App Recalls What Using a Typewriter Was Really Like

A while back, I wrote about an iPad app that simulated the awesomeness that was typing on a typewriter, transporting me back to junior high typing class. But I’ve come to realize my affection for these machines was tainted with nostalgia as seen through glasses sporting Pantone 213-tinted lenses. Typewriters—in comparison to today’s sleek keyboards and touch devices—were awful, maddening instruments of sloth-like work efficiency. And now there is a web application that tells it like it is. Or was. The OverType typewriter app introduces many of the little infuriating nuances (did Smith Corona tout them as features?) that using a manual typewriter presented.

I won't complain about my old ergonomic split keyboard's odd behavior ever again!

I won’t complain about my old ergonomic split keyboard’s odd behavior ever again!

Launching the site, you are presented with nothing more than a blank piece of virtual paper and a slight red line to indicate where the “keys” will strike as you type. Start typing and you will immediately notice that each keystroke has to be distinct and separate, no sliding gracefully from one key to the next. In the old days, striking two keys simultaneously would jam the hammers, requiring you to manually separate them. While the developer is hoping to add this “feature” in a future version, for now the app merely ignores the second keystroke (which for me tended to be the space bar). If you make a mistake, your feeble attempt at using the backspace will do just that: back up a space. Your only option at this point is to type over the character, or strike-through with some other character—I seem to remember the pound sign was preferable—and move on like it never happened.

My attempt type in my normal way in the OverType app (quickly and without looking at the screen).

My attempt to type in my normal way in the OverType app (quickly and without looking at the screen).

A few things that you can do in the OverType app that give a little modern comfort, is to use the arrow keys to move your cursor to the desired point, and use the sliders at the top of the page to simulate how mis-aligned your baseline will be, and also how much ink is left in your ribbon. The app lets you use your browser print function or to create a PDF, but true to its old-fashioned nature, doesn’t allow copying or pasting of any text. Be sure to turn your volume up for the full walk down memory lane, complete with hammer strikes and the bell at the hard returns. Ah…I can smell the ribbon ink and the metal on my fingers already. DING!

Posted on: August 6, 2015

Erica Gamet

Erica Gamet has been involved in the graphics industry for over 25 years. She is a speaker, writer, and trainer, focusing on Adobe InDesign and Illustrator, Apple Keynote and iBooks Author, and other print- and production-related topics. She is a regular contributor to InDesign Magazine, tech edited How To Do Everything with Adobe InDesign CS4, and served as leader of the Denver InDesign User Group. After living as a nomad for almost a year, she recently put down roots in El Paso, Texas, where she hikes and bikes every chance she gets. Check out to see all of Erica's upcoming events, tips and tricks, and workbooks.

1 Comment on App Recalls What Using a Typewriter Was Really Like

  1. Sometimes I miss my typewriter days. Was a great feeling creating perfectly centered letter or document knowing I did the work and not a programmer somewhere, especially one who doesn’t know to align the decimals in a number list! By the way to indent, you had to set a tab! Carbon copies, however, definitely not missed!

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