Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

This Week's Sponsor

End users aren't your enemy! Kolide gets users to fix their own device compliance problems–and unsecure devices can't log in. Click here to learn how.

By Six Colors Staff

Scrivener for iOS Review

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

A few years ago, Literature and Latte announced that it would be developing an iOS version of its popular and powerful writing app Scrivener, but the project kept getting delayed and derailed until L&L founder Keith Blount took the project on himself. Scrivener for iOS has now arrived in the App Store for $20. We’ve both been using the beta version of the app for a while now, and we’ve come away impressed.

Scrivener gives you access to detailed data via the Inspector (left), and provides a row of extra buttons above the keyboard.

Jason’s Take

I love Scrivener on the Mac. I’ve been using it for years, and have written the bulk of three novels and numerous extended-length product reviews using it. But the more I used my iPad and iPhone, the more I found myself wishing that I could view, edit, and even write my Scrivener projects on iOS devices—and that wasn’t really possible without some frustrating and limited workarounds.

Syncing happens via Dropbox, and is modal.

Scrivener is a tool built for writers working on large projects, and it shows. As on the Mac (and presumably on Windows—but I haven’t used that version), the iOS version is organized around the concept of projects, each containing a large number of items. For a novel project, that might be a manuscript folder full of chapters, a research folder full of notes and clippings, and even a folder full of characters.

Scrivener doubles as an organization tool, one of the things that drew me to the Mac version in the first place. I used a separate outliner and text editor to write the first half of my first novel; Scrivener allowed me to merge the two, so that the items of my outline contained the chapters they were describing.

Scrivener for iOS doesn’t have all the features of its Mac equivalent, which is perhaps unsurprising given that this is version 1.0 of the app. But I’m surprised at how much the iOS version does contain. Users of Scrivener will not be left feeling that they’re purchased a rudimentary shell with file-format compatibility with their desktop writing tool; this is absolutely Scrivener, with a whole lot of complexity hidden behind gestures and buttons.

Scrivener on an iPhone.

Recognizing that writing on a software keyboard isn’t an ideal situation, Scrivener for iOS offers a few sets of extra keys just above the standard keyboard, and you can swipe through different ones depending on your needs. There are tools for quote marks, arrow keys, and even a quick-selection tool. If you’re working on a hardware keyboard, Scrivener gets that stuff out of your way and gives you an array of keyboard shortcuts to get the job done.

My biggest complaint about Scrivener for iOS is probably that while its cloud-syncing system (which uses Dropbox) absolutely works, it seems to require some care. There’s no automatic syncing—you need to tap a sync button or, if you’re using a hardware keyboard, type command-shift-S—and while it’s syncing you can’t do anything but watch the progress bar slide on by.

Still, this is a banner day. I can write and edit my novels when I’m traveling with only my iPad, and even make notes or edit outlines while sitting in a waiting room. (Though I doubt you’d write the Great American Novel on your iPhone, Scrivener is a Universal app and works on the iPhone too, albeit in a simplified interface that’s a bit of a tight fit.)

Dan’s Take

Like Jason, I’m an avid Scrivener user. There are only a few apps I consider really critical to my work: I mean, end of the day, you can type in anything that has a text box.1 But when it comes to writing fiction, I swear by Scrivener.

The contents of a novel project.

The addition of Scrivener for iOS is huge for me, personally. As long as Apple has offered support for Bluetooth keyboards on the iPad, I’ve wanted to be able to go down to the local coffee shop, or even on a short trip, with nothing but my iPad. But one of the few things I found I couldn’t do was work on my fiction projects—not without some workaround that involved writing in another text editor on my iPad, saving that in Dropbox, and then copying and pasting it into my Scrivener project when I got back to my Mac. Hardly seamless.

Keep track of your writing targets.

I’ve been using Scrivener for iOS during its beta period over the last few months, and I’ve found it to be just as solid and capable as I’d hoped. There’s a split-screen Quick Reference capability, support for multitasking on the iPad, word counts and targets, labeling and statuses, and Scrivener’s iconic corkboard (which I love the idea of, but never seem to use effectively). Much as on the Mac version, Scrivener for iOS has a surfeit of features that I may or may not ever take full advantage of—but everybody’s process is different, and they’re there if you want them.

There are, of course, some places where the iOS version is not as full-featured as its desktop counterpart—if you’re looking to compile an ePub or Kindle book of your project, you’ll still need to turn back to the Mac—but it does a perfect job of exactly what I want: the ability to jump right into a project I’m currently working on, and then have that progress in sync when I go back to my Mac. (As Jason said, I wish the syncing was a little more seamless, but a Scrivener project is definitely more complex than a flat text file.) Everything else is, at least as far as my writing process goes, secondary.

My debut novel, which comes out next year, was also the first book I wrote entirely in Scrivener on my Mac—my most recent first draft, finished just last week, was in no small part written on my iPad. Who knows? Maybe in the not too distant future, I’ll write a book from start to finish entirely in Scrivener on my iPad. If nothing else, that’s definitely a possibility now.

Bottom Line

Scrivener users who have been aching for an iOS version will consider this $20 purchase well worth it. It was a long time getting to this point, but our patience has been rewarded.

  1. Though I’d suggest maybe not writing your next novel in the text field of Messages. 

If you appreciate articles like this one, support us by becoming a Six Colors subscriber. Subscribers get access to an exclusive podcast, members-only stories, and a special community.

Search Six Colors