All I want for Xmas is a decent Markdown editor; MarkDrop vs iA Writer vs Byword

This month I’ve been blogging like a champ, every day. Not from WordPress admin though – I’m a markdown lover and I prefer dedicated apps.

I’ve been experiementing with 3 apps in particular this month; Byword, MarkDrop, and the one I’ve used the longest; iAWriter. In this post I’ll review each and give my verdict on my favourite solution overall.

Appearance

All apps strive to give a distraction free writing environment. iA Writer and Byword have a similar appearance, with a plain window for writing only. MarkDrop has a split pane so you can preview as you type which I like.

I love the split preview in MarkDrop
I love the split preview in MarkDrop

All three show word count and character count in the footer which is pretty useful.

Customisation wise, MarkDrop and Byword let you choose light or dark, and Byword has font options. iA Writer doens’t have this – not neccessarily a bad thing though because the default theme/font is nice to use.

MarkDrop wins for the clean UI and split preview.

Winner: MarkDrop

Features

iA Writer and Byword both have a ‘focus mode’ whereby the current paragraph is emphasised (other’s fade). This is useful if you want to focus on the paragraph you are currnetly writing. MarkDrop lacks a focus mode.

iA Writer focus mode
iA Writer focus mode

Byword also alternativly lets you focus on lines as well, and has something called ‘typewriter mode’ which keeps the line you are writing centered.

Byword's focus and typewriter mode
Byword’s focus and typewriter mode

Other than that, the features are pretty standard. Simple editors, with previews and various export options.

Winners: Byword and iA Writer

Saving & Syncing

Both Byword and iA Writer save to iCloud which is what I like to see – having my docs in the cloud where I can pick them up from anywhere is a great benefit. MarkDrop however only saves to Droplr – the idea being to make it easy to share documents. As I’m not a Droplr user, and don’t need to share my documents,  I didn’t play around with this and just saved locally (boo).

Winners: Byword and iA Writer

Mobile apps

MarkDrop doesn’t have an iPad app, but Byword and iA Writer do. Both have iCloud integration letting you continue editing on the go.

The iA Writer iPad app works very similar to the Mac app. It has some shortcodes when writing allowing you to insert commonly used characters and move the cursor or a single space or by word. It also has focus mode like on the mac.

iA Writer on the iPad
iA Writer on the iPad

Byword for the iPad is also fab, and although it doesn’t seem to have focus mode, I found the keyboard shortcuts much more useful, giving you quick shortcuts to make headings, links, images, lists and tabs, and also cursor controls. The keyboard shortcuts are more compact compared to iA Writer giving you more space to write.

Byword on the iPad
Byword on the iPad

Byword has the edge for ease of writing.

Winner: Byword

Exporting & Publishing

Starting with the weakest, MarkDrop lets you export as a PDF or HTML. There are no options to ‘copy’ HTML. I personally would have liked to see this as its faster to get content from the App to WordPress. Instead you have to export HTML then get the contents and put it in WordPress.

iA Writer has several export options; HTML, RTF, Docx, and lets you ‘copy html’ to the clipboard. Byword has pretty much the same, which is good.

Byword does appear to have the advantage though; as a 2.99 in-app purchase, Byword has some extra publishing tools for publishing directly to WordPress and other services:

Supported services

When you are ready, you can publish straight to your blog (or just copy it across as a draft). I found this quite convenient, a lot more so than MarkDrop which doesn’t even have a ‘copy html’ option like iA Writer does.

Publishing

Winner: Byword

Pricing

The Mac versions are similary priced, MarkDrop being the cheapest.
1. £6.99 iA Writer + £2.99 iPad version
2. £6.99 Byword + £2.99 publishing addon + £2.99 iPad version
3. £5.49 MarkDrop (no iPad version)

Conclusion

byword_logoOverall, although I prefered the look and feel of MarkDrop, iA Writer and Byword were far superior when it came to usage. Byword had to edge when it came to exporting and publishing features too, making it the winner, with iA Writer second.

As a long time user of iA Writer, I’m happy to be moving to Byword from now on.

Champion: Byword

9 thoughts on “All I want for Xmas is a decent Markdown editor; MarkDrop vs iA Writer vs Byword

  1. Hi Mike,

    I share your enthusiasm about a Markdown editor. Have you seen Markdown Pro; it’s my current favorite: http://www.markdownpro.com.

    There’s also my post attempting to solicit JetBrains to build a Markdown IDE similar to their programmer editors:

    http://mikeschinkel.com/blog/the-world-needs-a-markdown-ide-for-programmer-docs/

    Finally, here’s my feature requests, one for better Markdown and one for a new IDE I called “DocStorm.” Would you consider voting up these requests? Thanks in advance.

    http://youtrack.jetbrains.com/issue/IDEA-107084
    http://youtrack.jetbrains.com/issue/WEB-9706

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    1. I was reluctant to purchase MarkDown pro based on its reviews. I didn’t see any mention of WP support, so I’d probably still stick with Byword.

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      1. Of course, it makes sense to stick with something if it’s working for you.

        But I’m curious what was bad about the reviews? I just checked the Mac AppStore and it’s got ~4.5 of 5 stars with 131 of 179 giving it 5 stars and the top two most helpful reviews say “A tremendously effective Markdown editor!” and “Well designed app, best markdown editor to date.”

        FWIW, I love MarkDown Pro in part because two panel editing is critical to me, but our usage needs might well be different.

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      2. AH! I misread, I thought you were referring to the new iA Writer Pro. Ill check this one out.

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  2. Mou is my favourite right now, similar feature set to Markdrop, but free. I really want an editor that renders syntax highlighted code blocks though :/

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  3. Excellent post, thanks. I was very tempted by Byword based on your recommendations, but ultimately went with iA Writer as I preferred the interface, and I’m very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoy focus mode.

    Actually my main reason for commenting is that I wanted to compliment you on your blog design and plugins – really inspiring! I’ve started implementing WP Job Manager on a site a provide tech support for, and it’s a joy to use, thanks. I’ll also be using Download Monitor at some point. Amazing work, thanks for sharing.

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