From Alpha to Beta

Next week, I shall—at long last—be submitting Scrivener for iOS to Apple’s TestFlight beta-testing program. It has spent the past month in alpha-testing in-house (I am writing this blog post in Scrivener on my brand new iPad Pro 9.7”, in fact), and we’re now ready to open up testing to a slightly larger group. We’ve had a lot of users emailing us asking if they can beta-test, so in order to be entirely open, I thought I’d explain how we are going to approach the beta-testing process.

We’re going to run the beta in two rounds. For this first round of testing, we’re using a private group of testers on an invite-only basis. That sounds a bit clique-y, but actually there’s no favouritism or secrecy in how this group is selected: we’re always on the lookout for users on our forums, social media pages and through our tech support channels who seem particularly good at finding and reporting bugs (perhaps because they are very patient when tracking down a gnarly issue or because they are good at communicating problems—or maybe they’re just good at breaking things). We ask such users to help with early betas of our software when needed (I’m sure there are many, many users we have missed, though). These are our Guinea pigs, in other words, and we know that they won’t shout at us when their work blows up because of a typo with a semicolon on line 956 of the Dropbox syncing code.

After the initial round of beta-testing with the closed group, once we’re happy there are no obviously nasty data-loss or sync bugs that might cause issues for a larger group, we will throw the doors open, make the beta public, and ask for volunteers. We won’t be able to accept everyone, because there’s a limit to how many users we can add as beta-testers via Apple’s TestFlight program, but all of those of you who have been so enthusiastic about getting your hands on it will be able to put your name in the virtual hat. We’ll put up a form on our site where anyone can apply, and we’ll provide information about what you will need in order to be a beta-tester (which mainly just comes down to patience and being prepared to come across and report bugs). I’ll post information about that here, on the forums, and via our social media sites, when the time comes.

Full screen - not much to see here...
Full screen – not much to see here…

Alpha testing has been a fun process, by the way (apart from the awareness that every day in alpha is another day the software is late, of course!). If beta-testing is where you sand down all those rough edges and fix the broken parts, alpha-testing is where theory meets practice and you realise that as great as your sketches and notes for feature X looked, something about it feels awkward to use now that it’s there in front of you on your iPad.

For instance: Scrivener’s binder was originally a solely drill-down affair. Tap on the Draft folder, and a list of its subdocuments slide in; tap on “Chapter One” inside the Draft, and its subdocuments slide in. That seemed like a very iOS way of approaching it on paper, and a great way of viewing sections in isolation. In practice, however, it’s not so great when you want to get more of an overview of your manuscript, and it means a lot of drilling down and hitting “Back”. So, during the alpha, I added the ability to expand and collapse folders and groups just like on the Mac (but in an iOS way), providing the best of both worlds (because you can still drill down too).

Another “for instance”: To begin with, the inspector on iOS always appeared in a floating panel. But this meant you could never have it open directly alongside the editor or corkboard. So during alpha-testing, we came up with another solution for this, keeping things simple and “iOS-like”, but allowing for more flexibility.

Not only that: during the alpha period, Compile was massively improved, the import and export formats were expanded, corkboard images were added, and much, much more—other features we’ll start talking about soon. I don’t want to waffle on about all the great features while there’s not a release date, though, as that will just cause frustration (understandably). Right now, I’m excited that we are finally going into beta. Look out for the call for volunteers in a month or so, and we’ll start talking about the software, and posting screenshots, once the larger beta is in full swing and we’re close to release.

Oh, before I sign off, some answers to questions that come up a lot in the comments:

  • Scrivener for iOS will run on most iOS devices – the only requirement is that it can run iOS 9 and above.
  • It runs on iPhones as well as iPads (although certain features that require more space—such as the corkboard—are iPad-only).
  • It supports the multi-tasking features of the iPad Pro.
  • Scrivener for iOS will not support iCloud (at least for now) – syncing will be done via Dropbox. I’ll write a post explaining why soon. (You’ll be able to leave your desktop project open while you’re off using it on your mobile device, though.)

think that covers the most popular questions I got asked in the comments last time, but I’ll do my best to answer any other questions in the comments here.

Thanks again for everyone’s enthusiasm and support—the response to the last post was overwhelming in its positivity, and we all at Literature & Latte hugely appreciate it.

