Literature & Latte

Scrivener for iOS: An Update (There’s a Long Road Ahead Yet)

By KB, posted 03 May 2012

Given that we’re receiving emails, tweets and forum postings daily asking when the iPad and iPhone versions of Scrivener will be released, I thought it only polite to give everyone a quick update on where things stand. (For those of you who prefer brevity, the content of this post can be summarised thus: Not for a good while yet, sorry!)

First, let me say that we all really appreciate the enthusiasm that so many users are showing for an iOS version. And thank you, also, to everyone who has taken the time to share their thoughts in our “Scrivener for iPad/iPhone – What Do You Want?” forums.

Not being renowned as the most patient person in the world myself, I can certainly understand everyone’s impatience to get the iOS version in their hands. The problem – which I hope will come as no surprise – is that good software takes time. There’s just no way of getting around that, unfortunately; not without bending the laws of physics, at least (although if anyone has a Primer-style box, let me know). Just because iOS is very much a stripped-down operating system compared to OS X and cannot do nearly as much, it does not mean that it is easier or faster to come up with a good design, write good code and test everything thoroughly. (We’ve had some suggest that we throw money at it, get outside investment and suchlike, but it’s not a money issue at all: if we’re going to do it right, then it deserves thought, care, attention and nurturing rather than just hacking something together that we think will meet basic requirements and sell. Part of our ethos is that the people working on the software are also users, and passionate about it – we develop software that we want to use ourselves. We’re just not interested in making software we don’t love. If some users decide to go elsewhere because our crazy ideals – that’s no way to run a business! – drive them mad and they just can’t wait, we understand that, appreciate it, but such factors cannot have any influence on our design and development process, and we hope we’ll win them back with an end product that is worth waiting for.)

To put this in perspective, let me give you some idea of the gestation of Scrivener on the Mac. I first had the idea around 2001, but I didn’t start development on it until 2004, beginning with a design document and odds and ends of code, and this design and proof-of-concept stage took about six months or more before serious development could begin. The first version that was stable and complete enough to be tested by real users appeared at the end of 2005. It was then rewritten and redesigned and didn’t go on sale until the start of 2007 – and Scrivener 1.0 was a long way from what Scrivener is today (on both platforms), because development has continued constantly for the past five years.

Now, with the iOS version, in many ways we’re right back at the beginning again. Not entirely, of course – because OS X and iOS share many fundamental libraries, we are able to reuse some small parts of the existing code base, although none of the interface code is portable. We have had to look at the touch interface and ask ourselves: how can we bring the core features of Scrivener to a completely different interface? What will it look like, and how will you interact with it? In so doing, we’ve been going back to the reasons I built Scrivener in the first place – because to be Scrivener, it has to achieve the fundamentals of what Scrivener set out to do, but it has to do it in a way that makes sense for an entirely different interface. And then we have – or, rather, Jen has – had to start building the necessary interface components, one by one, step by step.

To explain: Cocoa software – which covers OS X and iOS – follows what is known as the model-view-controller paradigm. What this means is that, unlike those old BASIC programs we used to type in at school, you don’t just write one long list of computer instructions. Instead, it’s more like manufacturing a car: you make the wheels, which in turn will involve moulding the tyres, forging the hubcaps and so on and putting them together; you build the engine entirely separately, breaking that down into all its constituent components first too; there is the shell, the chassis, the steering wheel, the seats – all will be made independently and eventually put together. Hopefully some of the components can be sourced pre-built by someone else, but ultimately, you are going to have to build a lot of them yourself before you can combine all of those parts into anything remotely resembling an automobile. The model-view-controller paradigm is much the same. You build all the parts of the program separately (technically, this is what is known as “object-oriented programming”) and then you stitch them together. So, you build the views (the corkboard, the binder, the editor and so on, but also using views that are provided by Apple where possible, or customising them), and you build the models (the data – some code representing a single binder item, for instance, and dealing with writing it to XML, or some code representing a collection, or a keyword), and then you stitch it all together (the “controller” layer is code that does the stitching, basically).

