LaTeX and the iPad

I’ve been lecturing on my iPad for a little over a year now. If you’d like some information about which apps I use during my class, check out my previous blog post on that topic. One of the projects I’ve been working on this semester is converting my lecture notes into LaTeX. This has been a time-consuming task; my Precalculus notes, for instance, compiled to over 150 typed pages.

Here’s a current version of my lecture notes for Stewart’s calculus book on “The Chain Rule”: (This is what my students will print and bring to class. I project the blank PDF and write on my iPad with a stylus.)

One of the things I was interested in having was a way to create, edit, and compile LaTeX documents on the iPad itself. Our “Teaching, Learning, and Technology” division offers mini-grants for technology-related things that cost a small amount of money ($5-$200). Last semester I applied for and received a grant for an iPad keyboard ($85) and an app called TexWriter ($8.99).

I like the Logitech keyboard. I haven’t had any problems getting it to find its Bluetooth connection to my iPad. There are only two minor annoyances when it comes to writing in LaTeX with this keyboard: (1) The “Backspace” key is really tiny, and (2) the smallest key on the keyboard is “\”, practically the most commonly used non-letter key in any LaTeX document. Here’s a photograph of the keyboard to see what I mean:

In my office, I have used the collaborative, online LaTeX editor writeLaTeX ( on my computer. One of the great things about it is that it automatically saves your document to the cloud, meaning it is easily accessible from anything with a live internet connection (like my iPad). It compiles fairly quickly and easily and doesn’t require downloading any software. Screenshot:

But it does need an internet connection. Since my iPad is only a “WiFi” model, there are lots of times I would like to be working when I might not have internet access (like on an airplane trip). Also, the site seems a bit touchy when it comes to my iPad keyboard. For instance, I couldn’t figure out a way to use the “Copy and Paste” iPad commands, and I had some difficulties with the keyboard’s arrow keys when it came to navigating documents.

Meanwhile, TeXWriter seems to work fine with my iPad keyboard. The files sync with Dropbox, although not as smoothly as other apps I’ve used. Files created in TeXWriter are synced to a particular Dropbox folder (something like Dropbox/Apps/TeXWriter/index/) and there isn’t an easy way to put this file in one folder and the next file in a different folder. Here’s what TeXWriter looks like:


So, in the end, I can’t give a glowing review of either LaTeX-on-iPad solution I’ve found. I had troubles compiling on both TeXWriter and writeLaTeX, probably because I was using lots of packages (tikz, multicol, fancybox, hyperref, …) and didn’t take the time to set either account up properly. In the end, it was just much faster to return to my comfortable office and WinEdt setup.

The time I did use TeXWriter for over an hour (give or take) was during some exam proctoring. I could edit a Dropbox-stored LaTeX document between laps around the classroom. I’m not sure I’d fork over $10 for the app, but it is useful.

It would be lovely if I could try out the other LaTeX apps in the iTunes store before making a purchase. This is the type of application that you really need to have a trial period to see if it will function the way you want! Several of the other LaTeX apps are “expensive” — given that I’m accustomed to most apps being $0.99, thinking about purchasing a $5.99 app “on a whim” seems like a giant financial investment!

Do you know of any great LaTeX/iPad solutions? I’d love to know about them.