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.