We Found That New iOS Developer, By The Way… (Me)

I know we’ve been quiet about the iOS version recently, and some users have been wondering if it’s still in development. After all the problems we’ve had with it, I took over development myself last year and rewrote it from the ground up. I had originally planned not to develop it myself so that I didn’t have to divide my time between the Mac and iOS versions, but in the event, coding our iOS version turned out to be a lot of fun, especially with the introduction of the iPad Pro. Adapting Scrivener for iOS felt like going back to the beginning and remembering why I built Scrivener in the first place.

I’ve now finished the rewrite and it’s in internal alpha-testing, which is going well – in fact, I was on holiday last week, and wrote exclusively using Scrivener on my iPad Pro. As soon as it’s in beta – which shouldn’t be too far away now (really, this time) – we’ll start bringing you more news. We’re incredibly proud of how it’s turned out, and I can’t wait to tell you more about it, and to get it into the hands of our users at last.

Thank you for your patience, your support, and your enthusiasm while Scrivener for iOS has been undergoing its long gestation.

— Keith (Scrivener designer, Mac and now iOS developer)

Looking for another iOS developer

We’re looking for another iOS coder to help speed things along with getting our iOS app finished. Full details can be found here:

http://literatureandlatte.com/workwithus.php

If you’ve got the right sort of experience and skills, and are interested in working with us, please drop us a line.

(A note to our users who have been waiting on this for far too long now: the iOS version has been feature-complete for a month or two but we are incredibly disappointed to say that it is still not ready for public beta testing – as we had hoped it would be by now – because of a number of outstanding issues. We are thus looking for a talented developer to help us get it ship-shape.)

Do you train others in how to use Scrivener?

As Scrivener has become more widely adopted in many fields of writing, we have noticed the increasing emergence of training courses and other learning materials designed by third parties. Some of these are specific to particular fields or genres, while others are more general. None are officially endorsed by Literature and Latte.

Whilst we try to ensure that the interactive tutorial and user manual cover everything that users need to know about Scrivener, and to ensure that Scrivener can be picked up quickly and used progressively, Scrivener’s deep feature-set means that it can be used in many different ways. Third-party courses and books have been springing up to give pointers to users looking for a more personal guide (something we can’t provide at the price we charge for the software), and we are sometimes asked to recommend training courses to customers. In the longer term, we hope to look into the possibility of producing more training materials ourselves, and perhaps working with or endorsing some of the independent trainers and providing them with supplementary materials.

In the meantime, we thought that it might be helpful to add a page to our website, listing external courses (both local and online) which we believe may be of interest to users seeking a different learning approach to supplement the materials that we offer as part of Scrivener and through our various support mechanisms. We’re not sure at this stage how many independent trainers exist, so it may turn out that such a web page is neither necessary nor appropriate, and we can’t make any promises. Inclusion in the list will be entirely at our discretion, and it won’t imply any sort of endorsement by Literature and Latte — it will be intended just as a point of reference for our users.

If you offer training in how to use Scrivener, and if you would like to be added to this potential list on our website, please contact us via the email address: training AT literatureandlatte DOT com so that we can discuss your possible inclusion. We will not be vetting either the course itself or your delivery of it, but we will want to see your course’s content list so that we can understand what areas you cover, and we will review your website and social media to make sure that your portrayal of Scrivener is consistent with ours. We’d want to see how you advertise your training, and to see evidence that you have a body of satisfied users who are prepared to endorse your training course. We would also look at your pricing details, because we try to make Scrivener affordable and want our customers to receive good value for their money. Beyond that, we haven’t decided on the details yet.

So, if you train others in how to use Scrivener, please get in touch.

Keeping a Book List

Toward the end of last year, fed up with my failed attempts to keep track of books I’d read and books I wanted to read, I created a Scrivener project to manage my reading lists. It’s proven so successful, I thought I’d show it off.

Corkboard with image synopses

Clicking the index-card icon in the inspector “Synopsis” header switches to image mode, allowing you to drag cover images onto the cards.

I renamed the Draft folder “Library” and gave it a fitting custom icon via Documents > Change Icon. Each book title goes into this as a new document, so the book can have unique meta-data and a synopsis (or synopsis image). Notes about the book, anything from a few thoughts after reading to a full review, go into the document text.

