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Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

My iOS writing app of the moment is Editorial

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

Editorial offers Markdown styling, foldable sections, and custom keyboard shortcuts for Workflows.

When I mention that I write a lot on the iPad these days, I’m often asked what iOS apps I’m using to write. The truth is, the story keeps shifting—I’ve never really settled on a single app, because none of them give me everything that I want.

These days I’m using Editorial most of the time. It’s got full Markdown support and syncs with Dropbox1, but those features have basically become table stakes for iOS text editors. What has put Editorial over the top for me, at least for the moment, is its powerful set of user-creatable and shareable workflows. These powerful features can be assigned to keyboard shortcuts, which is huge for me since I write articles on my iPad Pro while attached to an external keyboard.

If there’s anything that frustrates me about Editorial—and this is true to a degree with almost every iOS writing tool I’ve used—is that it all still feels a little scattershot. There’s an Editorial workflow directory with a few dozen add-ons, but some of them might be better served to be built right into the app itself. And every so often, I find myself wanting to do something that BBEdit does on the Mac, and realize that I can’t do it. (Other times, I happily discover that someone else has already written a workflow for that feature, and that’s great.)

Until recently I was using 1Writer on iOS. It’s similar to Editorial in a lot of ways, but so far as I can tell, I can’t bind keystrokes to any installed custom actions, so I have to reach up and tap the screen a couple of times in order to execute them. 1Writer, like many apps, provides a custom row at the top of the software keyboard where you can attach actions. That row still appears at the bottom of the screen even when a hardware keyboard is attached, and it’s better than nothing, but it’s not as good as a keyboard shortcut!

For longform writing I’m still using Scrivener, which is my go-to tool for novels and anything else that I want to break up into sections. Since Editorial supports collapsible sections—just tap on the disclosure triangle next to a Markdown header and it’ll hide all the text below that header—I may actually just try writing long stories in Editorial and see how it goes. On macOS, I appreciate the organizational tools that Scrivener provides, but they just don’t seem to work as well for me on iOS.

Though people have raved to me about Bear, I don’t think it’s for me. I can configure it to be a usable text editor, but it really wants me to use its internal tagging and linking system, and that’s not how I want to work. It doesn’t sync with Dropbox and makes some styling choices (like hiding the content of Markdown links2) that I don’t really appreciate. In short, Bear looks like a thoughtful notebook-style writing app, but it doesn’t really fit with how I work today.

I keep Pages and Word around just for compatibility reasons, but to be honest, I almost never write anything that requires them. I guess that’s life when you write for the web instead of writing documents destined to be printed out (or turned into a PDF).

Now, I’ve shifted tools so many times that I fully expect that iOS 11 will change the terrain again. Will the existence of the Files app affect my workflow? Will one app better support iOS 11 features like drag-and-drop? Oh, probably. But in the meantime, I’ll be spending most of my iOS writing time in Editorial.

  1. I try to save all my work into a single Dropbox folder called Stories, and then point my various Mac and iOS apps at that folder. It’s easier that way. 
  2. I’ve got the same criticism of Ulysses, for what it’s worth. 

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