Whenever I add something new to Scrivener, then, I go off, design it, code it in a test app, test it out, and then incorporate it into Scrivener only when it’s ready. By the time a new component makes its way into Scrivener, it is already fully-formed and stable (or at least, that is the idea). Likewise, with the iOS app, it doesn’t start life as a single program that will then evolve – that comes later. It starts life as lots of small demo apps that test out all the different views that have to be built, or test out data manipulation. None of these apps do anything meaningful in themselves except allow us to build and test individual components – by the time these individual components become part of the whole, the idea is that most of their bugs are squashed (ha). There will be any number of these test programs along the way. Most recently, for instance, because iOS doesn’t have a view that works like the binder, we have had to figure out how something like that would work best on a touch interface and build it; likewise, there is no corkboard on iOS unless you build it yourself; and so on.

So, this is where we are. Since December, we have spent a lot of time hashing out a design for the iPhone and iPad. And we’ve come up with something that we’re all excited about – something that brings across the core features of Scrivener but without trying to reproduce the desktop version on a touch interface. At the same time, Jen has been working furiously on various key components (such as the corkboard and binder), and putting together code that can read a .scriv project. We’re still a good way from combining all of that into an early working version, though, and perhaps the largest hurdle – getting syncing right – is still ahead of us.

Still, here are the basics that we are hoping to bring to the iOS version:

  1. A working binder.
  2. A working corkboard.
  3. An editor that allows for basic rich text editing (bold, italics, underline, footnotes of some sort and so on).
  4. Access to labels, status, synopses, notes and project notes.
  5. Seamless syncing without the necessity of closing the project on your Mac or Windows machine.

 

We know that we won’t please everyone – it’s impossible to bring the full desktop version to iOS, and everyone uses Scrivener differently – but these are the basics that most users have been keen to know will be in there. Beyond that, we cannot say anything more at this stage – sorry!

I said from the start that we wouldn’t be able to give a release date for a long time, and that still stands, I’m afraid. All we can say is that we are hoping to get it finished before the end of 2012 – but with no promises, given the amount that is left to do. It will be released when it is ready, and that certainly won’t be tomorrow or next week or even next month. We know you want something good, and that is what we are hoping to deliver – trust us, we’re not slacking off, but are working hard to bring Scrivener to iOS in as much of its glory as possible. (I hear occasional rumblings that we “should” have started all of this a couple of years ago, and while I can understand such frustration, especially from users who know little about how small shareware companies such as ours really are, trust us, we couldn’t, in good conscience, have started it any earlier. Remember we are a tiny company, selling what is really quite a niche product, and growing only at a glacial rate. Two years ago I would have had to step away from the Mac version to develop this, and leave our Mac version to rot for a while. Sadly, I’ve seen this happen to a number of other programs. I love my Mac, though, and Scrivener on it, and could never have done this. Now we have Jen, who is doing an amazing job, and we are in a much better position to deliver what our users want.)

Finally, a note on beta-testing. We’ve had lots of people – hundreds! – say they would love to beta-test. Thanks for everyone’s enthusiasm. At the moment, though, for various reasons, our beta-testing list is invite-only. There’s nothing cliquey or secretive about it – I simply look out for existing users on the forums or on Facebook or wherever, who seem to know their way around Scrivener and who are also good at reporting bugs or problems. Beta-testers have to be prepared to lose work, put up with persistent crashes and suchlike, so, at least for the first phase of testing, it’s always best to have a group of people who aren’t going to shout at you when things go wrong. Besides, we’re a loooong way from beta-testing yet – we’re not even at the alpha-testing phase. So if you really want to be a beta-tester, the best thing to do is to be active and helpful on the user forums, and then in three or four months drop me a line and say, “Hey, look, I’m such-and-such on the forums, you know me, I’m a great guy/gal, you just know you want to make me a beta-tester.”

Right, back to my iPad – Jen delivered an exciting component for testing today…

37 Comments

  1. Strangechilde
    Posted 03 May 2012 at 16:41 | Permalink

    Take your time. Don’t sweat it. We all know that a good product takes time, and Scrivener is a great product. We appreciate all the work you put into making it great. We can wait.

    That said, the very minute I hear it’s out, I will so be on that app store. SO. ON. IT.

  2. Linda Vich
    Posted 03 May 2012 at 17:37 | Permalink

    I am one of those who is anxious for an iPad version of Scrivener but I appreciate your dedication to a quality product! It will be hard to wait though!

