iOS Scrivener Two and a Half Years On #amwriting

The truth: I hardly use iOS Scrivener any more.

It’s just too limited compared to Mac Scrivener (or even Windows Scrivener). I can never see the aspects of my project that I really want to see. There’s no Scrivenings mode. There are no collections. The Corkboard only ever shows one level of one folder. Keywords and custom metadata are missing.

It goes on. I self-publish, and the facilities to produce a manuscript that’s ready to upload to Amazon and Smashwords just aren’t there. The iOS Scrivener compiler has few features compared to Mac or Windows.

As for research, I don’t use Scrivener at all for that. I use Evernote instead. It’s much easier to find what I need there, and I can display Evernote on a second screen on Mac. On the rare occasions when I use iOS Scrivener these days, I can split the screen between Scrivener and Evernote. I really don’t like my research crammed into the same app as my manuscript. (N.B.: This is Scrivener heresy. One of its heavy selling points is keeping research and manuscript together. I’ve tried it. Every third project, it seems, I try it again just to see if it works better than Evernote. The answer has always been no so far.)

So iOS Scrivener doesn’t work well for me for either planning or publishing. Its lack of easily configurable overview makes it less than ideal for drafting. The only time I find myself using it is when I want to jump start my actual word production for the day by using handwriting recognition. But since I found a workaround to use handwriting recognition with my Mac, I don’t even use iOS Scrivener for that any more.

It’s not a bad app, iOS Scrivener. I like it. If Mac Scrivener didn’t exist, or if I had only an iPad, it would be my writing app. But as I have a lovely tiny Macbook Air 11, I just don’t use it.

Bummer.

Mazec Handwriting Input Keyboard for iOS Review #amwriting

Fashions in apps change. When Apple introduced third-party on-screen keyboard apps back in iOS 8, they were mostly productivity enhancements. Hopeful developers put tons of swiping keyboards, fast thumb-typing keyboards, and handwriting recognition keyboards on the App Store. I bought a lot of them. What I wanted was—and is—a way to use handwriting as input for iOS Scrivener.

Using Mazec for handwriting input in iOS Scrivener

Now almost all the keyboards I can find on the App Store are for putting little pictures in your texts. The developers have taken almost all the productivity keyboards I’ve bought and/or reviewed off the App Store. But here’s one that’s survived, that I bought recently:

Mazec English Keyboard, $9.99 USD on the App Store

My summary:

Overall ****
Recognition *****
Punctuation ***
Setup ****
Ease of Use ***

First, please understand that all third-party soft keyboards labour under multiple handicaps, since Apple does not permit them to access dictation or some other Apple-provided keyboard features. Further, in order to access their own internal preferences and build custom dictionaries, these keyboards must request full security access. If this freaks you out, these keyboards aren’t for you.

In addition, handwriting recognition as an input method for English has problems. It’s not as fast as hardware typing by a factor of at least two. By using a swiping keyboard (SwiftKey is still available and maintained, if you’re interested) you can get much faster on-screen input as well. I consider handwriting input as special-purpose only. I use it for getting myself started when I’m fighting “writer’s block.” As soon as words are flowing, I switch to something faster.

Now, on to my review.

Recognition

Recognition of my crummy cursive handwriting is the best of any these keyboards I’ve tried, including the late and much-lamented MyScript Stylus. I could get decent recognition from the PhatWare products (Penquills and Write Pad for iPad) by carefully informing the apps of which strokes I used to form each letter—but with Mazec this is unnecessary.

On the other hand, Mazec is difficult about non-dictionary words. It just doesn’t seem to add new words without a lot of repetitions in block letters. There’s no way to manually add new dictionary words, either. But after a while it does seem to learn.

Punctuation

Punctuation is a problem with these keyboards, and Mazec is no exception. Hashtags, quotes, bullets, underscores—expect to go back through and correct punctuation with the default Apple keyboard or a hardware keyboard.

Setup

Setup is minimal. There are no themes and few options. Fortunately it works well as installed. But if you insist on dark mode, it doesn’t exist.

Ease of Use

All the other handwriting keyboards I’ve used have some means to allow continuous writing. Either they automatically insert after a short delay, or you can insert the recognition buffer by going back and writing over its start.

