All Tech Considered
5:15 pm
Tue September 2, 2014

In Tom Hanks' iPad App, Typewriters Make Triumphant Return (Ding!)

Originally published on Wed September 3, 2014 5:06 pm

Tom Hanks' love affair with typewriters began in the 1970s, with his first proper typewriter — a Hermes 2000. Typewriters are "beautiful works of art," he tells NPR's Audie Cornish. "And I've ended up collecting them from every ridiculous source possible."

Hanks admits he started his collection when he had a "little excess cash" but, he points out, it's "better to spend it on $50 typewriters than some of the other things you can blow show-business money on."

The obsession has now resulted in an app called Hanx Writer: For iPad users who are nostalgic for the clickety-clack of keystrokes and "ding!" of the carriage return, Hanx Writer will type and print documents just like an old manual typewriter. The design of the app, which Hanks created with the developer Hitcents, was based on typewriters from Hanks' own collection.

As for whether version 2.0 will have a white-out option? "That would be funny," Hanks says.


Interview Highlights

On differences from modern word processing — such as the function of backspace and delete

On the app, you can't just hold down the button and it deletes line after line. You literally have to do it one at a time: tuk, tuk, tuk, tuk. ... Or you can just not care and just go on with whatever horrible syntax you happen to personally use.

When I use my manual typewriter, I'm merciless with the X-ing out key. And sometimes it's nice ... when you're typing a letter on the app just to maintain that false Luddite sensibility. It's kind of like when you take a video and you add onto it the scratchy 8 mm filter that you can download. ... It's not authentic in any way other than the way it appears.

On how using the app changes the writing process

It makes me work a little slower, and when you work a little slower, you work a little bit more accurately. ... I like operating a little bit slower. Now, the only thing I get from this app is the sound and the speed. What I really, truly miss is the physical trail that typing usually gives you. Typing on an actual typewriter on paper is only a softer version of chiseling words into stone.

On whether this is a gateway typewriter experience for a new generation

I think in a lot of ways much of what ... the app-makers out there are discovering [are] these kind of like backdoor Luddite habits. The amount of cool things you can do with a photographic app now to make it look like anything from a daguerreotype from the 1860s to a Polaroid from 1972 — that gives it a patina. And because you've paid attention to it a little bit more, you haven't just taken a picture and sent it off, that means it becomes some sort of artistic expression.

On the trade-offs

If you do want to adhere to a couple of arcane rules in which speed and volume might be sacrificed a little bit — but the advantages that you get of more of a relaxed pace and a specific look to it — to me that's a wonderful trade-off.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Finally this hour, a tool that's now obsolete in the newsroom - typewriters, and the Oscar-winning actor who loves them. Tom Hanks loves typewriters. He told us it all began in the 1970s with his first proper typewriter, a Hermes 2000.

TOM HANKS: I ended up just enjoying having them around because they're beautiful works of art. I ended up collecting them from every ridiculous source possible - some of them incredibly cheap. Sometimes I've overpaid for them. It really kicked off probably when I had a little excess cash. But better to spend it on $50 typewriters than on some of the other things you can blow show business money on.

CORNISH: Well, that obsession has now resulted in an app called Hanx Writer. That's Hanks spelled H - A - N - X. Tom Hanks partnered with the developer Hitcents to create the app, which allows an iPad to type and print documents just like a typewriter. I got Mr. Hanks on the phone to try it out, starting with that familiar line, the quick brown fox...

HANKS: You might want to put quick brown foxes 'cause you've got to get an S in there.

CORNISH: No, jumps - that gets an S.

HANKS: So it's either the quick brown foxes or the lazy dogs.

CORNISH: Oh, right. OK, here we go.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYPING KEYS)

CORNISH: Every time I have done that for people in my office, they squeal.

HANKS: (Laughter).

CORNISH: The sound - it's the sound, right?

HANKS: You notice a difference in the sound because there's the keys themselves, but then you have the space bar.

CORNISH: Yes.

HANKS: And then did you do any capital shift in there?

CORNISH: OK, I'm going to be honest. I did not.

HANKS: OK.

CORNISH: And this is one of the quirks, I realize, of using this - is that we've all developed new habits with word processing, right?

HANKS: Yeah.

CORNISH: And one of them is we let the computer do the capitalization.

HANKS: Right.

CORNISH: Were there other quirks that you found, like, when you kind of switch back and forth that you have to get used to again?

HANKS: Well the only thing that - as far as in the speed with which I type, the only advantage of a computer is you don't have to return the carets. You can just keep typing, and it will go back itself. What I like about the app is that you still get the ding, and you get the sound of the return.

CORNISH: Let me see if I can get there - right? - to the end of the line.

HANKS: OK, yeah. You can just go diggita, diggita, diggita - just go TK, TK, TK if you want to. And do a...

(DING)

HANKS: Oh, there you go.

CORNISH: There you go (laughter).

HANKS: There you go, and off you went. And if you do a capital shift, it will also make a unique sound unto itself.

CORNISH: It does. I see. Now, I noticed there were one or two aspects of modern computing you did not give up, one of which was the backspacing and delete. Now, there is an option to turn this off so that you'll be stuck with kind of X-ing out errors.

HANKS: Yes.

CORNISH: Do you use it though? I mean, isn't there something very different about making errors and not being able to kind of just make them disappear?

HANKS: Yeah. Well, that's a good thing, too. But you'll notice on the app you have to - you can't just hold down the button and it deletes line after line. It - you literally have to do it one at a time - tok, tok, tok, tok. If you wanted to type out talk, and you actually type T - A - L - K, you have to go back three full spaces - one, two, three - in order to correct itself.

CORNISH: I almost expected to see white out (Laughter). I didn't know how far back you'd take it.

HANKS: Oh, hey, I'm writing that down. Hey, on our version 2.0, white out option - that'd be funny.

CORNISH: So in the end, do you hope this can be a gateway drug for a new generation who have never gotten the chance to type on a manual typewriter?

HANKS: (Laughter) Well, I think in a lot of ways much of what social media and what a lot of the app makers out there are discovering - these kind of, like, backdoor, Luddite habits. You know, you - the amount of cool things you can do with a photographic app now to make it look like anything from a daguerreotype from the 1860s to a Polaroid from 1972 - that gives it a patina, and because you paid attention to it a little bit more - you haven't just taken a picture and sent it off - that means it becomes some sort of artistic expression.

I think that what I like about the app - the way turned out - is that if you do want to adhere to a couple of arcane rules in which speed and volume might be sacrificed a little bit, but the advantage is that you get more of a relaxed pace and a specific look to it - well, to me that's a wonderful trade off.

CORNISH: Well, Tom Hanks, thanks so much. What a pleasure.

HANKS: Delightful talking to you, Audie Cornish.

CORNISH: Tom Hanks - actor, director and the man behind the Hanx Writer app. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.