Creating WordPress blog entries with the iPad app

WordPress app Welcome

Welcome, things couldn't be easier! (or could they?)

Can you really just grab your iPad as you walk out the door then happily create WordPress blog entries while you’re on the move? Well that’s my objective. I’m somewhere interesting, camera in one hand, iPad in the other, ready to let the world know with a new blog entry… Well that’s the theory, so how does it work out in practice?

First port of call was the bespoke WordPress app in the app store. Ok a lot of the feedback was none too friendly but I’m always willing to give something a try so I downloaded it and off we went. Set up is easy and promises that you’ll be blogging in seconds, you just enter the details about your blog, provide your credentials and let the app authenticate. At this point you’re presented with a list of your blogs (as you might have more than one) and having selected one, you’re presented with a list of posts relating to that blog, so from a navigation perspective it’s a good start. The list actually shows you all your published posts plus any drafts you’ve created on the web as one combined list. As we’ll see later, only drafts created locally in the iPad app are separated out under their own heading. Anyway, the idea is that you simply choose an existing entry to edit or create a new one by tapping on the pen & paper icon at the top of the list which is what I did.

The first screen you see when creating a new blog post lets you give your post a title, add some tags, and give it a category. In addition along the top right of the screen are three icons for other actions. The first is the Settings icon where you can choose a publish date/time, set a password and also choose whether or not photos are resized. The next icon is for attaching photos to your new blog post, and you simply use the ‘+’ gadget to add photos from Photo Albums on your iPad. (It’s worth noting here that you don’t seem able to enter the URL of existing photos on the web, or choose from photos you may have previously uploaded to WordPress). Picking photos from your iPad is easy so I added a couple to my post. The last icon lets you see a quick Preview of what your post will look like. It’s a bit basic but it gives you an idea, although I was greeted with a message telling me the theme for my blog could not be retrieved so I was being shown a ‘simple preview’. Didn’t sound too serious, so time to create!

WordPress iPad app 2I now had an entry in my posts under ‘Local Drafts’ so a quick tap of the Edit button was all that was needed. What appeared next was perhaps a little confusing as I was taken back to the previous screen where I set the title, tags, etc., but I then twigged that with the cursor sitting in a blank white area under the blog details, this is where is was supposed to start laying down the text of my new blog post. Well fair enough, but then the penny dropped. This was going to be no work of art with inline photos, rich text, links and the like. No, basically what you can do is enter a stream of plain text and then any pictures you chose via the Photos gadget are included at the bottom of the post. Now the more geeky amongst you will say “Ahh, but if you know HTML tags then you can add rich text” and you’d be right, but in this day and age and with a bespoke WordPress blogging app, should you have to? What’s more it’s a pain because tags are denoted by angled brackets which means a lot of keystrokes – bear with me on this. To make something bold you press the ‘.?123’ key, then  the ‘#+=’ key, followed by the ‘<‘ key, then the ‘ABC’ key to get back to the letter keys where you then type the tag name (in this case the word ‘strong’), then the ‘.?123’ key again, then  the ‘#+=’ key again and finally another ‘<‘, then the ‘#+=’ key again so that you can then enter the ‘/’ character, then the ‘ABC’ key again, and so on … Now if that was confusing and a lot of effort to read, just imagine having to do it every time you want to use rich text! Sorry but it’s much too long-winded, and of course it assumes the user actually knows the codes for all the tags they want to use because there’s no help within the app itself to tell you what commonly used tags are. The one exception to the HTML tag ‘pain’ is hypertext or links. If you type the letters ‘http:’ the editor assumes you want to enter a link and helpfully pops up a dialogue where you can specify the text to be linked and the link URL, but that’s the only help you’ll get. For bold, italic, underlined text. font colours, styles, etc., you’re on your own!

WordPress iPad app 3So, at this point I’ve settled on a rather simple blog post of some plain text which includes a couple of photos at the bottom. A bit like a glorified electronic postcard if you like. I dutifully tap the Save button, then have a quick look using the Preview button, before…. Hmmm, where is that Publish button? Save is now greyed out as everything is, well… saved. I can still use the Settings, Photos and Preview buttons, but rather unhelpfully the only other button says Cancel. Well if that’s all I can tap… at which point I’m returned to my list of blog posts with my new entry showing under Local Drafts. Has it been published? Who knows. Can I go back and edit it? Well at this point I can’t, and this looks like a bug. There’s a list of posts down the left of the screen, but the right hand portion of the screen is blank (see pic below). Tapping an entry on the left does nothing, you can’t seem to edit it in any way, and tapping the pen & paper icon simply creates a new post. At this point I’m at a bit of a loss as to what to do next, the application actually had me stumped! In the end I quit the app and relaunched it and was then able to edit existing posts.

