Thoughts on the First Week Since Release

It’s been about a week now since the first version of UX Write was approved for release on the App Store. This has been one of the most intense weeks of my career — it’s the first time I’ve released a commercial product, and had more than a small number of beta testers using the app. Many people have contacted me with questions and comments, so I thought I’d address some of these here.

When developing an app like this, it’s difficult to decide exactly when it has crossed the line from “not ready” to “ready”. I could have waited a few more months and had MS Word support and other features in for 1.0, but I believe it’s better to release a piece of software as soon as it has the minimum level of functionality needed for people to start using it. I’ve already had lots of useful feedback, which will result in a much better app a few months from now than if I’d continued development in a vacuum.

Here are the most common issues that have been raised:

Auto Correct only works for US English

I’ve received a lot more interest than I’d expected from users in non-English speaking countries, particularly within Europe. Understandably, their #1 complaint has been the lack of auto correct support for their native language. Evidently I miscalculated the demand for this feature, and probably should have spent the extra couple of days required to implement it before releasing. It’s basically just a matter of UI support for selecting the language, since all the language dictionaries and word suggestion logic are provided by iOS itself. This is my top priority for the first update.

I already have users in 25 different countries, so localisation is going to be a priority for me going forward. Now that I have a revenue stream, I can afford to hire a professional localisation company to translate the software and test the editing facilities in various languages. I have a meeting set up with one such company this week, and plan to start this process as soon as possible.

It doesn’t work properly with external keyboards

This is another problem I was already planning to fix, but didn’t appreciate how critical it was for so many people. Personally I always use the on-screen keyboard, because I find it pretty easy to use, and it’s more convenient for carrying the iPad around. It turns out though that quite a lot of people don’t like it, and I can appreciate now why Microsoft included a fold-out keyboard on the cases for the Surface.

Unfortunately, iOS doesn’t provide an API for the external keyboard, which means there’s no direct way for an app to be notified when the user presses a key. The built-in editing controls, which most apps use, work fine — but for custom editing controls like that used by UX Write, there is no support. It would be very easy for Apple to add this functionality, and I really wish they would do so soon.

Having said this, I’ve come up with a workaround that will allow me to support all the standard arrow keys and keyboard shortcuts. It involves some black magic using a hidden text field, a specially-crafted pattern of characters, and some code that observes changes in the cursor position and selection range to infer what key combination has been pressed. It’s ugly, but it will work.

Both this and the auto correct language support will be fixed in version 1.1, due in early August.

No support for Microsoft Word documents

This has been raised by many people, which I completely expected. I’m well aware of the importance of MS Word compatibility, and I think that UX Write is only really going to take off once that compatibility is there. As I mentioned earlier, I figured it was better to get the first release out now, so I can start getting feedback from a wider audience, while I continue to work on Word support and new features. LaTeX is also a high priority — even though it has a much smaller market share than Word, it is widely used in academia, particularly in science and mathematics. Given that my own background is in computer science, this part of the market is very important to me.

By the way, I’m taking the time to do this stuff properly. One of the most common complaints I’ve heard about some of the other iPad word processors is that while they can open and save Word documents, some of the formatting and structural information gets destroyed. I’m implementing Word and LaTeX support in such a way that even though UX Write won’t understand all of the formatting properties and other elements in the document, it will still preserve them when you save the file. So you won’t have to worry about messing up your document just because you made some changes to it on your iPad.

Pricing

While I haven’t had a large number of comments about this, the ones I’ve seen have varied a lot. Some people think it’s great value for money, while others have said it’s too expensive. The pricing was a really difficult decision to make, and I’m still not sure if I’ve got it right.

Although UX Write is more expensive than the other word processors for the iPad, it provides a lot more features, and is really aimed at the high-end professional market rather than the average user. UX Write is a premium product — if you just need to take notes or write short documents without much structure, there are cheaper alternatives on the App Store that will meet your needs. But if you need advanced features like styles, cross-referencing, outline editing, automatic table of contents generation, and seamless file synchronisation, then UX Write is currently the only app out there that will do what you want.

