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Ommwriter for iPad joins the distraction-free writing fray

The iPad is a writing tool for many. It's something you can pop into a bag, pair with a keyboard and use for composition on-the-go. Most users graduate beyond the Notes app quickly, and that's when a text editor like Ommwriter for iPad (US$4.99) is considered.

Ommwriter was born as a "distraction-free" text editor for the Mac ($4.99 in the Mac App Store; a free version is also available). Its unique features -- background image, ethereal music and key-press sound effects -- are also on the iPad app, along with a few others. The app's uniqueness is also polarizing. Many people either love it or can't stand it. The short of my review is this: if you like Ommwriter for the Mac, with its New Age music and bony trees, you'll love it on your iPad. If you don't, the iPad app will grate on your very last nerve. Here are the specifics.

UI

Ommwriter for iPad offers a wintry scene at launch. Barren trees stand in a snowy field as snowflakes fall from a grey sky. A musical arrangement of wind chimes, synthesizers and other electronic bits and bobs can be heard, while a cursor blinks in the upper left-hand corner.

This is your new document.



With a Bluetooth keyboard or Apple's iPad Keyboard Dock attached, you're ready to begin typing. Those without a hardware keyboard can use the software keyboard, but it's not what you might expect. It, too, has been "Ommwriter-ified." Tap the "0" at the bottom of the page (that number is a running word count) to summon it forth.

Ommwriter's software keyboard exists in a semi-transparent rectangle with rounded edges and rests on the lower half of the screen (note that the keyboard is only available in the landscape orientation). As you type, three things happen. First, each letter is placed at the cursor, as you'd expect. Each key press also leaves a ghost image on the keyboard itself. A small splotch of dark grey appears at your finger's landing point before fading away over two or three seconds.



Finally, the keyboard itself jiggles with each tap, as if it were made of Jell-O. This behavior is in keeping with the app's overall aesthetic, but I found it distracting.

That's it for the app's looks. Now onto the function.

Use

Typing is easy enough, but there are some rough spots. First and foremost is the lack of auto-correct. It's safe to assume that many users will use the software keyboard, as they want the full Ommwriter experience. I typically make the most errors with an on-screen keyboard. In fact, Ommwriter increased the time required to get something written. This is less of a problem with a hardware keyboard (note that key-press sounds are unavailable with a hardware keyboard).

Also, the key-press "ghosting" animation makes the keyboard look muddy once you're typing quickly.

When you're done, you can save your document by tapping the wrench icon on the keyboard's lower left-hand corner to open the preferences window. Tap the second icon from the right (it looks like a sheet of paper) to save it to a list of documents. From there, you can open any document, rename it, duplicate it or share it via email (the default output is .txt; PDF is also available). Finally, you can delete any document from the list.

Preferences

Ommwriter for iPad offers decent options for its look and feel. Again, tap the wrench icon to produce the preferences screen. You'll find seven settings: type style, type size, background image, "music," key-press sound effect (including silence), save (as described above) and brightness.

You've got four font styles to choose from, from serifs to script to all lower-case (urgh). There are four font size options, with the largest being nice and legible. There are seven background images available, and all but two are very heavy on dreary greys.

There are seven sound effects options, or eight if you include silence. Three are new-agey type music that's heavy on the synths and chimes. Other options include chirping crickets, a noisy office (rustling papers, footsteps walking about, muffled voices, etc.) and finally... breathing plus a vacuum cleaner.

I've no idea what to make of the last audio track. It starts with the sound of halting breathing, and after a few seconds the unmistakable sound of a vacuum cleaner is heard. It runs for a while and then stops. Next, a heart beat begins, followed by what I can only describe as creature-feature mad scientist laboratory sounds. The breathing is constant throughout. It definitely sets a tone.

As I said at the beginning, fans of Ommwriter for Mac will adore the iPad app. It's less of a distraction-free writing environment and more of a mood-generating text editor. There are many people who like to "set the stage" if you will for a writing endeavor. Ommwriter for iPad succeeds at creating a mood. Others concentrate more effectively with a monotonous noise running in the background; something to filter out nearby real-world distractions, like noisy kids or barking dogs. If that's you, give Ommwriter for iPad a try.

Those of you who like quiet and a no-frills text editor should look elsewhere.

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