Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Dan Moren

The export business

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

For the last few months, I’ve been playing around with Hanx Writer. I usually don’t hold much truck with celebrity-backed apps—they’re usually more gimmick than substances—but in this case, two things drew me to the app:

  1. A very polished, nostalgic, and functional simulation of a classic typewriter.
  2. Tom Hanks. I mean, who doesn’t love Tom Hanks? The man is a national treasure.1 Even when he’s nattering on to a volleyball on a desert island, there’s just something so trustworthy about him. Tom Hanks would never lead me astray!

To be fair, it was mainly the first one. The app debuted right about the same time that I’d been brainstorming on a novel idea with a noir-ish tone, and the sound and feel of a classic typewriter seemed the perfect way to bring those sensibilities to the surface.

As a writing tool, it’s a lot of fun. Far from perfect, but it’s designed with limitations in mind. I even ponied up for the additional typewriter and font styles. Hearing the tappity-taps of the keys while writing—and that great DING! SHOOOK at the end of a line—is viscerally delightful.

But as much fun as it is to write with, it gets a little tricky when it comes to editing: there’s no search feature, no way to highlight things, etc. Well, sure—you wouldn’t have had any of those things on a typewriter; they’re just sticking to the aesthetic. “That’s cool,” I thought to myself. “I’ll just export it to another app and do my editing there.”

And this is where Hanx Writer commits its unthinkable sin. Because you can tap on the Share button and send your file to Dropbox, Good Drive, iBooks, GoodReader, and any number of other apps.

But when you do, it comes through as an un-editable PDF. “Okay, I’ll just copy and paste it into Pages.” Which sort of works, except you end up with all sorts of weird mid-line (and occasionally mid-word) line breaks, missing tabs, and so on. That might not be a pain if you’ve written a couple of pages, but on 21,000 words of a novel in progress, it’s a little more of a chore.2 (Format conversion, in general, often seems to be more art than science.)

You can probably work some crazy grep madness to try and restore it to a usable format, but this is all a pain for something that should have been easy.

I’m not sure exactly what workflow the Hanx Writer folks had in mind—print it out, maybe?—but I’m pretty sure that the format in which it exports is not a standard that most publications, book publishers, or movie studios would take without a raised eyebrow and a disbelieving chuckle—well, unless you’re Tom Hanks, probably.

Long story short: don’t hold your user’s data hostage. As much as I like Hanx Writer and enjoyed typing in it, I’m a working writer—emphasis on “working”—and, at the end of the day, I’m going to land on the practical tool that helps me get my work done, not the idiosyncratic one that I have to wrestle into submission.3

  1. Literally. I hear Nicolas Cage will go looking for him in his next movie
  2. I also tried uploading to Google Drive and downloading as a Word doc (only a fraction of random pages came through), extracting text via an Automator workflow (pretty much same result as copy/paste), using Adobe Reader (which wanted to charge me), and PDFPen export to RTF, which had some funkiness too. 
  3. One of my Twitter followers pointed out that Hanx Writer also has a $0.99 in-app purchase for a third-party keyboard that provides the typewriter keyboard in other apps, so I’ll be giving that a whirl next. 

[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at or reach him by email at His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is out now.]

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