  3. Maven
    Posted 03 May 2012 at 17:42 | Permalink

    Thank you for taking this time to make something like this. I hope it will be compatible with the iPad first generation though. The basics I would love to see (which will be there already) would even just be syncing and a place to type thoughts and notes into a project and then clean it up/add to it when I get back to my mac. Anyway. I agree with Strangechilde. Far better to get something stable and good than something rushed and prone to complaints.

  4. Posted 03 May 2012 at 17:44 | Permalink

    Thanks for the update. I’d prefer you do the job right rather than quickly. In the interim, I’ve discovered why people have been so high on Simplenote. It syncs wonderfully and will tide me over for now.

  5. Posted 03 May 2012 at 17:49 | Permalink

    I can’t speak for others but when I get something I’ve been waiting for with eager expectation I want it to fulfill that expectation. Take all the time you need. Part of the reason I love Scrivener is that it works. It does what it claims it can do. Keep up the standard of excellence and I’d wait years for it, though I certainly don’t hope to wait years.

  6. Bruce
    Posted 03 May 2012 at 18:01 | Permalink

    While I certainly regret the delay, I understand. Do a thorough job. Thanks, also, for the enlightening explanation of the process, especially the kind of coding that takes place in such development. It was straight-forward and easy to understand for this non-software professional – sorta like Scrivner.

  7. Posted 03 May 2012 at 18:10 | Permalink

    Just a quick note to say I agree 100% with the prior comments. Eager to have Scrivener available for my iPad, but ready to wait for it to be right! Do what you need to. I love Scrivener — can’t even work on my WIP in any other format anymore.

  8. Posted 03 May 2012 at 18:49 | Permalink

    A great update, thanks! I recently paid (what I consider) a high price for an IOS note app, only to find it full of bugs, constantly crashing and losing my precious notes – and that was supposed to be a production-ready app! It took the developers months to sort iout and three updates to the app. Not only did I lose all faith in the app, but I was gobsmacked that it managed to pass through developer testing and Apple checks to arrive in the app store in that condition – particularly at that price!

    I was on the beta testing for Scrivener for Windows and highly impressed with the quality of the beta software. So take all the time you need for the IOS version. We trust you to deliver another quality product and will wait excitedly, if not impatiently, for its release.

    In the meantime … is there likely to be a sync feature in Scrivener for Windows before the IOS version arrives? Pretty please … ? ;0))

  9. Caro
    Posted 03 May 2012 at 18:51 | Permalink

    As much as I’d love to have an iPad version ready, oh, yesterday, I understand and appreciate your concern that things be done right.

    Scrivener 1.0 was definitely a long way from what we have today. I tried that version and walked away because it didn’t speak to me. The current verision is the single most used program on my system, and it’s made a huge difference in how I get my words onto the paper. Given the program’s importance to me, I’m willing to wait.

    (arewethereyetarewethereyetarewethereyet?)

  10. Posted 03 May 2012 at 19:09 | Permalink

    Maven – Plans are for the iOS version to work on 1st gen iPads (and 2nd and 3rd) and is being tested on such, never fear.

  11. Jim
    Posted 03 May 2012 at 22:11 | Permalink

    I’m with everybody, take the time to get it right. Thanks for the great update – I’ll keep checking back.

  12. Posted 04 May 2012 at 02:48 | Permalink

    I can completely understand how good products can take a long time to design, manufacture and produce. It would be great, however, to see really simplified versions of the iOS app pre-released. For example, I would love an iOS companion app to be able to write notes and short paragraphs on my iPhone (preferably) and secondly iPad to merely continue writing the next few paragraphs of my novels. Then have these synced with my current documents to format on my Mac (I use dropbox for syncing currently). However, I can also see how such “simple” use could become greatly complicated, i.e. through the use of headings and different user’s needs.

    I in no way object to “Perpetual Beta” apps; add basic features, and over time add more features as necessary or desired. After all, a successful complex app must first start off as a simple app that works.

  13. James Schmidt
    Posted 04 May 2012 at 14:52 | Permalink

    Thanks for the update. What’s striking to me is what a rich set of features you’re planning on bringing to the Scrivener IOS version. I’d assumed that the limitations of the system would have meant some inevitable compromises, resulting in a product that, while useful for minor editing, would be rather far removed from the Scrivener experience in OSX. This sounds like its going to be pretty amazing!