Since I think that UX Write is ideally suited for use in schools and universities, I’ve decided to participate in Apple’s educational volume discount program. If you’re an educational institution registered as part of this program, and are purchasing licenses for UX Write in bulk, you can now get the app for 50% of its retail price (see the link for more details). Unfortunately this program is only available in the US at the moment, but according to Apple they will be bringing it to other countries soon.

Final thoughts

I’ve received a lot of very positive feedback from people who are used to using semi-structured authoring techniques in their desktop word processor, and have been looking for an app like UX Write for a very long time. Initial sales have been quite encouraging, and I’m feeling pretty confident about the product’s future. There’s still quite a lot of work to be done, but I think you’ll find that over the coming months UX Write will emerge as a very strong competitor in the iPad word processing market.

15 thoughts on “Thoughts on the First Week Since Release

  1. I’m a beta tester for this app, and I must say, I like it a lot.
    Unfortunately, I have a lot of legacy content in Evernote, which produces awful HTML. Is there a possibility to “remove all custom styles” or revert to default style in UxWrite, to clean up paragraph style attributes and only retain headings, etc.?

    • I think this should be fairly easy to do. There are quite a few apps which produce poor HTML output ;) I haven’t tried importing from Evernote but will have a look into it.

    • I should probably clarify that by “easy to do” I mean “easy for me to implement in a future version”. Currently there is only limited support for cleaning up badly formatted HTML. UX Write includes a copy of HTML Tidy (http://tidy.sourceforge.net), which runs on every save and ensures the output is well-formed HTML. However this doesn’t necessarily fix all problems in bad HTML output, e.g. the weird use of styles or excessive direct formatting. Once I’ve had a look into Evernote’s output I’ll get back to you with my thoughts.

  2. Apple Pages support would be great.
    Apple iBooks would also be excellent.
    Kindle .mobi authoring will be popular and worth paying for.
    We use all of these at work.
    Authoring for WordPress would be awesome. Most widely used CMS.
    Outlining operations like hoisting and merging.
    Grammar checker.
    Glossary builder.
    Indexing.
    Different styles/themes for different sections of a document. H1 looks different in section A than section B.
    Public theme/style library, to steal looks from the best.

    Stretch goals:
    Concurrent Collaborative Editing a la Google Docs.
    ditto but with a conference call so you’re speaking with your collaborators.

    Great job.

  3. Hi,
    I am a chinese, I bought UX Write from AppStore today, but the app does not support inputting chinese, please fix it.

    And I have other suggestions:
    Copy Html page resources from safari or other web browser app.

    However, I think it is a great word process app, thanks!

    • Hi, thanks for your interest in the app!

      It’s going to take me a bit of time to get support for all major languages working, but Chinese is definitely a priority.

      Copy & paste from Safari is also on my to do list.

  4. Hi,

    I bought UX Write today after seeing a mention by David Pogue on the NY Times web site. Nice App. It’s worth fifteen bucks.

    I saw your product road map and it is by and large things that I want. I am an external keyboard user (Apple’s bluetooth), particularly when traveling.

    In your “Under Consideration” section I favor the styling entries, OPML support and epub support.

    My additions are:
    - The ability to save as two files, one as .html and the other as .css
    - A Mac OS version of the app
    - A version as a WordPress plugin (a paid one)
    - An iOS/Mac OS content editor for WordPress pages, posts and custom post types

    My reasoning for my additions is that so much writing today is for the web. Your choice of making your native file format HTML is, for me, brilliant. I understand the need to deal with MS Word files, but I would much prefer to use a Mac OS version of UX Write (particularly as your road map is implemented) for at least 70% of my writing. If one is writing for the web, why start out in MS Word?

    It’s a good app on its way to being a great app.

    Jake

    • Hi Jake, glad to hear you like the app, and also very glad to hear you like HTML ;)

      The main reason for HTML as the default file format is so I could use WebKit as a layout engine, saving me the effort of writing my own (which would have made the project infeasible). However there are many other benefits to HTML as you mentioned, such as writing for the web. EPUB is based HTML, and while I haven’t looked into the technical details yet, I anticipate that UX Write’s existing support for HTML is going to make EPUB export a lot easier than if i’d used another file format.

