference material in Google, Wikipedia.
- There is basic Find and Replace, Document Statistics, and the ability to convert your content on the fly to HTML (web formatting--so you can easily paste it into a blog cms or other internet service).
- Dropbox support is important to me and our potential novelist. With it we can save and sync our files with all our connected devices and computers. That way the latest version is always available and up-to-date! The first 5GB of cloud storage is free, and is probably enough for most people. If you are interested in using your iPad for more than content consumption you need Dropbox!
What Can and Should be Improved
Textilus main purpose it to be a RTF word processor, so I'm not going to ask for features that would make it impossible to use RTF as it's native file format. Most RTF documents don't support graphics and table, so it's pointless asking for them. If you need this you should consider using Apple's Pages app or something that supports Microsoft's latest Word file formats. That said Textilus can be improved.
- The Magic Cursor UI needs a sensitivity setting. Finger dragging your curser over text is too jumpy for me. I found it hard to move the cursor to an exact position. Selection controls are also difficult to discover. I like the idea of the UI, but think the standard iOS method is easier to use. Maybe I just need to get use to it.
- Better paragraph formatting -- tab stops, indents, and margin setting are all available in RTF. The app seems to display them pretty accurately from other programs. It just don't allow you to fully edit all of them yet. The latest update has brought the ability to set paragraph line spacing, so the update direction is good.
- Better style sheets -- the basic Word styles are there, plus you can add three custom one. Since many formatting setting aren't editable and/or you can't associate them with a style, complicated documents will have to simplified. Modifying document styles were also difficult to discover. They are hidden in the Text Style UI.
- Dropbox support is a bit weird. Textilus maintains a special folder in Dropbox (that's kinda expected), but it syncs that folder with a special area on your iPad. While this may allow you to work offline, it add way more complication to the process. I added a couple hundred small RTF documents to the special folder and the app became very unresponsive. Most other apps let Dropbox handle the syncing and are much faster with large document collections. If you have large numbers of documents I recommend keeping them in a different area and use the Dropbox app to move them into Textilus's area when needed.