  14. Posted 04 May 2012 at 22:43 | Permalink

    I’ve been a dedicated Scrivener user from almost the beginning, and I’m thrilled that Scrivener will be coming to the iPad. I don’t need the full desktop functionality, but the ability to write and to organize the writings, and sync with the desktop app, will be a huge plus.

    I will make do until it arrives, but at that point, I will trust my writing to Scrivener!

  15. Paul
    Posted 05 May 2012 at 10:24 | Permalink

    This is excellent news! OK, we have to wait, but at least there is something to wait for.

    I hope it goes well. I sent out for extra patience – I am going to need it :)

  16. Posted 05 May 2012 at 13:57 | Permalink

    I am much more interested in the ongoing development of the Windows version. Is that just me?

  17. james
    Posted 05 May 2012 at 14:14 | Permalink

    What about a cloud based html5 scrivener? I’d like to be able to pick up where I left of at the office, on my netbook, or laptop without the wierd Scrivener dropbox problems that I ran into in the past.

  18. Jasmine Heyward
    Posted 05 May 2012 at 17:41 | Permalink

    Sounds good. I can’t freaking wait for it, but I get that coding from scratch takes FOREVER, so whenever it’s ready I’ll be waiting with a credit card handy. If it takes until the end of the year or the beginning of next year, fine.

    Now I’m going to go check out the forums, I’m not sure why I haven’t been on them yet.

  19. Mike
    Posted 05 May 2012 at 19:39 | Permalink

    Someday I want to write a novel. I’m not ready yet, but I know the only way I’ll ever finish is with Scrivener. I’ve tried it on a Mac, and I think it is quite definitely the finest software I’ve ever used for any purpose. Unfortunately, it is now THE only reason I ever turn on the Mac. The only time I use it is when I have extended quiet time to write. But every day I live and breathe on my phone and iPad. Give me the means to soak, and daydream, and dabble at my novel, and all of a sudden I am going to have lots of little bits of spare time to keep my writing going. I so look forward to this new tool. I write this to inspire you in your work, to remind you that the tools you create will enable so many others to unlock their creativity and write. Thanks, and Godspeed!

  20. Jerry
    Posted 06 May 2012 at 12:31 | Permalink

    I too would like it work right. Far too many notebook type apps crash often during use or when you use the one feature you bought it for.

  21. Dacia
    Posted 06 May 2012 at 15:20 | Permalink

    I am so grateful for this blog. Any news is good news and you have given us detailed progress. Thank you for all of your efforts. They will pay off. A promise from a faithfully waiting beta tester. :)

  22. Chase
    Posted 06 May 2012 at 16:19 | Permalink

    Thanks for the update. Since the sync feature will presumably be a web service shared across all platforms, perhaps it can be developed and released for OSX and Windows before the iOS release? Pretty please =D

  23. T-Bone
    Posted 06 May 2012 at 19:20 | Permalink

    As a current software developer looking to make a career change as a writer, I can fully appreciate the complexity and challenges that are usually the truth behing the promise of reuse. It is the excitement and anticipation – and sometimes the need for immediate gratification – that drives our continual prodding for a status report on the iOS version. I am sure every one of us would much prefer a quality product over a rushed prototype. Keep up the great work, we will all be here waiting anxiously… but maybe not always patiently. It is just an indication of our love for the product.

  24. Bob
    Posted 07 May 2012 at 19:34 | Permalink

    Thank you for the update. Like the rest who use Scrivener, I look forward to the iOS app. I also look forward to it being reliable. Quality is one of the features that binds us to Scrivener. It is the quality that allows us to place our trust in Scrivener. Again, thank you for the commitment to excellence.

  25. DJJB
    Posted 09 May 2012 at 01:05 | Permalink

    While I also absolutely support taking the time to create a quality product, having Scrivener on my iPad November 1st as I once again take up the NaNoWriMo challenge sure would be extra nifty!

  26. Mark
    Posted 09 May 2012 at 15:14 | Permalink

    Focus on more features for the Windows version please.

  27. Posted 09 May 2012 at 15:51 | Permalink

    Thanks for taking the time to offer this update and explanation. Apart from my journalism, I write everything else (novel-length fiction, short stories, essays, knitting patterns, recipes, etc.) using Scrivener, and I have just last week added an iPad to my toolbox.