Not so with Mazec. You must tap the insert button occasionally. It’s a mild irritation for me and an impediment to my workflow, but not so very bad as handwriting input is slow anyway.

Editing is not as nice as MyScript Stylus. There are no editing gestures. The delete button will let you erase the last gesture, the last word or the whole recognition buffer. One thing that is nice is the built-in cursor move arrows—which make editing practical, if not fun. Mazec is about equal to the PhatWare products in ease of editing.

Conclusions

If I had to start with a handwriting input keyboard now, Mazec is perfectly serviceable. But I’m going to keep using MyScript Stylus and the PhatWare keyboards as long as they still work.

Scrivener v. iPhone XS Max? #amwriting

Does anyone out there have both a new iPhone XS Max and iOS Scrivener? If so, would you please open a Scrivener project on that XS Max while the phone’s in landscape mode? The tutorial project will do.

In landscape mode, you should see a display similar to this, with both the Binder and a document displayed:

But at least one person on the Scrivener forum reported that it wasn’t available—that only the binder or a document would show in landscape mode, not both.

Would you please let me know whether you see a side-by-side Binder and document via comment or email? (you can use my contact page form.) I’m very interested, as I’m contemplating my next iPhone—and I’d prefer a nice iPhone 8 Plus that shows the binder to a fancy iPhone XS Max that doesn’t.

Aeon Timeline on iOS—Thoughts on Scrivener Workflows #amwriting

A moment has arrived that many of us who use both Scrivener and Aeon Timeline have long awaited: Aeon Timeline is available on iOS!

Scrivener and Aeon Timeline Meet on iOS

The iOS version of Aeon Timeline seems robust and full-featured; I can do almost anything with Aeon Timeline on iOS that I can on the Mac, with a few exceptions:

  • Screen real estate is cramped on iOS screens, so it might take several screens of information to display what’s available on one screen on the Mac. Don’t get me wrong; the display’s neither crowded nor sparse, and there’s nothing missing, but you might have to tap a couple of times more to see all three of your story arcs, for example.
  • Import and export options on iOS are limited—I suspect in large part due to iOS sandboxing.
  • I can’t sync with Scrivener.1 For that, I have to get back to my Mac.

Nonetheless, since I do use Scrivener on both platforms, and have built a timeline for my Scrivener project in Mac Aeon Timeline, having Aeon Timeline on iOS is wonderful.

  • On the iPad, at least, I can split my screen between Scrivener and Aeon Timeline. Thus, I can see all the information (dates, keywords, arcs, locations, tension) for my Scrivener docs that iOS doesn’t know about—while I’m looking at my Scrivener project. Even on iPhone, that data is now available even if I can’t have Scrivener on the screen at the same time.
  • On iPad or iPhone, I can now actually edit that data, and it will get incorporated when I get back to my Mac, sync Scrivener with iOS Scrivener, and then sync Scrivener with Aeon Timeline.
  • If you’re an iOS-only user, only titles, labels, and synopses would be synced anyway since you don’t have keywords or custom metadata. I’d suggest creating a timeline in Aeon from scratch, copying and pasting titles. You could still set up your dates, locations, arcs and tension in Aeon.

Thank you, Matt at Aeon Timeline, for this great little iOS app!


  1. Not syncing with Scrivener on iOS makes sense. Scrivener keeps the desktop project version largely unchanged on iOS, sequestering mobile changes in a special mobile area inside the project. If iOS Aeon Timeline starts messing with it, there’s a real possibility that it might create Scrivener sync conflicts. No one wants that. 

Scrivener for iOS — Best Practices for Syncing @ScrivenerApp

2016-07-14 11.57.44
Learn to love it — Scrivener’s “Syncing with Dropbox” screen

You’ve just bought Scrivener for iOS! Yay! You’ve downloaded it to your iPhone, iPad, or iPod.

