Phraseology for iPad
First, it was apps focused on simulating flatulence. Then came the march of the Twitter clients. The latest developer playground on iOS is in the text editor space. Perhaps no one obsesses more over text editors than the staff at Macworld. That’s why I jumped at the chance to beta test Phraseology, which hit the App Store late last month from developer Agile Tortoise.
Agile Tortoise is a company clearly passionate about words; we’ve previously praised its dictionary app Terminology ( ). Phraseology inherits that app’s sepia tone, understated elegance, and emphasis on excelling at a small handful of features, rather than offering oodles of half-baked extras. It’s an approach that works well.
Phraseology runs capably in both portrait and landscape orientations. On the left edge of the screen sits a slim, vertically-oriented toolbar. On the right is your text window. Tap in the title bar to tweak the document’s name—a much simpler and more intuitive approach than, say, Pages employs. At the right edge of the title bar is a live word count, a necessity for folks in my profession.
The first button in Phraseology’s left side navigation exposes the document management pane. In perhaps the app’s only controversial design decision, it lacks integration with services like Dropbox or iCloud for sharing documents. Agile Tortoise reports that a future update will add Dropbox support in the coming weeks. Creating new documents takes a single tap; you can delete or archive your documents here, too.
One of Phraseology’s more innovative features is its Arrange pane. Few find the finger machinations necessary for repeated copying and pasting on the iPad fun or facile. Arrange lets you drag and drop paragraphs to switch up their order—or quickly delete paragraphs outright. It’s excellent.
Another impressive feature is the app’s Inspect pane, which offers various forms of textual analysis: character count, sentence count, words per sentence, readability scores (like Flesch Kincaid, Gunning fog, and SMOG), and breakdowns of the words used by quantity and parts of speech. It’s an interesting way to evaluate your text, even if not always actionable. (It’s decidedly helpful in curbing my own overuse of words like “sports” and “clever.”)
Phraseology offers Markdown support. Tap the Markdown button, and you’re greeted with a stylized preview of your text document. HTML devotees like myself share that perk, since the Markdown preview renders HTML, too.
Other clever options that Phraseology sports include the ability to tweet your text (although possibly quite truncated), email it, send it to other text-friendly apps on your iPad, or copy all of it to the iPad’s clipboard in a single tap. The app also offers a variety of font (and font size) options, and a button for printing your prose.
If you have Terminology installed, Phraseology can connect to it. When you select words, you can use iOS 5’s built-in dictionary to see their definitions, or tap Lookup to see them defined with Terminology. If you tap Replace, Terminology can—at your direction—send back an alternate word you find and replace the selected text with it. In both cases, Terminology offers a button to switch directly back into Phraseology again.
Niceties aside, the important part of any writing app is that it get out of your way when you need it to and just let you write. (This is why so many professional writers loathe Microsoft Word on the desktop; the app is eager to please, and often does so by interrupting the writer’s flow.) Keeping an iOS writing app simple is, at this point, a common enough trick. Phraseology shines by offering honed, useful, and straightforward extras like its Arrange, Inspect, and preview features.
I feel at home in BBEdit on my Mac, and in Phraseology on my iPad. That Phraseology is the app I turn to when I’m on my iPad and need the words to flow is the highest praise I can offer it.
[Lex Friedman is a Macworld staff writer.]