iPad Writing Apps

In another win for iPad productivity, yesterday I spent 3+ hours at my neighborhood Starbucks1 writing an essay for my Lit class entirely on my iPad. Since then, it got me thinking that not only am I keen on the idea of using the iPad as a writing machine, but I’m also becoming obsessed with the tools used to write on the iPad -- namely, writing apps. In this post, I’m going to briefly discuss three of them:

  1. Byword
  2. iA Writer
  3. Phraseology

Before I begin, though, I wanted to touch upon what I believe makes the iPad such a great writing machine. Essentially, it all boils down to the one-app-at-a-time approach of iOS. That is, unlike on the Mac, in iOS you can only work in one app at a time. What this does is helps you focus your attention on the task at hand: in this case, writing. This is especially advantageous if you’re the type of person who’s easily distracted by the ambient noise on your computer: things like Twitter, RSS, IMs, and so on. What’s more, couple the iPad UX with minimalistic writing apps -- basically, (plain) text editors -- that offer little interface elements, and you’ve got a tool that’s primed for getting the creative juices flowing and keeping you in “the zone” for a long, long time.

Now, on to the overviews…


BYWORD

Byword is first on this list because I’m biased – it’s my favorite writing app. Most of my writing is done in this app (including this post).

I love it for its Markdown highlighting, iCloud support, and the option for a white-on-black writing mode. In addition, the developer’s website has a handy Markdown reference guide if I ever have questions on how to format something. For all the praise, however, I do have two minor quibbles with the iOS versions: one, it doesn’t feature the inverted writing mode; and two, the lightness of the UI, particularly in the custom keys on the keyboard, make things harder to read. I’ve emailed the developers with regards to these concerns, and I’m hoping they’ll be addressed in a future update. Despite these criticisms, though, I have no reservations recommending Byword. It’s a fantastic app that helps me get the job done.

Shawn Blanc wrote up a nice review of the app. Check it out.

Byword is available on the Mac App Store and iOS App Store for $2.99. (The iOS version is universal.)

iA WRITER

iA Writer is evangelized by Ben Brooks. He much prefers it over Byword.

iA Writer is unique in that there are essentially no features whatsoever, save for iCloud and Dropbox support. (I should point out it does have a couple nice features related to distraction-free writing: paragraph and sentence Focus mode, whereby you can focus on just what you’re working on at the moment.) There are no options, no inverse writing mode like Byword, nothing. When you launch the app, you’re presented with a blank page and a blinking blue cursor. The concept being pushed here is that the more time you spend tweaking and re-tweaking a multitude of options, the less time you spend actually being productive. It’s certainly a valid point, one that helps to explain why the app is so popular. My only gripe with iA Writer is that it doesn’t support Markdown highlighting in the way that Byword does, but overall it’s a great app.

iA Writer is available on the Mac App Store and iOS App Store for $8.99 and 99¢, respectively.

PHRASEOLOGY

I really like this app a lot. In fact, I used it to write that essay yesterday.

What makes Phraseology stand out is you can arrange and re-arrange paragraphs and sentences. Also, there are document stats which you can access at any time. (True word nerds like me will appreciate these numbers.) Hell, I even like the American Typewriter typeface that’s set as the default. The big drawbacks with Phraseology are twofold: one, while it does support Dropbox, it doesn’t support iCloud; and two, there are neither iOS nor Mac versions yet. You can certainly use Dropbox to keep everything in sync, but I find having the same app on all my devices to be really handy. It makes for a frictionless writing experience, too. I’ve pinged the developer with my concerns, and he says updates are coming soon.

Be sure to read Stephen Hackett’s review of the app if you’re interested in it.

Phraseology is iPad-only for $1.99.


As I said in the lead-in, I’m obsessed with these writing apps, to that point that I have all three of them in their various incarnations across my devices. Again, Byword is my choice, but I strongly suggest getting all of them to find out which app is right for you. That there are so many options out there (even more than are listed here) is a testament to how people are using their iPads. They’re tapping into the potential of what’s unquestionably the future of personal computing.


  1. I’ve come to the realization that I love working in coffeehouses or cafes.