Co.Design

Tom Hanks Releases A Typewriter App For iPad, And It's Insufferably Twee

Hanx Writer doesn't understand what makes typewriters great.

Academy Award-winning actor Tom Hanks doesn't want to turn you into a twee hipster doofus using a typewriter in your local Starbucks. He wants to turn you into something even worse: the twee hipster doofus who is using an app to turn your iPad into a typewriter at your local Starbucks.

Appropriately enough, Hanks's new typewriter is called Hanx Writer. It's an analog typewriter emulator for the iPad, complete with a typewriter's irregular fonts, weird operational quirks, and a library of telltale sounds: the thwack-thwack of a type hammer smacking against the page, or the brrring of the carriage being slapped to the next line. The app is free, but in-app purchases unlock other typewriter styles, as well as features such as text-alignment, color ribbons, and more.

Hanks seems to legitimately love typewriters. The actor collects them, and casually mentions in the way that multi-millionaires with too much money are liable to do that at one point, his collection actually numbers over 2,000 models. To Hanks, the distinctive sound of a typewriter key being struck "allows for clearer thinking," which is why he still uses typewriters on a daily basis to write notes to friends and type up screenplays.

"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," Hanks told USA Today. "There's also the opportunity here to take your iPad to a coffee house and be really obnoxious with all the clickety-clacking."

The main problem here is that Hanks's app lets you delete and revise copy. Traditional typewriters do not, and that is their greatest advantages over word processors. Because typewriters don't allow you to erase text, they force you to focus more clearly on the words you are writing. And they do so without compromising a writer's rhythm or his forward momentum. Typewriters encourage what Ray Bradbury call the truth of swiftness. This is how the famously computer-averse sci-fi writer described it in Zen and the Art of Writing.

The faster you blurt, the more swiftly you write, the more honest you are. In hesitation is thought. In delay comes the effort for a style, instead of leaping upon truth which is the only style worth deadfall or tiger-trapping.

This is the true power of the typewriter. Not the sounds the keys make when you type, or the quirk of irregular ink and metal fonts: those are a typewriter's superficial charms. Which is what makes Hanx Writer so disappointing to me. Tom Hanks loves typewriters, but with Hanx Writer, he only sets out to emulate a typewriter's charm, not the typewriter's power. Make a mistake in Hanx Writer? You can fix it immediately, just like in any other iOS app: just tap the screen where you want to edit. There's not even an option to invoke what the excellent online writing tool Drafts calls "Hemingway Mode," which temporarily turns off the ability for a writer to go back and edit his work. There's autocorrect and spell check in there, too.

You can download Hanx Writer for iPad here.

[Photo: Olaf Speier via Shutterstock]

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10 Comments

  • ametanoetos

    You're making two claims here: first, that literary style is best characterised as a flow of expression, and second, that a flow of expression is at odds in a scholarly text like an essay. Well, it depends on the author, actually. Some people do academic (professional) philosophy in a fresh, everyday-ish kind of prose. Others don't.

    Another point: guess on which type of devices people were usually writing their dry scientific stuff until about twenty years ago. Typewriters are classy, but if you chiefly composed business letters on one of them, you might have longed for a break from hammering keys. Not unlike some people these days, who desire a break from e-mails during the weekend, but their iPad keeps receiving...

    Your quote mentions truth. I'll grant you that many an inspired author is already at the point where the professorial personages arrive panting after much intellectual climbing. But these panting guys can often claim that their conclusions are universally compelling.

  • To me it's really simple - if you want a typewriter, get a typewriter. If you got yourself a modern iPad app that simulates a typewriter and complain about it not being a real typewriter - well, that's a bit silly.

  • lisaisthewriter

    It sounds like Tom Hanks has a sincere interest in typewriters and made an app based on it. But it must be reviled because someone you don't like will probably buy it? I dislike hipsters as much as anyone, but I don't let them have dominion over broad categories of inanimate objects. Things are just things.

  • forum.bober

    The idea of "be really obnoxious with all the clickety-clacking [in a cafe]" is genius, haha. Thou I must say that articles at FastCo are getting very subjective and non-constructive, almost tabloid-like. Hmm hmm.

  • marc.a.lehman

    "Thou I must say that articles at FastCo are getting very subjective and non-constructive, almost tabloid-like."

    Everything written by John Brownlee especially.

  • Luke Hettel

    You make a good point on the typewriters power, but your angle of negative criticism is shallow and lacks a true eye toward progressiveness and inspiration, traits your magazine is aiming toward. With respect, go for a deeper, less reactionary style and you'll be a better journalist. I mean, criticizing hipsterdom? It's boring, truth be told.

  • So basically, you're complaining that Hanx Writer (like Microsoft Word, ahem) is bloat-ware, and tries to do too much. Here's an idea: just use Hanx Writer as a typewriter, and DON'T go back and edit. What's written is written. Problem solved - with a bit of self-control. (Unless you can't turn off autocorrect and spell check, which I do in Word.)