We’re tired of hearing that touchscreen devices are for consumption, not creation. It’s just not true. Even without a physical keyboard, the right gestures, designs and priorities can help a mobile app encourage the flow of great ideas. We’re writers here, and after trying them all, we’ve got a recommendation for the best touchscreen writing app out there.
Of course, a mobile writing app has to be a good place to write. It has to compensate for the limitations of an onscreen keyboard by helping you move the cursor, find special characters and correct mistakes. The screen has to be clear and legible. It has to enable some formatting, but it can’t have a giant Microsoft Word menu bar, either. It requires a delicate balance.
But the most important thing for a mobile writing app is that it has to be as easy to get words out of it as it is to put them in. Maybe you want to write your whole story or article or poem on your iPad, but you might want to start it there, add to it on your phone from the subway, and then finish it on your laptop at home. In short, the ideal mobile writing app has to sync your work to everywhere you want to access it.
There are way too many entrants in this category to mention, and many of them are excellent. But we have to pick a winner, and we chose the one we think is the best example of its category. It’s only on iOS, but even though that excludes many of you, its balance of features feels like one that should be emulated (where possible) on every platform.
Our Recommendation: Byword
Byword, made by indie app shop Metaclassy, is appropriate for writers at all levels. It has very few preferences - enough to get comfortable, but not enough to get lost fiddling with your margins. It works right out of the proverbial box, and there’s nothing in it to keep you from taking that all-important step of starting to write.
Byword can use Dropbox to save files, like so many other apps in its category. That means you can write on your iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch, and your documents will just be there when you go to access them on another computer. Byword saves in plain text, which means just about any text app on any computer can read what you write in it. If you write a draft on Byword on your iPad, you can finish it in another app when you get back to your desk.
But if you prefer a syncing solution with even fewer things to fiddle with, Byword also has iCloud syncing between the mobile version and the Mac version (sold separately). If you use iCloud syncing instead of Dropbox, your files will be saved and synced in a menu inside Byword itself. So Byword will be a self-contained cubby just for your writing that syncs across all your devices.
Byword provides a way to add links, bold and italic text, headers and other basic formatting using Markdown. You don’t have to use this feature at all. But if you want to format your text, Markdown is an intuitive, human-readable way to do formatting that a Web browser can display as HTML. You don’t even have to remember what the characters are; Byword has an extra row of keys on the screen that automatically insert bold, italics, headers and more.
While some of the other iOS writing apps have most of these features, none has all of them, nor do they implement them quite as well. Because Byword is simple enough for anyone to use but powerful enough for pros, we recommend it as the best mobile/tablet writing app for just about anyone.
Byword is a universal app available for $2.99 in the iTunes App Store.
For Android users, nothing quite compares to Byword, but there's a close second. Writer by James McMinn has a clean writing interface, and it has Markdown formatting smarts, although it doesn't have the extended keyboard with the formatting shortcuts that Byword has. It also doesn't have sync yet, but McMinn says future versions will have Dropbox and Box.net support. It's free on Google Play.