The first thing I suggest you do is carefully read and work through the Tutorial project that’s included with Scrivener. Especially I suggest reading the “Syncing” section carefully, and setting up your Dropbox sync folder to your satisfaction. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Urgent update 20 July 2016 11:49 AM PST:
There’s enough confusion about this on the Literature and Latte forums, that I’ll mention it now — do NOT use the “Sync with External Folder” option in either Mac or Window Scrivener to move your project to Dropbox for iOS Scrivener! That’s for lesser editors, not iOS Scrivener. For iOS Scrivener, just move your entire .scriv project (looks like a file on Mac, like a folder on Windows) to the folder inside Dropbox that you’ve chosen as your sync folder. Or copy it, or use “Save as…” from the File menu.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled blog post…

Are you frustrated because sync seems clumsier than in other iOS apps you’ve used, or because it’s not on [insert favorite cloud service here]? I get it; while it’s better than trying to use the older External Folder or Index Card syncing facilities from Mac to iOS, it’s still hardly a set-and-forget service. (Index Card in particular was a challenge…) If you’re curious about the technical reasons it’s the way it is, and in particular why it’s not on iCloud, I suggest reading the post Scrivener for iOS: Syncing on Literature and Latte’s blog.

Okay! You’ve selected a folder (or decided to use the Apps/Scrivener default folder) on Dropbox. You’ve maybe synced a copy of the tutorial project to it. Here are my suggested best practices for syncing.

Dropbox Hygiene:

  • Keep your sync folder clear! Everything in that folder gets downloaded to your iOS device, and there’s no point in taking up space on your device for files Scrivener can’t use. Only the Scrivener projects that you want to work on in iOS Scrivener and a few adjunct files (fonts, format preset files, and compile appearance files) should live there. If you’re like me, you’ve got a ton of Scrivener projects and an elaborate filing system already set up. I’ve chosen to move my active work-in-progress (WIP) projects to the sync folder, and keep aliases to them in their usual spots in my hard drive’s directory. Cluttering your sync folder will make your initial sync longer and uses space on your iOS device’s storage.

Mac and Windows Scrivener Setup and Projects Setup:

SkitchBoth
In the Backups section of Preferences:

  • Turn on Automatic Backups, and check the “Backup before syncing with mobile devices” option. If hard drive space is a problem, turn on the “Compress Automatic Backups” option and set the “Only keep… xx backups” limit to a number that won’t overwhelm your space.

In the Import/Export section of Preferences:

  • Turn on the “Place documents affected by sync into a ‘Synced Documents’ collection” option.
  • If you like, turn on the “Automatically show the ‘Synced Documents’ collection after a sync” option.
  • I recommend against the “Take snapshots of updated documents” option. A copy of any conflicted document will always get saved in a “Conflicts” folder, and if you have your automatic backups set as above, you have a backup of your entire project before sync as well. Those unneeded automatic snapshots will start slowing up your downloads and taking much space on your iOS device if you do a lot of back-and-forth between iOS and your Mac or PC.

General changes you may want to make to your project (Optional!):

  • Keywords and custom meta-data can’t be accessed in iOS Scrivener. If you use these a lot, you may wish to store that information in your synopses or your document notes instead.
  • Project Notes also are not accessible to iOS Scrivener. If you’d like to have these available on your iOS I suggest making a top-level folder called “Project Notes” and moving all your project notes files to ordinary text files kept there.
  • Get rid of any snapshots that you don’t need. The old means of syncing Mac to iOS in particular resulted in a lot of automatic snapshots being created. These will get synced to iOS Scrivener but aren’t accessible there, and so will take up your device’s storage space and slow down your initial sync.

iOS Scrivener Setup:

Go to the iOS Settings App. Yes, that’s right, the main settings app for your device. Scroll down your list of apps and tap on Scrivener. There are many options in here that just aren’t discussed in the iOS Scrivener tutorial. Feel free to play with them, but for smooth syncing there are a few you’ll want enabled.

settings

  • First, Tap on Syncing and Sharing to reveal the options we want.
  • Be sure that “Auto-Detect Changes” is set to ON. This means that you will always be notified on the Projects screen if there are changes you need to download to your iOS device.
  • I suggest setting “Sync Projects on Close” to Always. This option makes saving your work back to Dropbox almost automatic.

You have some choices with “Warn if No Wi-Fi.” (This lets you limit cellular data usage without turning it off completely.)

