Review: Byword for iPhone and iPad

Background

When I discovered Byword for Mac I was an instant fan. The application did almost everything I wanted from a text editor at the time, and it was obvious the developers had put a lot of work and care into it. The attention given to even the smallest details was remarkable. I appreciate that. And so, I used Byword exclusively as my text editor on the Mac for a long time.

However, I found that I often started something in Byword on the Mac but didn't finish in one sitting. I wanted to be able to pick it up from the iPad and/or iPhone and continue writing whenever I was away from the Mac.

Back then, Byword for iOS didn't exist and few desktop applications had an iOS counterpart to sync with. iCloud was just a rumour. So, I saved Byword's text files in Dropbox and accessed them with multiple apps from the iPhone and iPad. I eventually settled on iA Writer for iPad.

That worked fairly well, although it wasn't an elegant solution. Then iA Writer became a universal app (iPhone/iPad) and added iCloud sync between Mac, iPhone and iPad. I purchased the Mac version and loved the sync, so I used this setup for a short while, but missed a few things from Byword.

Fortunately, Byword followed suit shortly after and launched their universal iOS app with iCloud support. It's amazing. I'm back to being a full on fan.

Byword for iPhone and iPad review

Byword on iOS is a beautiful app and a pleasure to write on. It's light grey background and dark grey text works well. It provides good contrast without trying the eyes.

The developers added an extra row to the iPhone and iPad keyboard in a very clever way. It's about half the size of the keys so it doesn't take up much space. You can swipe it left and right to get to 3 different views, one with word and character count, another two with Markdown shortcuts and navigation keys.

Markdown support

Byword for iOS is clever in the way it supports markdown. The additional row above the keyboard is a real time saver. One view gives you the main characters used in markdown (brackets, parenthesis, quotation marks, asterisk). Tap it once and the icon turns into the close state. The other view gives you shortcuts for headings, links, images, and lists. Tapping the link button types the full markdown syntax for links and puts the cursor inside the brackets ready for you to type the anchor text.

Another thing Byword has is markdown preview. I find this incredibly useful and it's one of the features iA writer doesn't have.

Sync

In Byword, you can sync documents via iCloud and Dropbox.

I find iCloud very good in real life use. It's fast and it has never failed. However, with Byword you have to choose either iCloud or Dropbox sync, you can't use both at the same time. I only use iCloud, so I don't mind this, but iA Writer does let you use both simultaneously.

Preferences

Byword gives you four font options only, and I'm glad they didn't add more. With too many options I tend to tinker with them instead of getting to work. This is one area iA Writer took to the limit with no options whatsoever. Granted, the font in iA Writer is beautiful.

You can choose between the common Helvetica and Georgia fonts, and also 2 relatively uncommon ones from the M Plus family, M+ C Type-1 and M+ M Type-1. I chose M+ C Type-1 and I love it. It looks particularly good in the iPhone's Retina display. I don't have a new iPad yet but I assume it looks just as good.

Byword also allows you to turn on or off autocapitalisation, autocorrection, spell check and text expander support.

Export options

This is where Byword shines and iA Writer falls down in my opinion. To get your writing out of iA Writer you can only email the plain text as attachment or text or copy/paste it into another apps.

With Byword for iOS, you can:

  • Export to HTML: to iCloud or iTunes documents
  • Export via email: as rich text, plain text, attachment (which exports an HTML attachment)
  • Copy HTML: perfect for blog posting. I use this all the time.

What's missing from Byword for iPhone and iPad

There are a few things I hope they add to Byword for iPhone and iPad soon:

  • Focus mode: It'd be useless in the iPhone because of the screen size, but I'd like it in the iPad. iA writer has it on iPad and it works well.
  • Markdown visual representation while writing: the Mac version turns headings bold and it makes the markdown syntax elements light grey. This makes it very easy to read and I'd like to see it in iOS.
  • Dark mode: When writing at night in the iPad, the dark mode would come in handy.

Summary

Both Byword and iA Writer are very good and it's a tough call choosing between them. It's mostly a subjective choice and both do the basics well (ie. markdown support, iCloud sync, clean writing environment, good fonts). I think the extra keyboard row in Byword is much better than the one in iA Writer. And if you need preview and specific export options, Byword is the winner.