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Hollywood actor Tom Hanks released not a movie, but an app. You read that correctly, not a movie, but an iPad app. It’s called the Hanx Writer, the app is free in Apple’s App Store, though additional typewriter fonts and sounds cost $2.99 each.
Hanx Writer turns your iPad into an old-school manual typewriter. It replicates the thwack-thwack sound of metal stamping on paper and the ding-clunk-fripp of reaching the end of one line and starting a new one.
“What’s pleasing to my sensibilities is when you have the report of the key being struck, it allows for clear thinking,” the actor said, noting that his collection of typewriters once numbered 200. “I suppose some people who get the app may just be looking for a different sound, but really it’s for people searching for a more personalized experience when writing on an iPad,” he says. “There’s also the opportunity here to take your iPad to a coffee house and be really obnoxious with all the clickety-clacking.”
Tom Hanks says he uses typewriters daily, usually to type notes to friends or make comments on a screenplay. He loves the characteristics inherent in different machines and their distinctive fonts and quirks, whether it be a Hermes 2000 or a Brother De Luxe 895.
Hanks is, of course, not the first celebrity to be interested in apps. Ashton Kutcher is well known in technology circles today, Justin Timberlake moved from playing Sean Parker in the Facebook-inspired movie The Social Network to buying MySpace, and American Idol host Ryan Seacrest wanted to launch a hardware keyboard for the iPhone, called the Typo. The Hanx Writer doesn’t feel like a celebrity stunt – it’s well made, and would be an interesting app no matter who was behind it.
Hanx Writer is, by modern standards, a terrible word-processor. To make the app authentic, there’s no auto-capitalisation, auto punctuation or any other modern convenience. Instead, the app shows a large typewriter style keyboard, some paper, and lets you type with a wonderfully smooth animation showing the letters strike the page. All this, with a very satisfying clicking noise, and the joyous ding as you hit the end of a line – very retro indeed!
Instead of being able to copy-paste and move around large pieces of text, you really do feel like you’re writing on a typewriter, and since you can’t split the keyboard the way you can the iOS keyboard, thumb-typing isn’t an option either. To use the Hanx Writer for actual work is a bad idea unless you have a Bluetooth keyboard paired to the iPad, but if you’re not in a rush, then the app is actually pretty amazing to write with.
The app’s designer, Stuart Wesftphal of Hitcents, the folks behind the Draw A Stickman game, says the double Oscar-winner’s mandate was simple.
“He mainly said don’t make it gimmicky, so it had to work with a Bluetooth keyboard, which is really where you get the full effect of seeing a blank white page slowly fill with black type,” says Westphal, noting that the partnership with Hanks was spearheaded through a connection with Creative Artists Agency in Los Angeles. “Tom wanted people to want to sit down and write a poem or screenplay with it.”