Although I tend toward filing systems, I’ve kept my Library as a flat list rather than pigeonhole entries into folders. Instead, I use keywords to mark a book’s genre, which lets me tag it with multiple terms–a book might be “YA”, “steampunk”, and “mystery”, for example–and then use project search to filter my list.

In the Project > Meta-Data Settings, I’ve repurposed the Label and Status settings to show the book’s state–read, unread, or shelved–and my rating. I tint the icons in the binder with the label so each title’s read state is immediately visible. I colour the index cards with the label as well.

Label and synopsis in the inspector

Label is renamed “Status”, with its colour shown throughout Scrivener via the View > Use Label Color In submenu. The default Status is renamed “Rating” and uses 1-5 stars, added from Edit > Special Characters on the Mac and Edit > Character Map on Windows.

Most other form information I enter as custom meta-data. Since I use dates in multiple fields, for first read, reread, potential release date, and publication date, I prefix the date, year-first, with a letter so I can search for a particular field. For example, I can assemble a list of all new books read in 2015 by searching meta-data for “r2015” or list all books total for the year by searching for both “r2015” and “re2015” (rereads).

Custom meta-data

Searches I run frequently I save as collections, via the magnifying-glass menu in the project search bar. It’s quite gratifying to load my “read” list and see it growing over the year!

If you keep a reading list, what details do you record and how do you keep it organised?

About a Button

This is one of my favourite buttons in Scrivener:

It sits in the footer bar below the outliner and corkboard, and it has sat there for several years now. Maybe you use it all the time; maybe you’ve never noticed it; maybe you’ve clicked on it and wondered what it’s for. It’s called the “Selection Affects Other Editor” button, and that’s exactly what it does.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Split the editor so that you have two editor panes open.

  2. Load the corkboard or outliner in one of the editors (usually the top or left one if you work in a left-to-right language).

  3. Click on this button at the bottom of the corkboard or outliner so that the arrows turns blue.

Now, whenever you click on an index card in the corkboard, or on a row in the outliner, the document it represents gets opened in the other editor. Thus, you can use the corkboard or outliner to navigate instead of (or as well as) the binder.

In this way, Scrivener’s two editors can operate independently, or they can be linked so that one is used to navigate the other. It’s a feature I use all the time (I like being able to navigate from the outline, where I can see all my synopses), and it’s a feature that’s going to become even more useful in the future. It’s also a feature that, although it might at first appear trivial, had a deep influence on how we approached navigation in the iPad version. (But more on that soon.)

A Quick iOS Update

We have a lot of people asking after the iOS version given that I haven’t posted much about it on here recently (although I have been giving incremental updates over on the forums). The lack of updates isn’t intended as a slight against our very valued users; it’s just because we’ve had our heads buried in code and haven’t been coming up much for air.

The good news is that our iOS version is (at last!) feature-complete and is currently in internal beta-testing. We’re in the process of smoothing out the rough edges we find through use and fixing bugs before we make it available to our wider beta-testing group. Having taken so long to get to this stage (we know), we don’t want to fall at the last hurdle and rush beta-testing. After all, the sync code is complex (it was a three-month job in itself) and we want to ensure it’s never going to cause any data-loss in the real world (it is holding up well in testing so far, though). Once it’s out with our wider beta-testing group, I’ll start posting some screenshots and showing off the features. Given past debacles, I’m hesitant to talk about release dates, but we expect a summer release, though whether mid or late summer will depend on what is thrown up during beta-testing, of course.

To answer some common questions we’ve had about the iOS version:

  1. Version 1.0 will sync with the desktop version using Dropbox. The sync code has two components, the Dropbox-specific code, and the code that handles merging all the changed files between platforms and dealing with conflicts. This second part of the code has been designed for reuse with other sync clients, so we plan on adding support for sync solutions other than Dropbox post-1.0 (Cubby is one that has been requested several times, for instance).

  2. There is no iCloud syncing in 1.0 because iCloud does not work well with package-based file formats such as Scrivener’s. We were hoping that iCloud Drive would provide a solution, and are still looking into it, but the APIs don’t seem to provide the flexibility we need on the iOS side. (The reason syncing is more complex with Scrivener than for most apps is because .scriv files are really folders, which is how we can allow you to import any sort of research file and only load files into memory as they are viewed in the app.)