  • If your data plan is generous and you’re not worried about running through it, choose “Never.” Now, every time you close a project your changes will be uploaded to Dropbox automatically, by Wi-Fi if available, and via cellular data if not.
  • If your cellular data plan is moderate and you need to worry somewhat about overage charges, choose “Over 10MB.” Now small changes (such as an afternoon of typing text) will be synced automatically as above. If you’ve accumulated more than 10 MB of changes (such as several big PDFs added to your research folder) and you’re on a cellular connection, Scrivener will display an alert that will let you wait on your upload until you’re within reach of Wi-Fi.
  • If you need to count every byte of bandwidth, choose “Always.” If you’re on Wi-Fi, changes will be synced automatically. But, if you’re on a cellular connection, you’ll always see that alert that lets you wait until you’re on Wi-Fi. If it’s critical that your changes get uploaded to Dropbox now, you can go ahead and do that via cellular data anyway.

Workflow Suggestions:

  • Always, always close your project before switching devices! On Mac or Windows, that project is both saved and synced to Dropbox by closing its window. On iOS, navigate back to the “Projects” screen. You’ll invoke the “Sync Projects on Close” option, and your changes will be uploaded to Dropbox with minimal intervention on your part.
  • When leaving your Mac or PC, wait to be sure that Dropbox has finished uploading your changes! This isn’t a problem on your iOS device, as the “Syncing” screen will stay visible until Dropbox is done, but checking your Dropbox app on Mac or PC to be sure that “Up to Date” is checked, will save — not your data, you can’t lose that — but your time to resolve conflicts.

Next up: Scrivener for iOS — How to Resolve Sync Conflicts

Literature and Latte Break the Silence @scrivenerapp #amwriting

The Scrivener Teaser Trailer  https://skyfire.vimeocdn.com/1467161308-0x147a2c2043b300e3d3c8977ba402c29968b54417/171898734/video/554074950,554074947,554074945,554074942/master.m3u8
The Scrivener iOS Teaser Trailer
The video says what I as yet cannot.

Pause it. Take it half a second at a time. Savor the features. It’s the real deal, the video that will be featured in the App Store entry for Scrivener iOS. It’s what I’ve been living with since mid-April.

Also check out these blog posts on the official Literature and Latte site:

Once Literature and Latte give the Official Word that beta testers may talk about features, I’ll be discussing each one of their posts, letting you know about best practices that we beta testers have discovered in testing, and talking about how to handle anything that might seem awkward or not provided (which will be damned little.) I have these posts already outlined, and my finger is hovering over the “Post” button.

Feel free to ask me questions — if I can’t answer them now, I’ll save them up for when I can.

In the words of Calvin (by Bill Watterson) “This is gonna be good!”

iOS Scrivener Beta Chugs Along #amwriting @ScrivenerApp

It’s in Testflight and it’s real
“No screenshots and no discussion of features…”

Nonetheless, iOS Scrivener is moving. Literature and Latte have widened the beta this week, and several dozen new pairs of eyes are looking for “unexpected results” (cough, cough, bugs) or even “It works (this way) on the (Mac/PC) and it’s confusing when it works (that way) on iOS…”

iOS Scrivener is much cleaner than it was when beta started, and it was pretty darn clean to begin with. Some of my fellow beta testers are disappointed that they haven’t been able to find any bugs…

I want to say publicly what I posted privately on the beta forum:

I’d like to express my professional admiration, Keith, for the amazingly small storage footprint of iOS Scrivener. 7.5 MB! Dear Heavens! With all the functionality you’ve managed to stuff in? If you told me you’d found a way to store part of the app in hyperspace, I would not be surprised. [futher effusive praise snipped]

Well done.

Other things being equal, a smaller app is a faster app. It’s also an app that leaves precious device RAM (the stuff the mobile device manufacturers don’t brag about because it’s so puny) to hold and work with your documents. That said, I’m sure it will grow a bit as it’s polished for release. No, it doesn’t have quite all the bells and whistles of Mac/PC Scrivener, but it has a lot. It should be usable as a stand-alone (neither PC nor Mac) composition app. It should work just fine even on a minimal storage device (so long as that device is big enough to hold your project(s).) I’m happy using it on my iPhone 5c, and obscenely delighted with using it on my iPad Air 2.

You’ve got a treat coming, folks. Wait for it.