If you didn't already know, I was quite enthusiastic about iA Writer that just recently came out with an iPhone version of their app (it was previously iPad only). However, I can't resist new text editors for iOS, so I was thrilled when I learned that Byword was available once again, after being released on Saturday and then being pulled for less-than-stellar performance relating to iCloud sync (it wasn't ready at the time). Also, it's inevitable to make comparisons between these two apps, since they are considered "rival" apps.
Of course, with iCloud sync, I had to use Byword on my MacBook Pro once again (I’ve had it for a long time, but I simply preferred to do my writing in iA Writer on Mac). That may change now.
So far, the iCloud sync is stable and works. Changes from your iPhone or iPad are saved quickly, and even from the Mac. In fact, on the Mac, if you exit out of a document without saving, the changes are pushed to iCloud anyway, so you can easily just pick up where you left off on your iOS device. Byword also seems to be quick to push changes to other devices if the viewed document is currently being edited. This is definitely some effortless syncing, which should ease your troubles as you write.
What if iCloud sync isn’t your thing? There is Dropbox support as well, and this allows you to utilize folders (no folders in iCloud). However, you can only use one or the other, unlike iA Writer, which allows you to use both simultaneously, as well as store local documents.
With Byword, you have easy access to your files while viewing your documents. On the iPad, you will have two panes, with your file list on the left, and the document on the right. With the iPhone, you’ll have to navigate between screens due to the limited screen estate, but there is an intuitive swipe gesture on both versions to quickly navigate between browsing and editing. A huge bonus to Byword is that there is the ability to search through your documents (document titles only), and you can quickly sort your files by date or name.
As you create documents in Byword for iOS, you'll find the experience to be phenomenal. The appearance of Byword is a bit different than iA Writer, and actually reminded me a bit of Elements from Second Gear. While writing, the app goes into full screen mode, and you'll even get a nice addition on top of the traditional keyboard.
At first, this addition will show you your word count (tap to reveal character count, or both at once), but you can swipe to access Markdown shortcuts. There are actually two different shortcut views, with the first featuring easy access to indentations, parentheses and brackets, quotation marks, and asterisks. The second will feature buttons for adding hashes (for headers) to the beginning of that paragraph, links (with whatever is last on your device’s clipboard automatically inserted, but you can edit it later), images, and bulleted lists. Both of these shortcut bars will have access to the undo, arrows (for moving the cursor between characters), and hiding the keyboard option (on the iPhone) buttons.
What’s strange, though, is that the app does not have shortcuts for other common punctuation marks, such as commas and apostrophes. It would be nice if users could customize what they want to appear in the shortcut bar, and I think the developers should take that into consideration.
While I appreciate the elegance of the shortcut bar appearance, I feel that the color of it is too light; I don’t have problems seeing it, but others might. I get why the developers did it this way – to make the overall writing experience be better by allowing you to focus on the words – but having a bit more contrast wouldn’t hurt. Accessibility is important.
The biggest advantage that this app has over iA Writer is Markdown preview. While you can't preview Markdown as you write, Byword has a separate preview mode that you can access from the settings (represented by the gear icon). There are also four different fonts to choose from (I like sticking with the default in this case), toggles for auto-capitalization, autocorrection, spellchecking, and TextExpander support (if you have it installed on your iOS device). Options are here for exporting (HTML, email), and you can print too.
However, unlike the Mac version, Byword only has one theme (the Mac version has two), and you can’t adjust the text width. Maybe these can be added in a future update – I would love to see a night mode, in case I want to write before sleeping.
If iA Writer was too plain for you, then I would recommend you check out Byword. It provides users with the same focus on writing, but with a bit more flexibility. It also looks amazingly beautiful on the Retina display of my iPhone 4S, and has features that the competition is currently lacking.
Byword is so good (especially the iCloud sync) that I am going to use it as my default app for writing for a while, and possibly even convert from iA Writer. We’ll see.
Make sure to grab Byword for the introductory pricing of $2.99, before it jumps back up to $4.99.