WordPress iPad app 4

One of the bugs I encountered

To ascertain whether or not my new entry had been published, I resorted to using my Mac and the web interface via Firefox to go to the dashboard on the WordPress site. Sure enough there’s no sign of the post I just created on the iPad, either published or as a draft. I relaunched the WordPress app a second time but received a message saying there was a ‘Communication Error’, strange seeing as I’m at home, have a strong WiFi signal and my internet connection seems fine. All that’s left to do is to ‘Ok’ the error message. Hey presto! With my recently created draft selected in the blog posts list on the left, I can now see the message on the right (where it was previously blank – a bug perhaps?)… and there’s an Edit button! Tapping it takes me back to the familiar editing screen where I can Save and/or Cancel, but no obvious way to publish my creation. Back to the WordPress dashboard on my Mac, but it’s still not showing up there? Maybe that earlier error message meant it can’t upload it? So I relaunch the iPad app a third time and while I don’t see the ‘Communication Error’ message again, there’s still no sign of the post on the blog anywhere. I double-check the Publish Date in the app and it says Friday, 30 July 2010> although tapping this field doesn’t let me see the time it’s supposed to be published (another bug?).

WordPress iPad app 5

Uh oh...

At the end of the day there’s only so much time you can waste spend trying to get something to work, or to figure it out. It’s now three hours after I initially created the blog post on the iPad and it’s nowhere to be seen on the web. If I were an average user who had no interest in how Macs, iPads etc. work, then I’d probably have given up with this a while ago. What is frustrating is that given this is a dedicated WordPress blogging app, its primary function must be to let you post new entries to your blog, from your iPad. There must be something somewhere that uploads and publishes your new posts but it has escaped me.

As a final little diversion, I thought I would see what the app lets me do with comments on the blog. Tapping the Comments icon shows you a list of all comments down the left of the screen, and selecting a comment will show you its details over on the right. The details are just plain text, so you can’t follow links to check for spam etc., but you can Approve/Unapprove comments, mark them as spam or edit them. Marking a comment as spam doesn’t appear to do anything immediately, you don’t get any acknowledgment of your action, you don’t see a pop-up telling you the comment has been marked as spam, you’re simply taken back to the comment itself which is exactly as it was before. You have no idea if what you just did actually resulted in anything – the message is still sitting there. Just so happens that after about 3 minutes the comment I had flagged as spam did actually disappear from the list of comments. I’m guessing the app did a refresh with the server, or it just got around to removing the comment locally – who knows, and if you’re out and about with no internet connection, this could get all the more  confusing.

So what have I learned from my little excursion with the WordPress app for the iPad? Is it the route to publishing on the move with or without an internet connection? Well I will summarize it like this:

  • The interface is sparse and a little un-intuitive at the best of times.
  • Entering rich text is a right royal pain. You need to know all the tags and be very patient.
  • Adding photos is only available as ‘end of post’ gallery style, you can’t locate pictures within your text.
  • Publishing draft entries is confusing, the mechanism is far from obvious.
  • You can moderate comments from within the app if you need to, although again it’s not terribly intuitive.
  • There are a few bugs and the app did crash on me several times.

I can easily see how people who aren’t technically inclined would lose patience with this app quite quickly. I stuck with it for longer but only because I wanted to give it a fair chance for writing about it. In the end I found the whole thing frustrating and a bit of a let down, and ultimately my inability to actually get a draft post created on the iPad to actually appear (anywhere) on this blog means that I wouldn’t recommend it, even if it is free.

The obvious question is – if you’re out and about and you do have an internet connection, would you be better off pointing mobile Safari at your WordPress blog and trying to do things via the web interface? Well there are limitations to that approach too and it does require a little more planning, but if you don’t want to do anything ‘clever’ (rich text, in-line photos, etc.), then it is actually possible. I have given it a go and will try and write another blog post to compare the experience. It wasn’t a great experience although it did work in the end, but it did demonstrate the need for a solid WordPress app for the iPad that’s a little more intuitive and a lot more reliable.