iPad at Work: Byword for Writers

By Galen Gruman

Many people actually want a text editor that does less. For those who use an iPad for work, an editing format called Markdown is perfect: It does just the basics and nothing more, allowing writers to focus on writing, not formatting.

There are several Markdown editors for the iPad, but one great option is the $4.99 Byword. It works with iCloud and Dropbox, so you can access your files — plain-text format (.txt) only — from other devices easily and keep them all synced.

And if you pay an additional $4.99 via the in-app purchase, you can publish your content to the WordPress, Tumbler, Blogger, and Scriptogram blogging platforms, as well as to the Evernote note-taking service.

The settings for Byword are minimal, and you access them via the Menu button (. . .) at the upper right of the screen. In the pop-over that appears, tap Preferences. You can configure the default font and the default text size, as well as enable or disable auto-capitalization, auto-correction, and spell checking. You can also enable Dark Theme, which displays your documents as white type on a black background — it’s designed for those who write in bed and don’t want to disturb their partners.

That Menu pop-over is also where you print your document and export it to an HTML file, PDF file, email attachment (HTML, PDF, RTF, or plain text). You can also choose to copy the document in HTML format so that you can paste it into a website editor or other HTML editor. Finally, you can tap Share to open the iPad’s standard Share pop-over, such as to send your text to a social network or open it in another app.

Markdown editors like Byword are all about the writing. When you create or open a document in Byword, you get a spare interface — Byword has no menu bars, for example. All formatting controls are in the onscreen keyboard.

To get the menu bar and its two options — File List and Menu — hide the keyboard using the standard iPad Hide Keyboard button in the lower right of the onscreen keyboard.

In that top row are the < and > keys to move your text cursor, just like their equivalents on a computer keyboard. (You can also just tap where you want to insert the text cursor.)

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The Byword keyboard’s top row is also where the formatting controls are (the white keys). From right to left, you tap the key to do the following:

  • Insert a tab character.

  • Insert a heading character (#). One # character means Level 1, two # characters means Level 2, three means Level 3, and so on.

  • Insert a link. You enter the hyperlink text between the brackets ([]) and the URL itself between the parentheses.

  • Insert an image. You enter the image caption between the brackets; the image’s file path or URL goes within the parentheses — you can’t actually insert an image itself here.

  • Apply a list. Tap this key once to make the current paragraph a bulleted list, twice to make it a numbered list. A third tap removes the list attribute (but keeps the text).

  • Emphasize text. Tap this to insert an emphasis indicator (*) at the beginning of the text you want to emphasize (make italic), and tap it again at the end of the text to insert a second emphasis indicator that tells a Markdown editor to revert to normal text. For example, “I *love* cheese” will present as “I love cheese.”

  • Undo: Undoes whatever you just did, whether formatting or typing.

A good guide to Markdown’s formatting syntax is available from its creator, John Gruber.