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There are countless superb word processors, text editors, and writing utilities for the iPad — and a lot of garbage, too. Here are your best options whether you’re a novelist or a screenwriter.
There are still people who think that iPads are only good for consuming content like watching films, reading books and playing games. Clearly, none of these people have tried to write on a Kindle.
For writers, the iPad does offer every bit of this content consumption, and it offers it extremely well. But every iPad, iPad mini, iPad Air, and iPad Pro is also a writing studio that is about as light and convenient as you could imagine, and at least as powerful as you could hope.
You really should buy some kind of external keyboard, or keyboard case, if you’re going to be doing serious writing on any iPad. Typing thousands of words onto the glass is not ideal, and the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro and now also iPad Air isn’t essential.
But you want one of those options and you don’t want the other.
Beyond that, you are able to do just about every type of prose writing you need to on an iPad, straight out of the box. Without any other apps than Apple provides, you have a full word processing solution in Pages, for instance.
There are things Pages is poor at, though, such as scripts and screenplays. They can be written in Pages in theory, but in practice, it’s no better at them than Word is.
So there are specific needs to use alternative apps, and there are plenty of alternative apps to satisfy requirements like that. Plus there are apps that do the same thing yet one just works better for you than others.
It’s like the ancient old days when you might have a preference for which type of pencil you use. You know they all get the job done, yet just one is right for you.
That does mean that any roundup of the best writing apps for iPad is unquestionably subjective. And any unquestionably subjective roundup is bound to leave out your favorites.
Don’t take that as a failing, do take it as your opportunity to enthuse in the AppleInsider forums. And also this: the reason people get very passionate about writing apps for the iPad is that they are worth it.
Apple will never say that it only makes iPads for writers, but they’re so good for all writers and authors that you have to wonder.
Main word processors for iPad
We used to write everything in one word processor, whether it was a novel or a shopping list. We did so partly because they were built to handle everything, but mostly because they were so expensive that you only ever bought one.
That’s changed because of the iPad and the App Store, but while there is a booming market in more specialized writing tools, there are still a couple of heavyweights that would could make a case for being your sole text editor.
Microsoft made a mistake choosing to keep Word off the iPad for years. Once users were required to find alternatives, they did, and they also found that they liked them.
Then once a user has moved to an alternative on the iPad, they very easily moved to the same alternative on the Mac. And what they routinely found was that this alternative, whichever it was, didn’t crash as often as Word, it didn’t drive them spare twice a day.
So Microsoft Word went from being a synonym for word processor and into just one more of your choices.
It has not come close to reclaiming the total dominance it once had. But when it did come to the iPad, it came in a completely new and rewritten form — which was better than we’d had on the Mac.
That wasn’t to say it was as powerful, but starting from scratch meant adding in only features that users need. The bloated Word for Mac was regenerated into the slim Word for iPad, and there is a huge amount to like about it.
Microsoft Word is a free download from the App Store, but then requires one of many alternative subscriptions starting from $6.99 per month.
Pages — free on iPads, Macs and iPhones — does not get as much love as it should. Where Microsoft likes you to see how powerful it is by displaying every tool and option it can, Apple wants you to be able to just get on with your writing.
Consequently, Pages hides away its powerful features until you need them. And unfortunately, that can have the effect of making it look as if Pages does not have these features.
Pages looks simple but it’s not just a note-taking app. It is not as powerful as Word, but for the giant majority of writing tasks, Pages is Word’s equal — and can subjectively feel better to you.
Only, Word and Pages both date back to the days when everything we wrote was then printed out on paper to be sent to publishers. Today you might be struggling to remember where your printer is.
Word and Pages continue to be used for writing that is going online, or certainly being sent digitally to book publisher systems like Affinity Publisher and Adobe InDesign. But they are not ideal for it.
Worse than not being ideal, if you copy text from either of them — most especially Word — and then paste it into an online content management system, you can get problems. Peculiar formatting, odd characters, even unexpected spacing issues can all arise because these two produce heavily formatted text.
Between a word processor and a text editor
You can’t really have both a full word processor without issues like this, but you can have tools that do tiny, specific writing tasks. And you can have some in the middle, neither full word processors nor bare text editors, yet somehow better than both.
The iPad and Mac app iA Writer is a calming, relaxing kind of writing tool which lacks the powerful features of Word and Pages, such as longform book options, but will make you not care.
For iA Writer knows that writing has to be written, that it has to be put down on screen from out of the writer’s head. Until then, there’s nothing to format, nothing to create footnote citations about.
So this app concentrates on pushing aside features, interruptions, and really even any non-essential options. It’s for making you concentrate on your writing.
For the iPad version, iA Writer costs $30 on the App Store.