    I’m now using Dropbox Elements to sync with my Scrivener files when I’m working remotely, and I’m finding little tricks to use here and there. Yes, I’m excited and impatient for the iOS version of Scrivener—but one of the things I’ve come to love about this program is that L&L is thoughtful and diligent about every update and doesn’t release anything before it’s truly ready.

    So, back to work now! (And yes, people named Jen really are awesome.)

  28. Elizabeth
    Posted 09 May 2012 at 18:19 | Permalink

    Thanks for the update! Sounds like you guys are taking the right path. And your list of basics makes me happy.

  29. Posted 11 May 2012 at 21:52 | Permalink

    Can’t wait! (But I will wait). But I can’t wait!! (But it WILL be worth the wait!) BUT I CAN’T WAIT!

  30. Marlo Shemere
    Posted 12 May 2012 at 19:49 | Permalink

    Keep up the great work. Many people are depending on your talents.

  31. brett
    Posted 13 May 2012 at 00:53 | Permalink

    Thanks much for the update, Keith-not-Kevin, and congrats on the progress so far. As long it will allow me to legibly display two documents side by side (or a horizontal split), and I can still see the Binder, that would probably be all I need to use my first-gen iPad as a replacement for my MacBook Air. I love my Air, but now that I’m not traveling nearly as much on road assignments as I used to, it spends the vast majority of its lifetime docked to my cinema display, and I could get more power and storage (and greater mobile battery life) at a lower cost by using a Mac Mini for that, and by using my iPad as my mobile platform. Also, I see that another Portlander / bilge rat has entered the Scrivener fold (hi Jen W!), so I’m sure we can expect a flood of orders from the upper left corner of the US.

  32. Posted 16 May 2012 at 13:34 | Permalink

    You’right. At the end of 2012, I can get that :D Middle 2013 too, if it stays as sweet as the Mac version is. I’ll wait for it, writing on Evernote. Patience is a good thing.

  33. Posted 18 May 2012 at 11:42 | Permalink

    I’m a fairly new user to Scrivener, but I have to say I’ve not been dissapointed. Having attempted multi thousand word work in the past on MS Word – you’re product is awesome. I would love an iPad but my only justification for buying one is to write my novel in the coffee shop (of which I frequent many and often)- So I’m not getting one until you have a product ready for it; Now don’t feel (too) guilty that you are depriving me of an iPad, but it would be really neat if I could have one for Xmas… BTW I use the windows version of Scrivener, so I would really like the iPad version to synch with that – pretty please :-)

  34. Posted 19 May 2012 at 13:16 | Permalink

    You know, you get this right and you’ll save me from having to spring for a laptop. The only–ONLY–thing missing from the iPad for me is Scrivener. No pressure, mind you

  35. Posted 19 May 2012 at 13:21 | Permalink

    One more thing: is iCloud going to play nice and let you (us) sync from the desktop to the version on iPad the way it does with Pages and Numbers.

  36. Posted 24 May 2012 at 17:44 | Permalink

    My company (my business partner really) have developed a number (11 or 12?) books in Scrivener so far, which have been published…so thank you! Looking forward to the IOS app when it comes. I always thought I’d love writing on the iPad but so far haven’t taken a liking to any writing app.

    As a side note, I want to say that I really appreciate your explanation of model view controller. That was the first explanation of it that immediately sunk in and was understandable to me. Thanks!

  37. Tracy Chiappari
    Posted 25 May 2012 at 19:15 | Permalink

    As a software engineer, this blog post makes me very happy, even though I really want the iPad version “right now!” as well.

    The software industry today, literally, is all about quick at the sacrifice of quality, and it shows in almost every app I use, not to mention my own work. Having been told to “just deliver something, it doesn’t matter if it still has issues”, I applaud your desire to get it right. In the end, I think that makes for much higher customer loyalty and satisfaction (which I think can been seen here), than the other method.

    I love Scrivener and all the brilliant attention to detail, and I’m looking forward to what you do with the iPad version :) I just wish I had a web programming app that was so well thought out…

22 Trackbacks

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  16. [...] will begin porting its popular Mac writing app, Scrivener, to the iPad. Though work is under way, progress is slow because, as Literature & Latte points out, good apps take time to plan and [...]

  17. [...] will begin porting its popular Mac writing app, Scrivener, to the iPad. Though work is under way, progress is slow because, as Literature & Latte points out, good apps take time to plan and [...]

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