Writing apps for iPad

Writing apps for iPad: which should you choose?

If you’re a freelance writer, journalist, or novelist, chances are you’ve found yourself needing to write on the road. Sometimes inspiration hits when you’re far from home, and sometimes you need to take advantage of those snatched couple of hours in an airport lounge to polish an article before a deadline.

Luckily, it’s the 21st century, and you no longer need to rely on lugging around a bulky laptop or hunting down an internet café to write remotely. Instead, you can use a tablet or phablet, many of which easily beat traditional computers for convenience, without sacrificing functionality. The best of these devices on the market is, of course, the iPad: Apple’s original, iconic laptop-killer.

But having the right technology is only half of the answer. If you’ve ever tried writing on the go, you’ll know that there are no end of writing apps for iPad out there, promising to offer the essential writing experience. So which to choose? Luckily for you, we’ve done the research, and assembled this essential guide to the best writing apps for iPads.

Things to consider before reviewing our writing apps for iPad

There’s no one, perfect writing app for iPads. Instead, iPad owners get the luxury of choice. Whether you’re looking for something to jot down rough notes in, to be written up in full at a later date, or you want a feature-packed program capable of taking you from idea to manuscript, there’s guaranteed to be an app for you.

The first thing to consider when shopping for an app is what exactly it is you want the app to do. What kind of writer are you? Do you just need a blank page, or do you need advanced features? Are you looking for a single app to integrate into your existing workflow, or are you looking for a holistic solution?

Another thing to think about is compatibility. If you’re the sort of writer that writes across a number of different devices, you’ll be wanting an iPad app that also has a desktop version, and for maximum convenience, some way of syncing across devices. That way you can, for example, begin an article on your iPad on your commute home and pick it up on your desktop in your home office to add the finishing touches. At their best, iPad apps can make this process seamless and enjoyable, but if you make the wrong choice, you may end up stuck with badly converted, or, in the worst case, unreadable files.

Finally, you also need to set a budget. Some of the writing apps on this list are free, but many of the more advanced programs require either a one-off payment or a monthly subscription. Decide on what you’re willing to pay beforehand, and immediately discount anything that promises to break the bank.

The best writing apps for iPad

iAWriter – App Store

iA Writer LogoThis clean, minimalist app proves that, sometimes, less is definitely more. Prioritising the basic act of writing over fancy formatting and complex file structures, iAWriter has been lauded by everyone from TIME Magazine to The Guardian for its distraction-free approach to word processing.

A plain, attractively designed interface encourages you to focus on getting down words, but there are a surprising number of features under the hood of this unassuming app, as well as some great little thoughtful extras. We particularly love the night mode, for example, which is perfect if you’re the sort of writer that has their best ideas at 2am.

iAWriter also has a built-in editor, and plenty of export options. You can output your file as .docx or .pdf if you need to share with a non-iAWriter user, or you can export straight to popular sites like WordPress and Medium, making this app a particularly powerful tool for bloggers.

Pros:

  • Simple, easy-to-use interface
  • Powerful export options and blog integration
  • Night mode!

Cons:

  • Not the most feature-rich option
  • No support for TextBundle files

Price: £8.99

App Store Rating: 4.4

What the internet says: “iA continues to deliver an incredible blend of features and aesthetics while staying true to their disciplined vision of creating a beautiful, and minimal place in which to write” (source: chrisrosser.net)

“iA Writer creates a clean, simple and distraction-free writing environment for when you really need to focus on your words.” The New York Times

Scrivener – App Store

From the stripped-back simplicity of iAWriter, we move to the opposite end of the spectrum with Scrivener, undoubtedly the deepest, most feature-rich writing tool on the market. Scrivener has long been a favourite of writers working on Apple computers, and after bringing the app to Windows, the team behind Scrivener have now created an iPad version, too.

Scrivener for iPad

Scrivener is a one-stop shop for all of your writing needs. It can replace everything from the scrapbook you use to collect ideas and resources, to the typewriter on which you type your final manuscript. It offers nearly limitless options to import resources, build sophisticated structures of folders and files, and compile work into predefined formats suitable for everything from a PhD Thesis to a Kindle novel.

Of course, at the heart of Scrivener is the writing itself, and despite all of the depth of functionality the rest of the app offers, Scrivener’s word processor is attractively simple. Predefined styles allow you to maintain consistent formatting over long projects, and for the most part Scrivener stays out of the way, allowing you to focus on the craft of writing.

It’s all of the powerful tools of importing, organising, and compiling that set Scrivener apart from the crowd, although these same tools can make the program a bit bewildering to new users. Luckily, there are plenty of resources, both online and bundled with the app itself, to help writers make the most of this feature-packed app.

Pros:

  • Advanced functionality
  • Excellent options for exporting and compiling
  • The only app you need!

