Writers have a long tradition of crawling under rocks in order to do what they do. They’ll lock themselves in faraway cabins, attics, basements, bunkers, car trunks or wherever else they think they can get some peace and quiet. Some of them do this purely because they generally hate company, but for others it’s only because they want a completely distraction-free environment in which to assemble what they hope will be an utter masterpiece of literature.
But escaping to the hinterlands of Montana isn’t convenient or practical when all you’re really trying to put together is a memo, a long email or a general journal entry. Writing those sorts of messages can require a certain amount of concentration and focus too, but they’re usually composed in places like offices or coffee shops, not Zen gardens.
Whether or not that’s ideal for you is a personal matter. Some people get energized when there’s a flurry of activity going on around their heads; others want nothing less than total sensory deprivation. Then there are those who prefer to write to the sounds of mellow ambient music and bleep-bloop keyboard sound effects, typing on a screen that looks kind of like pastel stationery. The latter is what OmmWriter provides.
What You Get
OmmWriter is a minimalistic note-writing app that presents a softer, slightly less utilitarian interface style. It’s really just for typing text, but the way it’s laid out is meant to be a bit cushier on the brain than a silent, stark-white screen.
First, there are sounds. OmmWriter has built-in ambiant tracks that hum in the background as you do your thing. They’re not all musical — the ever-popular chirping crickets number makes an appearance, along with one that I think sounded like someone falling asleep in a bathtub while the neighbor did some vacuuming. I don’t typically have ambient sounds playing when I write (or do anything else), but after trying it a few minutes I accept that some may find this a very comfortable way to work. OmmWriter comes with seven tracks, or you can turn the background sounds off.
You can also select from an array of sounds the keyboard makes as you write. They’re all gentle clicks, squeaks, bleep-bloops, etc. Again, if that’s your thing, there its is; otherwise you can shut that sound off as well.
Visually, most iOS typing takes place on backgrounds that are either stark white or legal-pad-yellow. OmmWriter provides a little more variety in your stationery selection — from snowy fields (with animated snow) to a fleshy sort of pink to a gray that may be the best selection for low-light environments. You can also select from among four different fonts and four text sizes.
The keyboard is also not your standard iOS arrangement. It’s a bit more modern and minimalistic, and it can be slightly expanded with a finger spread and moved around the screen if you prefer a higher position.
Minimalist to a Fault
And that’s about where we stop. Did I mention this app is really into minimalism? Maybe in the minds of some users, that’s part of its beauty. It drowns out noise with shot of sonic Valium, puts a pretty watercolor-esque design under the text box, and gives you a comfortable spot to put pen to paper. All it needs to do next is brew you up a cup of camomile and it’s set. It’s purely for writing — not DropBoxing, not tweeting, not making funny Facebook posts, not dragging in new photos or formats. You can tuck whatever you’ve written into an email, but for everything else, well, that’s what copy and paste are for. OmmWriter is all about eliminating distractions.
However, what some users would call “distractions,” others would call “basic features that I’d expect to get in a $5 app.” There isn’t any direct integration here with other apps except Mail (and iTunes — you can on- and offload content as .txt files). You’re also limited to the background themes and ambient tracks that are bundled into the app from the get-go. If you want to listen to something else, you can easily play that through the iPad’s built-in music player, but at that point you’re almost defeating the purpose of buying OmmWriter in the first place.
But for me, OmmWriter’s lack of one feature in particular made using it nothing like the peaceful, meditative experience it aims for. Instead, it was an exercise in unnerving frustration.
Near as I can tell, this thing doesn’t do autocorrect.
OmmWriter’s defenders may now call me a mouth-breathing simpleton for my poor touchscreen typing skills. But for me — and I’m not the only one, just look at the app’s more critical commenters on the App Store — typing is a tactile experience.
When they teach typing in school, teachers tell you to keep your eyes on the screen and feel the keys with your fingertips. Obviously that’s not possible on a flat touchscreen keyboard, especially one that’s a few vital inches smaller than a standard desktop keyboard. So you’re going to spell “hamburger” as “hsmbyfgdr” fairly often, and autocorrect is what will save you from having to try again and again and again. That is, unless you want to revert back to the old hunt’n’peck method of typing, and that’s just too slow when the thoughts are flowing and you want them on the screen now.
Sure, I get annoyed at autocorrect for trying to “fix” peoples’ names or a failure to recognize a word that’s outside its own little vocabulary. But it’s right more often than it’s wrong, and it makes it possible to type a five-sentence paragraph on an iPad without making me want to mutter “F*&% this, I’ll do it when I get home.”
Perhaps OmmWriter’s creators thought autocorrect was yet another distraction, especially in the way it mistakenly “corrects” what you actually wanted to type from time to time. There’s a point to that. That is irritating. But attempting to get by without it while trying to type fast on a touchscreen keyboard has convinced me it’s a small price to pay.
OmmWriter’s ambient sounds and pastel backgrounds grew on me. Yeah, it was kind of nice to mellow out to some ear Ambien and type away on something other than a barren, white page. But was it $5 nice? I’m not sure.
The app’s lack of autocorrect is really the dividing line for people who’ll like it and those who’ll hate it. If you’re a touchscreen ninja who can type quickly on an iPad without the aid of autocorrect (and you happen to like the other features and have $5), perhaps OmmWriter is your thing. Enjoy. The rest of us fat-fingered fools will just continue to comfortably lean on our autocorrect crutches.