      Regarding your suggestions:

      The ability to save as two files, one as .html and the other as .css: I agree this would be useful, particularly for those who are producing multiple documents which need to conform to the same look and feel (such as a corporate style guide). I’ll certainly look into this when I get a chance; the main challenge will be working out how to represent this concept intuitively in the UI.

      A Mac OS version of the app: Currently I have no plans for this, as there are already many very good quality word processors for the Mac, and it would be a very difficult market to compete in. Given my limited resources, I’ll be focusing all my effort on producing the best iOS word processor that I can. My strategy is to try and make it as easy as possible for people to use UX Write in conjunction with whatever word processor they’re currently using on the desktop. If you’re looking for a good HTML-based writing tool for the mac, I recommend SeaMonkey (http://www.seamonkey-project.org/).

      If UX Write turns out to be hugely successful, establishes a strong brand, and brings in sufficient revenue to fund development of an OS X version, then I may change my mind. But this would probably be at least a year off. It’s early days yet and I’m waiting to see how things go.

      A version as a WordPress plugin (a paid one): As above. However, about 50% of UX Write is written in javascript, and would be theoretically possible to port to other platforms and to the web. In fact virtually all of my development + testing of the javascript parts of the app is done in Safari and Chrome. There will be the usual challenges in making this work cross-browser. It’s something that I could look at in the long term, once I’ve got all the current roadmap features done (plus other iOS-specific things people have requested).

      An iOS/Mac OS content editor for WordPress pages, posts and custom post types: This would certainly be doable. After all the editing features and file format support is done I’m going to be looking at opportunities to integrate with third-party content management systems (and WordPress could be considered a content management system in some ways).

      Thanks a lot for your suggestions – I’ll certainly take these into consideration when planning for the future.

      BTW, external keyboard support is coming very soon (early August), and I’m working on this right now.

  5. I am very interested in your product. So far, it seems to be the ONLY one to embrace the concept of style sheets. Unless I am one of the few who use style sheets, I find it amazing that other word processors don’t.

    That being said, I am balking at the price for the current feature set. I have spent too much money trying to find a word processing system that works and I don’t want to pay $15 for another app I that I could end up deleting. The most important features for me are (in order I find important)

    1. Use of an external keyboard
    2. Find and Replace
    3. Header/Footers
    4. Reading/Writing MS Word files
    5. Spell checking
    6. Tables

    Without all six, I feel I would be wasting my money.

    Don’t misunderstand… from the looks of the work done so far, I want you to be successful. I want to like this program! While I can live without footnotes (I usually craft my own end notes) and bibliography citations (I use an external program), I cannot justify the expense.

    I wish you had a mailing list to let us know when these features are available. When they are, I will give the app a try.

    Sorry for sounding so critical, but I have spent a lot looking for a good word processor for the iPad that does most of what yours does. Just bring it the rest of the way and I’ll be one of your biggest fans!

    • Hi Scott, that’s perfectly understandable. I’m expecting that a lot of people won’t buy the app yet due to these missing features, in particular MS Word support.

      Tables are supported already BTW (though there’s a few bugs in 1.0), and I’ll have these and the external keyboard issues fixed in 1.1 (due early august). The other features are a bit further off, and it’ll be a few months before MS Word and headers/footers are available.

      You can subscribe to the RSS feed for this blog, or follow me on twitter (@uxproductivity) for updates.

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  7. I am a PhD candidate and I use LaTeX on a daily basis for articles, reports and of course my thesis. I do not know what set of features from LaTeX you can implemented in UX Write, but if you need any beta tester from academia, I’ll be very glad to help you.

    Thanks for this great App.

    • Thanks! I hope to implement most of the basic features of LaTeX, though some of the more advanced features like custom macros won’t be supported. I think for the majority of use cases it will be fine.

      I might get in touch with you a bit later on once I start work on LaTeX support for testing.

  8. Funny, I just left an app review that mentioned many of these points. I normally would NOT purchase an app based on its roadmap, but I am one of the people that has been wishing for something like this for a very long time, and I wanted to support your ongoing development. Thanks for the effort so far, and I look forward to future releases.

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