My day job has me slaving over a hot keyboard morning, noon, and night (but less at night; I am, therefore, I eat) and my main platform of choice is one of a few Macs, and occasionally my iPad with a Bluetooth keyboard.
Through the years I’ve never been able to settle on a single, most-used, much-beloved, must-have word processor. Even the term word processor bothers me. I don’t process words. I write. And I’ve tried them all and settled on none but recently I’ve come close, mostly because I finally set my priorities.
Whatever I use to write must work everywhere, Mac, iPhone, iPad. Those are my tools. Last year I was turned on to iA Writer, something of a minimalist distraction free app which does just a bit more than I need and misses in only one category.
iA Writer is something of a mini-word processor with a few tools, a built-in file library, WordPress integration, a distraction free focus mode, import and export, a few useful but not overbearing templates, and, importantly, everything created in the app gets synced between devices with iCloud or Dropbox.
The weaknesses, and there are just a few, is in file management and writer-like options. More on that in a moment. File management in the left sidebar is useful but limited. About all you can do in iA Writer is, well, write. The only real formatting available is using Markdown which is popular except in the O’Brien household. So, it’s not exactly a typical word processor. Open or create a document and start writing. The learning curve, except for the aforementioned Markdown, is nominal. The price for each app, Mac or iOS, is nominal. But so are features.
A few years ago I tried out one of the most promising newcomers to the writers field; a Mac app called Ulysses; more of a writing system than word processor. Ulysses is at the other end of the scale from iA Writer because it is feature packed, yet still works on Mac, iPhone, iPad, and syncs files between devices so you can carry your writing projects with you.
Visually, there are similarities between Ulysses, iA Writer, and other modern writing tools that are not Microsoft Word.
Ulysses offers a similar distraction free environment, a similar document library for managing files, but also includes options for groups, attachments, autosave, and auto backup. It’s all text-based, of course, but also uses basic markup for a little formatting, and it handles footnotes and embedded links.
There’s a built-in editor with themes, a typewriter mode (talk about distraction free), full iCloud sync with an option for Dropbox, and it can publish to WordPress. Plus, there’s a live preview option so you can see a document with some formatting. There are a few differences between the Mac and iOS version, but nothing that’s a deal breaker. For example, full text search works on Mac, but not iOS. The Mac doesn’t have 3d Touch actions but has a minimal mode not found on iOS, but both have a new dark mode.
Which is best? iA Writer or Ulysses? They’re not the same so different strokes for different folks. Ulysses is more of a complete writing system with features for those who are more picky about useful functions, while iA Writer has zero learning curve and is a good starter app for writers who want to avoid the traditional word processor route.