5 great mobile writing apps for iOS, and how to use them [Video]


This is part of our series of articles (RSS) where we share some of our favorite technology tools. Like you, we’re pretty enthusiastic about new ways to geek out, and we hope to share some of that here. Let us know what you think.

If you live here in Japan, you probably know what it’s like to be standing on a crowded train. Most of us spend that time with some mobile games, or messaging with friends. But you can get a lot of work done too if you try, and I’m finding lately that there are more apps available than ever before that can enable you to write on a mobile with ease. Since my work is primarily writing and editing, this is a wonderful thing!

Many of these apps use a text format called Markdown. If you’re not familiar with it, don’t worry. It is just a plain text markup language that is easily converted to HTML. But trust me when I say that if you write for the web (i.e. if your final output is HTML), you should be writing in Markdown. It’s far more readable, and from an editor’s point of view that’s invaluable. It’s also really great if you happen to be writing on a mobile device. Have a look at the two documents below. HTML is on the right and the Markdown equivalent is on the left. Which is easier to read/write/edit? Which would be easier to read/write/edit on a mobile device?

Markdown vs HTML

I’m going to give an overview of some of my favorite mobile writing tools here. They all cost a couple of dollars each, but when I consider the benefits they have for work, they’re well worth it. Plus, it’s always fun to learn new tools!

1. TextExpander Touch 2.0


As you can see in the picture above, even though Markdown is far simpler to type than HTML, it could still be made a little easier. In iOS for example, getting at the “[“ and ”]” keys can be awkward. TextExpander Touch (as well as TextExpander for Mac allows you to get around this in many ways. The app can be used for any kind of text expansion, but here are just a few of the ways in which I use it [1]:

  • Create tag links for common keyword on our blog
  • Create a regular Markdown links from a URL on the clipboard
  • Make a blockquote with an ID and permalink
  • Add an abbreviation tag with help/hover text for things like Japanese words

Check my video demo below to see how these work. If you want the snippet bundle used here, you can download it and mod it for your own purposes. But there are lots freely available out on the interwebs, and you can always whip up your own too!

2. Drafts


I actually used Drafts to write this post, so naturally it is going to make my list (and it’s also the editor you see in the demo video above). Drafts is a useful text editor when you need to write something quick. Just open it up and there’s a blank page just waiting for input.

Once you’re finished writing, you can send your note to just about any destination you wish: Facebook, Twitter, Email, Evernote, Dropbox, or a different text editor. I often use this last option, but there is a wide range of Draft Actions that you can perform on your text. You can even write your own, as I did for my recent ‘data diet’ hack. This app might be my favorite on this entire list because it is so versatile.

3. Nebulous Notes


Another powerful text editing tool is Nebulous Notes. I first discovered the power of what Nebulous could do be watching what Federico Viticci has done with it. Among my favorite features is the app’s ability to create a custom macros, which can be added as new keys on your software keyboard. Want a single button that will type you name? Can do. But there are functions far better than that of course, such as undo and redo, find text, and select text assist functions. Naturally, I use the macros functions to assist with Markdown input, but really you can use it however you wish.

Check out my video demo below for a quick and dirty overview.

4. Byword


While Text Expander, Drafts, and Nebulous are your workhorse text editors, sometimes you just want to feel pretty. Byword is for just those times. This app is available for both iOS and Mac, and syncs them both up using iCloud or Dropbox – so if you are the type who spends time on both desktop and mobile, Byword is a great way to make sure you have the same work everywhere.

The beauty if Byword for Mac lies in its Markdown syntax highlighting, which darkens elements like your headings or bold text, and lightens/hides things like URLs in Markdown links (see below). And while that syntax highlighting doesn’t display on an iPhone or iPod Touch, Byword is still an essential mobile tool for me, since I use the Mac version so frequently. If you haven’t written on Byword in full screen yet, you simply haven’t lived. Ok perhaps I’m exaggerating a little, but it’s pretty damn nice.

Fullscreen writing bliss on Byword for Mac

5. Poster


For anyone who publishes with WordPress, as we do here on SD, you’re probably aware that it’s not the friendliest system to work with on a mobile device. But invariably I’ll need to access our site from mobile, sometimes to edit a post when I’m on the train or maybe just to make a late night edit when my MacBook isn’t nearby.

Poster is a great interface to WordPress, and it accepts Markdown input too which is pretty great. But I really just like it mostly because of its clean layout and design. Of course having access to custom fields is a big help too, as is the ability to add tags, categories, edit the permalink, and save as draft rather than publish live.

I think this is a must if you use WordPress, but there’s a made-in-Japan alternative called PressSync Pro that does much the same thing. It’s also a quality app, in my view.

Update: Poster has been acquired by Automatic, and is no longer available in the App Store.

poster poster-2

  1. You can also use it for things as simple as canned email templates, which is especially helpful on mobile. I even use it for live blogging events to automatically insert linked time stamps. Note that Text Expander Touch 2.0’s fill in feature is not yet supported by all text editors. But Drafts supports it, which is a good reason to get it.  ↩