Cons:

  • Not the most accessible app to begin with
  • Expensive compared to the competition

Price: £19.99

App Store Rating: 4.7

What the internet says: “Scrivener is one of the most powerful and popular writing apps out there, especially for long-form writing projects” (source: softwarehow.com)

Ulysses – App Store

This attractive app is a direct competitor to iAWriter. A cleanly minimalist interface is at the heart of the Ulysses experience, allowing for distraction-free writing with little need for any set-up beforehand. All of the same major features as iAWriter are present: a variety of formatting options, organisation through tags and nested folders, and a powerful set of export options that include .docx and .pdf, as well as direct exporting to WordPress and Medium.

There is an autosave option and sophisticated syncing across devices and platforms, meaning you can seamlessly put down and pick up work in Ulysses wherever you are. One major difference between Ulysses and iAWriter, however, is pricing. While the latter charges a one-off fee, Ulysses instead operates on a subscription model. There’s a 14-day free trial before you have to make a decision though, so our advice would be to download both apps and see which works best for you.

With a minimalist interface comes snappy speeds, but also a lack of the more advanced options found on apps like Scrivener, or even Word. There are no tables on Ulysses, for example. What there is, is a sleek, simple interface designed to prioritise the act of writing in its purest form.

Pros:

  • Clean, accessible interface
  • Powerful export options and blog integration
  • Reliable syncing

Cons:

  • Not as feature-rich as something like Scrivener
  • Subscription model won’t be to everyone’s tastes

Price: $4.99 per month

App Store Rating: 4.4

What the internet says: “Ulysses may not be an Apple product, but it’s one of the best things about using a Mac, and iPhone, and iPad” (source: macworld.com)

Apple Pages – App Store

Apple Pages

There is an alternative to searching for a new writing app to download for your iPad, and that’s to use the one that you probably already have installed. Pages comes bundled with iPads as standard, so unless you’re the sort of person who immediately deletes all the packaged software when you get a new device, you probably already have a copy of Pages ready to use.

While not the most attractive app on this list (although not the least attractive either – that honor surely goes to Scrivener) Pages is a perfectly functional option for writers. It offers basic word processing features as well as a plethora of pre-designed templates and styles suitable for a variety of projects, from letter writing to resume design.

You can also draw directly into Pages, taking full advantage of the iPad’s status as a tablet as well as a laptop alternative. This makes Pages great for editing and annotating drafts, as well as for note taking, and for idly doodling while thinking of ideas!

Pros:

  • Free, and probably already on your iPad
  • Excellent formatting, useful templates included
  • Integrated with iCloud
  • Apple Pencil support

Cons:

  • Not as feature-rich as alternatives
  • Interface is less attractive than iAWriter, Ulysses etc.
  • Poor reviews suggest a lot of bugs

Price: Free

App Store Rating: 3.6

What the internet says: “for the vast majority of casual users, as well as many business users, iPad Pages will do everything you need in an elegant, simplified manner” (source: tabletpcreview.com).

MS Word – App Store

MS Word on iPadFinally, we come to the app that almost all writers will be familiar with: good old MS Word. Don’t let Word’s age fool you, though, because this app can still keep up with young upstarts like Ulysses, and in many ways outpaces them.

An accessible app that conceals a wealth of functionality, Word can really be whatever you need it to be. For jotting down notes it makes inputting text simple and quick, but the option is there to exercise your creative side with advanced formatting options, to use styles and predefined templates for a customisable workflow, and to use the unparalleled review features to comment on and edit documents with tracked changes.

Perhaps Word’s biggest selling point, though, is its ubiquity. Word is absolutely everywhere, on every platform, and its docx format can be read by pretty much every word processor out there, meaning Word is perfect for creating files that can be worked on across devices and shared worry-free. Sometimes the old ways are the best, and Word proves that to be the case, offering a comfortingly familiar experience enhanced by innovative new features.

Pros:

  • Familiar and accessible
  • Excellent reviewing features
  • Plenty of depth

Cons:

  • Not as modern looking as some alternatives
  • Office 365 is quite expensive

Price: $10 per month for Office 365 Home

App Store Rating: 4.3

What the internet says: “Word for iOS is an essential tool for anyone who needs to create and edit Office documents on their iOS devices” (source: macworld.com)

The bottom line

There’s no one best writing app for iPads, but there is a great app for every occasion. Of the handful we’ve discussed above, I’d recommend Scrivener for the most demanding users – novelists, longform journalists and researchers – based on its unparalleled power and flexibility.

For writers looking for a less intimidating experience, or who simply don’t need all that functionality, Ulysses is probably the best choice, although iAWriter offers very similar features. Either would be perfect for blogging, writing short form articles, and note taking. Or why not choose both? The beauty of the iPad is that you can pack it full of useful apps, to build a bespoke creative suite optimally designed for the way you work. Just don’t forget to do some writing, too!

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