  3. You can also transfer projects simply using iTunes, of course.

  4. When the iOS version is released, there will be simultaneous updates for both Scrivener for Mac and Windows that provide sync features. So don’t worry, Windows users, we have no plans of leaving you unable to sync!

  5. Version 1.0 will not have any dedicated screenwriting features, but scriptwriters will be able to sync their scripts using Fountain syntax for paragraphs.

  6. Scrivener for iOS is a full-featured writing environment – the binder, corkboard, outliner, full rich text editing (with comments, internal links and so on), import, export, reference to other documents (including images, PDFs, media files) – all the core features of the desktop version are there in the iOS version, but with a UI designed from the ground up for mobile devices.

  7. Scrivener will require iOS 7.0 or above.


It’s been a long journey, but at last the light at the end of that proverbial tunnel is in sight. I can’t wait to start showing you screenshots and talking about it properly.

It’s not all about the iOS version, however: our heads have been buried deep in code working on serious and extensive (and exciting) updates for our existing platforms, too. But we’re not yet ready to talk about those, and we want to get the iOS version out first.

EDIT: We’ve had a lot of users ask about how to get involved in beta-testing the iOS version (thank you!). In the past, the way we have always selected beta-testers has been to look out for users on the forums and social media pages who know their way around Scrivener, are good at reporting bugs or giving constructive feedback, or who post useful information on using Scrivener for fellow users. We continue to look out for new beta testers that way, and from that, we already have quite a large pool of testers for the Mac and Windows versions to whom we’ll be sending out iOS beta invites to begin with. Once we’ve got a better idea of what the numbers are like, and when the time comes, I’ll post more information here on how to apply to become a beta-tester for anyone else interested. Please note that it’s not a good idea to apply to beta test if you just want early access, though – the beta-testing stage is where we find the most bugs, so you have to be prepared for crashes and even possible data-loss (obviously we hope to have ironed out data-loss bugs by the beta, but beta-testing is where users find the things we’ve missed and we cannot guarantee that there won’t be hideous bugs lurking – beta-testers are guinea pigs). Beta-testers also have to be prepared to spend time trouble-shooting and providing us with detailed reports on every issue they find. We’ll provide more details once we’re nearing the end of internal testing.

Site Licensing

We’re always trying to make it easier for institutions, along with individuals, to adopt Scrivener into their writing workflow. To this end, making it more readily available to larger organisations, we wrote a blog post back in November 2012 that covers the process of obtaining Scrivener licensing for universities and businesses http://www.literatureandlatte.com/blog/?p=329. It details the steps involved and options available when using our direct web-store http://www.getscrivener.com, and provides information about securing volume discounts. It also mentions site and campus licensing for institutions requiring 500 or more Scrivener licences.

A number of institutions have been good enough to contact us over the years requesting pricing, and we thought we’d mention a couple with site licensing. The first place of learning that wanted to utilise Scrivener in their curriculum was Korea International School (KIS) back in 2009. They have a Mac 1:1 laptop program for their students (Scrivener is also available for Windows users) and wanted to use Scrivener in their language classes. The children were even good enough to produce a YouTube video showing Scrivener in action at KIS:

A prestigious site to which we’re very happy to be providing Scrivener over the next 4 years is the University of Cambridge. This is a massive institution, steeped in history from 1209, with an incredible academic record and alumni that includes the names Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton! The site is somewhat bigger than it used to be in the 13th century and now includes over 6,000 academic staff, more than 3,000 administrative staff, and well over 18,000 students. All those involved with the University of Cambridge now have access to Scrivener, and we naturally hope they take full advantage of the application when wrestling with their papers and theses.

If you’d like to use Scrivener within your business — maybe you work for a law firm http://www.literatureandlatte.com/casestudies.php?show=david_sparks, or you’d like your students or peers to benefit from Scrivener’s organisational and research gathering benefits — do not hesitate in contacting us at sales@literatureandlatte.com regarding site licensing. Alternatively, go directly to our online store here http://www.getscrivener.com to obtain licensing for a single user, or up to hundreds. Many thanks.

All the best, David.

How Do You Use Scrivener

We’re running a quick survey to find out how our customers are using Scrivener. This information will help us plan and prioritise new features, and to work out how to reach potential new users of Scrivener in the future. It should only take a few seconds to fill in, and we’ll be very grateful to anyone taking part:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/T7R2X3P

Thanks!