iA Writer review

Minimalism is what iA Writer is all about. Minimalism does not equal minimal functionality, though. The iA Writer development team has evolved the app over the past couple of years into the editing powerhouse it is today. Version 6 adds a much desired feature for note takers and academic writers alike: wikilinks. In addition, there’s better and more extended metadata functionality, link recognition, a history that you can navigate, hashtag autocomplete and a file picker for easily creating wikilinks and content blocks.

iaWriter is often compared with Ulysses, but the apps use a different approach to managing a text repository as well as to supporting the editing process itself. Ulysses uses a proprietary Library that is required to benefit from the app’s capabilities. iA Writer has a file system based library with the iCloud Drive Library activated by default upon installing the app but needed for synchronisation only. iA Writer’s documents are text documents that you can edit anywhere and with any text editor you like.

iA Writer adapts itself to your workflow. For example, if you want to switch to Obsidian for its knowledge graph. Another example is its pure markdown table approach. The editor view shows you the MultiMarkdown “raw code” while the preview panel shows you what it will look like in the template you selected.

Speaking of templates, that’s the only area where iA Writer is lacking somewhat. That is mainly because the template system is complicated for designers who can’t or won’t write code. It’s easy to overcome, though, by buying the excellent Marked 2 app by Brett Terpstra, which is a sort of preview on steroids for many other apps too.

iA Writer’s new features

It’s obvious that the new version’s wikilinks feature is the most important one. Wikilinks allow for interconnecting your documents. They’re associated with note taking, and they could be the first step towards something even more interesting: automatic backlinks. If the developers would include backlinks in a future update, they’d have the most complete text annex notes editor on the market.

Wikilinks resemble content blocks in that the latter are for file transclusion while the former are for plain linking.

Imagine you’re writing a book with each iA Writer document a chapter. To “assemble” the book you can simply place the references to the chapters as content blocks in a new document. iA Writer even allows you to add a code {{TOC}} at the top of that document to provide for a table of contents.

Wikilinks use a similar referencing method. Instead of typing a forward slash and the document title on an empty line, you type two square brackets anywhere in the text and the title and a link is created to that document.

In either case, a few characters from the title are enough to have iA Writer automatically show you the file picker, which is a list of all the documents in any of your your Library locations with those characters. The list becomes shorter in real time as you keep typing. If you want to give the wikilink a different title from the document name, you simply use the pipe symbol on your keyboard as a starting “code” and type the title.

If the file you’re linking to does not exist, iA Writer will create it in the same Library folder upon command-clicking it. That’s the shortcut that takes you to an existing file you link to as well.

The new file History lets you go forward and backward through the files you have opened with another keyboard combination.

Finally, metadata may not be a new feature, but the implementation in version 6 has been improved. For example, you can now have global metadata in the Preferences, e.g. your name and copyright details. If the metadata is different in some files, all you need to do is to fill in the YAML code at the top as you used to do in previous versions. You can define names and other metadata in the document’s metadata area as a variable and use it anywhere in the text.

Verdict

It’s remarkable how every new version of iA Writer stays true to its promise of minimalism. It’s also remarkable that I have yet to discover features in iA Writer that I think are fluff or implemented in ways that are not efficient.

Version 6 is no different. The wikilink functionality is well thought out and rock solid. The new metadata engine allows more functionality and can make repetitive tasks much less common. The History feature hints at the possibility of automatic backlinks in a future update or upgrade.

Even the minor new features and improvements such as preferred highlight colours and the way you can make completed tasks look like in task lists are there to make your writing existence a better and more pleasant experience.

iA Writer is available in the Apple Mac and iOS App Stores. I’m happy to say the cross-platform availability has not led to the developers switching to the Electron developing environment, which means iA Writer behaves like a proper Mac citizen.

iA Writer is available for macOS, iOS, iPadOS and Android. It’s available for Windows from the iaWriter website.

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