Using the iPad for: Writing

This is part 3 of an ongoing series on BirchTree. Part 1 was about web development, part 2 was about photo editing.


Writing has long been one of the things that the iPad does particularly well. The one-app-at-a-time interface of iOS has been welcomed by writers who appreciate the focus it provides, and the compact size of the iPad means that writers can take them anywhere and get work done. I do most of my writing on the iPad these days, and I think the experience is better than it is on my Mac.

Because this has always been something people like to do on their iPads, it’s a space with no shortage of options. There are hundreds, if not thousands of text editors and document creation apps on the App Store today. I’ve filtered my list down to the 5 apps that I think most people would benefit from, but you can certainly search the Store if none of these tickle your fancy and find something that works for your specific needs.

So can you write on the iPad?

Yes, hell freaking yes!

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the apps you can use to get this done.

Ulysses – $19.99

This is the app I for all my writing, and I love it! It’s the most expensive app on this list ($19.99), but I think it earns that price tag with it’s unique combination of features and design. In addition to the iPad, Ulysses is also available for your Mac and very soon will be on your iPhone. And of course your work syncs between all your devices.

Ulysses is great because it works for nearly any sort of writing you plan on doing. If you just need something to crank out quick blog posts, this will do the job. If you have a larger project, like a book, that you’re working on, Ulysses has the power and organization tools to keep up with you there. You can set up folders, and documents, and organize you workspace however you please.

It also takes good advantage of Bluetooth keyboards, sporting quite a few keyboard shortcuts for common tasks. It really feels like a pro-level app when you start using your own keyboard.

The real power of Ulysses is in how many ways it lets you export your work from the app when you’re done. You can export into a Word document, ePub, text file, Markdown, fully formatted HTML, or PDF. And if if you just want to copy your text and paste it into another app, you can do that too.

I have a lot more to say about Ulysses, and expect to see a full review of the app on this site in the coming weeks.

Microsoft Word – free

Microsoft really did a bang up job on Word for the iPad. This is no “mobile app,” it’s the real deal. I’m not a big user of Microsoft Word, so I can’t get into too many of the specifics, but I know from talking with my wife who uses Word all the time, that it’s a great implementation of the desktop app.

As is often the case, the iPad version of Word doesn’t have every single power user feature of Word, but the more common functionality is there and has been adapted well to the multitouch iPad environment. You can create documents very easily, and just as importantly, you can import documents you made elsewhere and they are editable without losing any formatting or causing weird compatibility issues on other devices.

Killer job, Microsoft.

Byword – $5.99

Byword is a simple text editor that is light on features, but is easily my minimal text editor of choice. It looks nice, has an active developer who always keeps it up to date, and has some nice sharing options.

One nice feature of Byword is that you can use it as a blog publishing tool. It can link up to Medium, WordPress, Tumblr, Blogger, and Evernote, and publish to those platforms in just a couple clicks. This is very nice because the writing experience is nicer in Byword than any of those other apps, and getting your writing and publishing workflows in just one app is always nice.

Byword really only deals in plain text or Markdown files and the file management in the app is lacking, so you probably don’t want to use this for massive projects, but if you’re writing for the web, it’s a solid, evergreen option.

Pages – free w/ new iPad

Pages is the free alternative to Word, and it’s pretty decent. It’s harder to legitimize using this over Word in most cases, but it is totally free and works well with syncing between your other Apple devices. If you’re just making something for yourself I think you’ll enjoy it, but I would be hesitant to use it for something you plan on sharing with the rest of the world.

Editorial – $9.99

Finally, we have the power user’s text editor. Editorial looks like just a simple text editor like Byword when you first open it up, but there is tons of power underneath the hood. Essentially, Editorial is scriptable1 so you can make it do things that it was never built to do by the developer.

There is a ton that can be done with this app, and to get an idea of what is possible, you should skim over this massive review written by Federico Viticci.


  1. Using Python scripts.