NickWrite is the first Windows Phone 7 app from Megos. It runs on the „Mango“ release of WP7. The app is free and does not display any ads. The only supported language is English, but NickWrite is available world-wide in the Marketplace. Download it here.

What is it good for?

The app enables you to write text on your smartphone (for SMS, for email or for any other app that uses text) easier and faster than with the standard basic features that WP7 itself offers. It tries to be something like an advanced text editor for WP7.

NickWrite has two core areas of functionality. It offers a template mechanism for easily creating text from templates that you use repeatedly, e.g. for sending messages like I am in a meeting or I will arrive somewhat later. That’s nothing special and can be found in well over a dozen other WP7 apps, but it’s useful, and NickWrite’s templates also offer variables to make them more flexible, and you can pin individual templates to the Start Page to have them within even faster reach.

What is special and what seemingly no other current WP7 app available in Spring 2012 offers is the second area of functionality: NickWrite improves the process of entering and changing text as well.

It does this e.g. by offering multi-level Undo and Redo for text changes. WP7 word AutoComplete was too „clever“ and replaced the word you just wrote with something you don’t want? No problem, just tap Undo! You had nearly finished writing an SMS when you were interrupted by a phone call, and now you go back to Messages just to find out that your draft is gone? No problem, use NickWrite to write your messages and rely on its AutoSave feature.

It’s really funny in a certain way: Imagine somebody presents you a desktop program designed as an alternative to Microsoft Word, but the program offers neither Undo nor AutoSave. Would you take it seriously, would you want to try it? Now why should text processing on a smartphone be so different that you get away with leaving out such essential functions? On the one hand one writes much shorter texts on a phone, but on the other hand writing is considerable harder and thus can use any support it gets.

Cursor Movement

Probably the most unique feature of NickWrite, newly available in the version 1.2 update, is cursor navigation by using buttons. As of June 2012 we haven’t seen this in any other WP7 app.

On the Edit page the navigation buttons and the position slider become visible by using the Navigate app menu entry, or much faster and more conveniently by a vertical flick gesture over the text box. You can flick up or down, but flicking down probably feels more natural.

Cursor Navigation Cursor Navigation 2

There are buttons to go the start and to the end of the text, to go one character right or left, to go one line up or down, or go a whole „page“ up or down. By tapping the Ok button you exit this navigation mode, and the onscreen keyboard reappears.

Between the textbox and the buttons there is the position slider which shows the current relative position of the cursor within the text, using the character position. You can also tap the slider to set the cursor position to the approximate position that you want. Even dragging is possible, but that sometimes does not work reliably. In this way, the position slider is something like a scrollbar in Desktop Windows, only horizontal instead of vertical.

Of course there already is a standard mechanism in WP7 to position the cursor, the green „moving cursor“ that you get if you tap-and-hold within a textbox and then move your finger. But this mechanism is rather „fiddly“: It’s not very easy to scroll a text in small text box up or down this way, and also not very precise.

You may wonder why in NickWrite you cannot scroll the text by simply „grabbing“ and „sliding“ the text the way you can scroll lists, web pages, emails and other things in WP7. The reason is that this is a unsupported feature for text boxes in WP7, and if you try to trick WP7 into doing it nevertheless some quite confusing bugs and/or inconsistent behaviors appear.

App Fundamentals

NickWrite uses some concepts that are not immediately obvious after just glancing at the app, thus the following introduction might help:

Named Actions For Template Variables

NickWrite has a number of actions that help you write and change text. You can use them interactively on the Edit page; you reach the page for selecting and triggering actions by tapping the „flash“ app bar button.

Select action

Now, what is that action called Ask for date good for? It displays a page where you specify a date, and after confirming inserts it into your current text at cursor position. For interactive use, this is only moderately useful; after all, you could just write the date yourself.

But imagine a message template like Meeting moved, new date is. It would be nice to insert a reference to the action Ask for date somehow into this template, as a variable, so that if you use the template, you are immediately guided to the date entry page.

This is possible using named actions: You can give names to actions, or more exactly short nicknames of 1 to 5 five characters in length, because long names would be unhandy. (The „Nick“ in „NickWrite“ refers to these nicknames.) It’s a good idea to choose nicknames that are mnemonic i.e. easy to remember, like ad for (A)ask for (d)ate.

With a named action of ad defined you can now write your template as Meeting moved, new date is <ad>.

There are two further actions that are not automatically offered for interactive use because they don’t make much sense in that context but are available when defining named actions: Ask for text and Ask for number. Defined as named actions at and an and used as variables, you can write templates like Honey, buy <at>, the price today is only <an>.

By the way, if you write a template with NickWrite, you don’t have to write such marks yourself, complicated-to-type brackets and all; use the action Insert action mark.

Named Actions For Abbreviations

There is an action Insert text which, as the name implies, inserts some piece of text into the text that you edit. You specify the text to insert when you name the corresponding action. You can have any number of named variants of the Insert text action, each with another text attached.

Edit a named action

Thus defined the nicknames become abbreviations for the attached pieces of text. The screenshot above shows tr defined as a nickname for Thanks and regards, Megos AG. (Nickwrite will adjust the capitalization as needed when inserting.)

There are two ways to use the abbreviations, one obvious and one not: The page for selecting actions do not only list the „basic“, nameless actions, but also the named ones – you recognize them by the filled first column showing their nicknames. So you can just locate and tap them there.

The second way feels much more natural and is probably faster if you define many abbreviations: Just type the nickname and tap the „Nickname“ app bar button to replace it with the full text:

Use nicknames as abbreviations

When doing so, don’t worry about uppercase and lowercase in the written nickname. And maybe surprisingly, you don’t need to write anything special in front of the nickname, like e.g. a space: If you define o as a nickname for ology, you can just write Techno and hit the nickname button to expand that to the full Technology!

The Overview Page

The text edit box on the Edit page is rather small, but it has to be small to leave room on the page for all the other things and to be fully visible with active on-screen keyboard. There is a second page called Overview with a text box that fills the whole page. There are normal menu functions to switch between the two pages, but you can switch much faster between them using horizontal flick gestures on top of the text boxes, which is fortunate because you get the most out of the two views if you freely switch back and forth as needed during editing.

Flick to Overview Flick back to Edit page

On the Overview there is an app bar button to change the font size: Tap repeatedly to go through all the available font sizes, from very small to look at as much text as possible with a single glance, to very big like in the screenshot above. NickWrite remembers the font size.

There is another app bar button for easy selecting. If you tap the button with something selected, NickWrite intelligently extends the selection: If your selection happens to be inside a special part of text like a phone number, URL or email address, the selection extends to cover the whole part. After that, or without a special part present, sentence parts are selected. If you tap the button repeatedly more sentence parts are added one at a time.

If you go back to the edit page by flicking or by using the submit app menu function any text changes plus the current selection (or the current cursor position) are copied over; if you use the cancel app menu function they are not.

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