That Writer Pro affair


It’s been a rocky launch for Writer Pro by Information Architects. The application is presented as an austere (I won’t use the term minimalist) writing environment for writers. It has a clean interface, and implements four ‘modes’ that represent a typical writing workflow:

Writer Pro’s simple workflow is built around how you work: Start with your ideas in Note, flesh them out in Write, progress to Edit for refining, then move to Read when you’re done. Rather than a limiting modal interface, these Workflow states act as environments to focus you on the task at hand. A document’s state syncs via iCloud across connected devices, and each state has a task-specific font and color.

The most notable feature in Writer Pro is Syntax Control: working in a similar way as iA Writer’s Focus Mode, Syntax Control “dims everything but the chosen syntax, helping you to control your writing style.” [I’m quoting again from Writer Pro’s website]. By way of a slider, you can highlight sentences, adjectives, nouns, verbs, prepositions, conjunctions, to check your writing style (if you’re using too many adjectives too often, if you’ve made repetitions, and so on). It’s a neat idea, and when Writer Pro was announced a few days ago, it made a great impression on me.

As you may have read (among other things, I’ve read this article by Jonathan Poritsky, this article at The Verge, and all the links in this post by John Gruber, who links to what’s probably the best summary of the whole situation), iA took a very protective attitude towards Syntax Control, a feature whose implementation the company considered original enough to submit a patent application for it. I don’t know if what prompted this protective attitude has been a suggestion from an overzealous lawyer in iA’s legal department, but what quickly developed over these few days has definitely been a series of public relations’ faux pas, raising criticism among developers and tech bloggers. Finally iA has decided to backtrack, publicly stating that they will drop their patents pending regarding Syntax Control.

Back to Writer Pro now. Yesterday my friend Donovan Bond asked me over Twitter if I had purchased the app, and my reply was: I was interested, but all the fuss that ensued has left me a bit put off. I mostly use Daedalus and the old iA Writer. I believe that other people in my position — prospective buyers of Writer Pro who followed the recent brouhaha over the ‘Syntax Control situation’ — are probably feeling the same way. I think it’s understandable.

While I may have lost a bit of enthusiasm towards Writer Pro, at least for now, I still believe it’s a solid app worth considering, that its value may become apparent over time, not after trying it casually for a few days. Instead, I also happened to read some other type of criticism towards Writer Pro from people who, expressing their disagreement about iA’s behaviour, have decided that they won’t buy their products, that they don’t intend to support iA in any way… and that Writer Pro isn’t worth the $20 anyway.

I’ve been wondering whether this attitude is fair or not. I don’t think it is.

Is the app expensive? By iOS App Store’s standards, yes it is. There is also a companion Writer Pro for Mac, which also costs $20. That is not particularly expensive for a Mac software. Of course it makes sense to want to purchase both apps (to take advantage of iCloud syncing, for example), and in that case $40 may feel too much for some. And I’m not arguing that. But what doesn’t feel right to me is dismissing an app, its value and its potential because its developer has acted in ways we don’t like or agree with.

What does the developer’s attitude have to do with how well an app is designed and built? In a rush to protect its work, iA has undoubtedly made a few mistakes and attracted criticism, and some of that criticism was valid and constructive, there’s no denying that. But how iA acted shouldn’t negatively affect how we consider a piece of software.

Sure, iOS complicates matters because you can’t try an app before you buy it. And when an app costs $20, you have to rely on how well the developer presents it. You have to take a leap of faith, so the process that leads to a final decision (you purchase the app, or you decide not to) is not entirely a cold, rational one. It’s understandable that some people choose not to purchase an app on principle[1], their message being something along the lines of: I dislike the developer’s attitude, so I won’t support them by giving them my money. In many cases, and speaking in general, I’m all for acting on principle — there are services and social networks I don’t subscribe to exactly because I don’t like certain policies or behaviours of the companies behind them.

But disparaging an app or a product because of something the developer said or did, well, ultimately doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. The whole Writer Pro affair was a bit sad to follow. Again, iA’s attitude deserved criticism, but I also noticed how quickly many have jumped on the iA-bashing bandwagon. I’m glad iA reversed its decision regarding the Syntax Control patent in the end, and that iA did so after considering the most constructive and informed criticism. What iA doesn’t deserve, however, is people trashing Writer Pro in the light of what happened around it. I may be okay with saying I won’t buy Writer Pro because I think iA are a bunch of morons and I don’t like their attitude, but I think it’s unfair to say I won’t buy Writer Pro because I think iA are a bunch of morons, I don’t like their attitude and the app is not worth $20 anyway. In the end, who knows, perhaps Writer Pro is really not worth $20, but I wish people weren’t so always ready to pass judgement.



  • 1. Or rage-deleting one, like some did with Camera+ after its developer attacked other developers in the release notes accompanying a recent app update.


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