Writing Contenders 2022
In this second part of my review of the best writing apps for Mac, iPhone and iPad I wanted to mention all those apps that didn’t make it in the first list of essential apps from last week. These apps here in part two aren’t bad apps at all. This is just a selection of apps that I personally struggle to use or are certain niche apps that follow a very specific goal but aren’t that universal to call them “essential” apps. It was rather hard for me to make a second, alternative list of app contenders of 2022 but my complete review of all the different apps just got way too long for just one single post. I hope you enjoy reading it anyway. Here we go. Round two.
1/112, f/1.6, ISO 125, 26 mm, iPhone 12 Pro Max
Currently Craft is probably the most modern and most visual text editor for both macOS and iOS. The app won several recent awards including the “Mac App of the Year 2021” award by Apple. Interestingly also this app is not using the most recent native Apple frameworks to build this app, instead modern web technologies are being used. The app looks gorgeous, exactly as you would expect an Apple app to look like in 2022. The app is still rather new and fresh, it’s just been celebrating its first anniversary, and therefore it’s very actively developed in many ways. So there’s a full featured web version ahead, an extended plugin and extension system is coming and the editor is continuously refined. The really unique part of Craft’s editor is its block based approach when editing texts. Every paragraph of text is handled as one entity and can be dragged around as well as edited and formatted. In that sense Craft is not a markdown or plain text editor, instead it uses inline styling options to format text. Compared to some old style word processors like MS Word these styling options are rather limited and focused, so you don’t get overwhelmed from too many options. Craft works best for media rich texts, the handling of embedded images and links is really unique and very well done. So it’s an ideal solution for bloggers and other content creators on the web. Sharing and collaboration is one of the most important parts of the Craft experience. So it’s a very pleasing solution for small teams working together on the same documents. Craft uses its own cloud infrastructure to offer these special and very fast collaboration features. Even though it’s possible to access the Apple native iCloud storage system as well, Craft works best when using the Craft syncing mechanism. Craft is available for macOS, iOS and on the web. All features become available by several different subscription plans. For a personal usage Craft is 48 USD per year which includes versions for all the different platforms.
I can’t say I know Obsidian very well. I installed it, tried using it for a couple of short texts and decided immediately that it’s not for me. My main complaint probably is that the app is just plain ugly and full of features that are hard to understand and to use. I know many serious online writers are blown away by all the powerful methods and unique features this app offers. But for me it’s simply too much. Obsidian is based on universal web technologies so it’s not a native app for macOS or iOS, which at least in parts explains the slightly weird and crazy look and feel. Obsidian uses simple markdown text files right within a local folder of your device and a special markdown syntax to make all of these additional features possible. Obsidian is super hyped at the moment, especially as a thinking and note taking tool. Basically you can create your own personal wiki like database with Obsidian by linking and back linking your different notes and texts together. So I assume it’s ideal for busy writers like online publishers or website administrators. The app uses its very own sync mechanism called “Obsidian sync” which is supposed to be very fast, reliable and encrypted. There’s a very active community for Obsidian that continuously adds new features and develops its own plugins for the app. All of these plugins, as well as the app itself, are free when using it as a personal tool, but professional paid licenses are available as well. There are versions available for macOS, iOS, Windows, Android and even Linux.
Scrivener is a bit of an old school writing solution. It’s developed by Literature & Latte. Scrivener is not a markdown or plain text editor by default instead you’re able to tweak the different styling formats right within the text. So there are options for the different font sizes and types, for bold text, italics text and so on. Basically Scrivener is a classic word processor not so different from MS Word or other office suits. There are special features for outlining your text like the unique corkboard view. Exporting your written manuscripts in a very specific way is also part of the Scrivener experience. There are different styles you can download and apply so that your texts look the way you want them to look. A big part of Scrivener is also dedicated to research, so there’s a whole section right within in the app where you can put PDFs, images, snippets and other resources from the web for later reference. The app shines when you’re about to produce long form texts like novels or academic writing. Scrivener is really a very feature rich and complete writing suite from research to exporting and publishing. For some that many features might be too much, for some they are just necessary. There are versions of Scrivener for macOS, iOS and Windows but sadly there’s no automated iCloud Sync. The only way to move from device to device is to connect your Dropbox account to sync and backup your writing progress. For me Scrivener always felt a bit overwhelming and it’s really sad that in terms of using the latest technologies the app feels like being several years behind. Also the update cycle is rather slow, so don’t expect an app that’s modern and up to date all the time. Still the app is actively developed, though. You can get the app as a one time purchase for around 50 USD for your Mac or your Windows PC, for iOS it’s an additional 20 USD. Special licenses are also available.
