As a writer, the iPhone makes me very excited. I’m excited by the idea that this pocket-sized device could replace my laptop.
A few years ago, I had a Handspring Visor with a collapsible keyboard. Each device could slip into a jacket pocket and I could take my writing work with me wherever I went. This turned out to be a great boon to my productivity — I got work done everywhere.
That Visor got old and I needed a laptop, so I dropped the PDA. But now the iPhone and its robust feature set promises to give me most of the features I need from a laptop (web browsing, email, etc.) while also holding out hope of giving me the productivity options my old PDA did.
Since third-party applications can’t be installed on the iPhone, that leaves me looking for web-based programs to do what I need. Luckily, there are a number of free online office suites that offer word processors, spreadsheets, and other programs. This could be the answer to my needs.
Well, it could be. But it’s not.
I used my iPhone to sign up for accounts at three prominent online office suites: Google Docs and Spreadsheets, Zoho, and ThinkFree.
And it turns out none of them work with the iPhone’s browser. I can get to the pages, load their interfaces, and all the rest, but when I click into the windows where I would write, the iPhone’s onscreen keyboard doesn’t come up. And since there’s no way to force the keyboard to show up, I’m out of luck. I’m doubly stuck when it comes to ThinkFree, since that application uses Java, a technology that the iPhone’s browser doesn’t yet support.
I suspect that the onscreen keyboard displays when the web browser encounters certain HTML code. As a result, I’d hope that a few tweaks to the browser would make it compatible with these online office apps. (Especially the Google apps, since Apple and Google have been talking up their collaboration on programs for the phone.)
Of course, that may not ultimately be necessary. The onscreen keyboard is great for short amounts of writing, but no one’s ever going to write a novel on it, let alone a short story (at least they won’t stay sane while doing it). I’m hoping — hard — for a foldable external keyboard like I had for my Visor. I’ll be in line for one of those if someone releases one.
With that kind of keyboard and a tweak to the iPhone browser, I can envision doing a lot of writing on iPhones for many years to come.