With Version 2.0, Byword Becomes the Best Minimalist Text Editor for the iPhone

I spent about two weeks making my initial decision to use Byword or iA Writer. I sound like a typical writer making the typical choice between two predictably minimalist apps, which is very true. But the reason I took so long is because I wanted something that fit my life perfectly. When your life involves writing online and your personal device is an iPhone, using a minimalist tool makes sense. I’m not writing for print here.

Originally, I chose iA Writer. I liked the blue cursor and the way the app felt when I used it. I loved the animations, and I liked its colour scheme. Today, thanks to Byword’s 2.0 update, positions have reversed and I now use Byword for all my writing needs. Read on to find out what made me switch.

The Same App We Know and Love

A lot of Byword hasn’t changed. It maintains the same keyboard extension many of us are already familiar with. I know a lot of people love iA Writer’s extra keys, but Byword’s always had that app beat. Swiping through multiple rows is fast and easy, plus having a word count handy is a huge perk for many people with a word count limit. The dark mode is beautiful and useful for people who get ideas in the middle of the night.

Visually, there's not much difference between the new Byword and the old one.

Visually, there’s not much difference between the new Byword and the old one.

There are a series of small refinements within the app, though. Additional fonts allow a little more customization without going overboard, and they appear to be carefully considered for both modern Retina displays and the lower-resolution screen of an iPad mini. The app has a couple rejiggered animations, with the most frequently touted one being that your scroll position in an article is maintained even when returning from a Markdown preview.

The new animations are sprinkled throughout the app, but most of them are admittedly very minor. They’re small things that provide a better sense of consistency both within Apple’s iOS and within the app itself. As a user, I feel like I have a stronger sense of place than I had before, which was one of the things that kept me away from Byword to begin with.

Better Sync

Byword now has better syncing between iCloud and Dropbox files. It automatically downloads files over Wi-Fi for offline use. It knows how to handle conflicts between different versions of files, and instead of just choosing the most recent version, it asks the user which one to keep.

Byword includes better conflict resolution for your files.

Byword includes better conflict resolution for your files.

Both the local and remotely edited versions of the file are shown in a Google-like card view, but double tapping allows you to zoom in on the text and do an in-depth comparison. You can even copy text from one version and paste it into another, all before choosing which one you want to keep.

You can copy text within a version preview.

You can copy text within a version preview.

You can keep one version or both, and it’s as simple as tapping the preview and hitting Done — Byword does the rest. It’s in line with the more advanced file sorting abilities version 2.0 got, which (finally) includes mass editing and moving of files and folders. The changes here reflect an app that has respect for its user at its core; Byword doesn’t leave anything to chance and treats the writer with the utmost care.

Introducing Publishing

Version 2.0 brings one other big change to Byword: publishing. It’s a premium in-app purchase for $4.99, and it makes it possible to directly publish to your Tumblr, WordPress, Blogger, Scriptogr.am or Evernote, straight from the app. If you use Byword on your Mac as well your iPhone and iPad, it’s worth noting you need to buy the in-app purchase on both platforms. The App Stores for OS X and iOS are considered separate entities.

The services I initially set up in Byword are the ones I knew I'd likely use the most. Evernote is an appreciated addition and will come in very handy.

The services I initially set up in Byword are the ones I knew I’d likely use the most. Evernote is an appreciated addition and will come in very handy.

That being said, it’s an interesting feature that many people are going to find useful and maybe even need. Quite simply, it works as advertised, but I think there’s room for improvement.

First of all, there’s no way to queue anything or save it as a draft — this is straight publishing. If I write anything on my phone or do any work for any of my personal or professional blogs, I like to save it as a draft and then return to edit and queue it for later on my Mac. It’s more a personal creative process than anything, but I suspect I’m not the only person who works like that.

You can sign in to your account, but there's no management for any of the publishing services beyond a screen like this.

You can sign in to your account, but there’s no management for any of the publishing services beyond a screen like this.

I can’t do that with Byword 2.0. Instead, I can only directly publish.

Also, with a service like Tumblr, you can only sign into your main account. I have two Tumblrs, and the second one is the one I use more frequently. However, because it’s not my primary account on Tumblr (which I can’t change), I can’t publish to it from Byword. And even if I could, I still can’t queue to it. As far as setting up WordPress (which we use here at AppStorm), Byword doesn’t provide all the capability I need for proper formatting of my posts.

When you do go to publish your article, you don't necessarily get all the power you might need.

When you do go to publish your article, you don’t necessarily get all the power you might need.

As well, the Markdown preview is great but each blog tends to have its own HTML quirks that happen with a direct publish. For example, my Blogger account doesn’t seem to register line breaks in HTML exported from Markdown syntax. It’s an issue with Blogger, not with Byword, but because Byword doesn’t let me publish documents as Drafts, the entire premium purchase becomes something of a moot point for me.

This premium purchase is something of a 1.0 release, though. I’m confident that Metaclassy will continue to improve the service, but I’m not sure it’s something everybody needs right now. Give it some time to grow.

Switch Now, Thank Me Later.

Byword’s publishing options aren’t perfect, but they’re also not what you pay for when you buy the app. As it is, I think version 2.0 has made Byword the best minimalist writing tool in the App Store. Its file management and conflict resolutions are best-in-class, and the refined animations make the app easier to use and help it feel more comfortable.

Byword 2.0, despite its added features, retains the simplicity of the previous versions of the app. It’s an app you can jump into and use right away, even if you’re not familiar with Markdown. It could replace the Notes app for many people, but also become the most powerful tool in your arsenal. Byword is my favourite writing app for iPhone.


Summary

With version 2.0, Byword has become the best text editor in the App Store, but its publishing suite could use a bit of polish.

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