Drafts is a very powerful little app that comes with many, many different implemented actions. According to its byline it’s the app “where text starts”. So it’s an app mainly focused on quick note taking and later on exporting your notes into full sized articles, reminders, tweets, to do lists or other apps that can deal with text. Drafts comes with special actions for all your exporting and styling needs of almost all those apps you can think of. Basically it’s a replacement or and an addition to Apple’s built in Shortcuts app and Share Sheet extension. The app was originally developed before all these native technologies were a thing on iOS and back in the day an app like Drafts totally made sense. Today I would say that many of these actions become superfluous or at least are doubling down on actions that already exist when using Apple’s native Shortcuts app or the Share Sheet. Honestly it’s quite a while ago that I’ve used this app. I never was a real fan of the app design, it always felt too cluttered for me. Anyway it’s a solid app which is well supported and up to date. It syncs via iCloud and Dropbox, uses its own database and again it’s Apple only. It comes with versions for macOS, iOS and even Apple Watch. It’s only available via a paid subscription which is 19,99 USD per year for all the different platforms.
Notes SE is a very simple little app by HiLab.co that I discovered just recently. Obviously it originally started on the Mac as the main visual theme of the app is derived from the Mac window management. So every open file within Notes SE gets its own pane with a tiny red knob in the top left corner to close the file that is currently active. The app feels beautifully minimal, most of the interface is just white, the text size of the editor is rather small and all of the rest of the interface comes in a muted green color. The app is new and feels very fresh at this point. Notes SE can handle links and offers some widgets for your home screen as well. It’s definitely a nice little companion if you have always missed the TextEdit app of your Mac when editing text files on your iOS devices. Notes SE is available on all Apple platforms, so there are versions for macOS, iOS and even for the Apple Watch. Files are synced across devices via iCloud. The app is completely free on all platforms.
Byword was among the first apps that implemented that minimal, full screen writing experience similar to iA Writer. I can’t remember which one came first, iA Writer or Byword, and in the end it doesn’t matter anymore. I would say that both apps are very similar and it really depends on how you like the details of each app. Byword is developed by Metaclassy, Lda. Sadly Byword hasn’t been updated for more than two years now, so I don’t know if it makes sense to still invest in such an old product. Byword is an Apple only app, so it’s only available for Macs, iPhones and iPads. It keeps your documents in sync via iCloud as well as via Dropbox and you can publish your final drafts to different formats like PDF, HTML or even publish them directly on Medium, WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr and Evernote. From these formats you can see how old this app has become in the meantime. It’s available via a one time purchase of 10,99 USD for macOS and 5,99 USD for iOS.
Textastic is more of a code editor than a writing app. It’s developed by Alexander Blach in Germany. I want to mention it here briefly anyway as maybe Textastic is the right tool for you when editing some online files on your blog or website. Of course as a code editor Textastic can highlight more than 80 different types of files, you can even use your own syntax definitions. What makes Textastic a really convenient alternative when writing online publications is its ability to connect to FTP and WebDAV servers, as well as to Dropbox and Google Drive. There’s even a SSH terminal if you’re into that sort of thing. As a native Apple app of course Textastic syncs your files across devices using iCloud Drive. Again it’s an app that just uses simple files, not a complicated library or database to access your text files and keep them in sync. Textastic uses a bit of a weird custom keyboard row, which is very powerful, if you can get used to it, but it’s definitely different from using other markdown or plain text editors. So if maintaining your blog or website just from your mobile device is part of your workflow I can’t recommend Textastic high enough. It’s one of the most complete tools available for iOS. There’s a version for macOS as well, but honestly there are so many good options for code editors available for the Mac that Textastic on the Mac feels just like another and rather basic tool. Textastic for macOS is available as a one time purchase for 7,99 USD, Textastic for iOS is 9,99 USD.
There’s one last minute addition to this review which is Runestone. Runestone is the latest app from app developer Simon Støvring and it’s another code editor for iOS with great syntax highlighting. But Runestone is also simple enough so that it can still be used as a writing environment for plain text and markdown files. Again this is a text editor that uses iCloud Drive to access your files, so it’s completely file based and there’s no additional library system in use. Especially when using the Premium tier there are endless possibilities to tweak the look and feel of the editor, so of course you can use your own font settings or different color schemes. So far there are versions of Runestone for iPhone and iPad. The core functions are free while there’s also a one time purchase of 9,99 USD to unlock the Premium tier with additional features.