Now Drafts 5 practically bills itself as a text editor, which is a way of saying you can basically type into it but mustn’t expect anything fancy. Except Drafts 5 is replete with fancy tools and options.
Its chief aim is to get you writing immediately. Start the app, start typing. No pause, no waiting for a moment, no tapping on a New or a Plus sign.
There’s also no obvious formatting, no obvious controls, it’s just a blank page for you to get your words down. There is formatting, though, you can use Markdown controls to set headings and bold, italic and so on.
And what’s great about Drafts, beyond just the practical feel of it all, is that once you do have your words written, there is an enormous amount you can do. Take that text and email it directly to your publisher, send it to your Kindle, send it out as a text message, or publish as a blog.
Drafts 5, which is also on the Mac and iPhone, has a library of Actions that let you create whole workflows for your work.
Drafts 5 is free to download from the App Store, and then costs $20 per year.
Specialized prose writing apps for iPad
Somewhere between the word processors of this world and the better text editors, there are apps that you might call writing studios, or writing environments. They are apps that work to help you with the business of writing as well as the job of typing text.
Scrivener, for instance, knows that when you’re writing a novel, you are in it for the long haul. It knows you may need research, and it definitely knows that once you’re up around 80,000 words or more, you need help keeping track of everything.
So Scrivener will let you write sixty chapters one after another if that’s what you like, but it will also then slice that text up. If you have a character who only appears in chapters 4, 7, 11, and 33, then you can have Scrivener show you solely those chapters.
Look at the entire manuscript to get the whole picture, or concentrate on a specific segment. Scrivener bounces between both of these as you want, and it also offers a slew of extra writing, or rather writer, tools.
Such as how it handles research. You can drag images, URLs, whole web pages, and even entire other documents into the research section of your book.
Then whenever you open your iPad to write, everything you need is there. And when you’re ready to send the manuscript to a publisher, they get everything — except the research.
Scrivener for iPad costs $20 on the App Store.
Ulysses is a curious writing environment for writers, one that is either completely compelling or just does not feel right to you at all. Rather than having documents per se, Ulysses offers you one single app with one single file — within which you can create countless pieces of writing.
Those are called Sheets in Ulysses and, like Scrivener, you can write them all in one go or you can slice them up.
It’s a Markdown editor which means it feels bare, like Drafts can, and it doesn’t have the same full-feature sense that Scrivener does. But wherever you go, whenever you open your iPad, you don’t just have your latest writing, you have all of your writing.
All of it. Every bit since you started using Ulysses, anyway, and that grows into a very compellingly handy library of all your work.
Ulysses is free to download, then costs around $40 per year. It’s also available as part of Setapp.
As yet, there’s no breakout hit app for writing haiku poetry. But there are a lot of apps for writing scripts and screen plays.
Scrivener is one of them. As well as prose, you can switch to a scriptwriting mode in Scrivener and it is a good writing tool for screenplays.
Screenplays have very specific formats and margins, developed over the last century and every bit is the way it is for a reason. It could be a reason that helps location scouts later on, rather than being any use to the writer now, but each reason is real and each formatting requirement is needed.
And they are just fiddly enough that it’s only right an iPad should do as much of that work for you as possible. Let you concentrate on what’s happening in the script, while your writing app looks after making it readable on the screen.
Final Draft 12
The most famous and the longest-running screenwriting app is Final Draft, now in version 12. It is very, very good on the Mac and PC.
Don’t ask any Final Draft user if there’s anything they dislike about it, you haven’t got time, but still it’s very, very good.
Whereas the iPad app is just good, approaching pretty good. It’s had some bugs over the years and the company’s support hasn’t always been marvellous, but there are writers who solely use the iPad version and don’t even have a Mac.
If they did have a Mac, they’d find out that the computer version of Final Draft is expensive. For Mac, it’s officially $250, though it tends to go on sale a great deal, and once you have one the company is good at selling you upgrades that are expensive, but seem cheap next to buying the full thing.
On the iPad, though, it costs $9.99 on the App Store. It’s some writers’ sole professional tool and it costs less than a book.
Alternatively, there is also Celtx, which used to be practically a clone of Final Draft and has the advantage that it’s free on the App Store.
As yet, there isn’t an iPad version of what might be Final Draft’s best competitor on the Mac, Highland 2. It’s modern, slick, and it’s built by professional, working screenwriters with long success in the industry.
They say that an iPad version is in the works, but no release date has been announced yet.
Utilities for writers
You could spend all your writing time just checking out utility apps for writers, like dictionaries and outliners and programs that make up your plot for you.
However, save yourself some trouble. Skip those ones where they say you just put in a name and choose a genre like comedy or western, and they’ll outline your story for you.
But speaking of outlines… You may not be the kind of writer who plans anything out, you could be a pantser — one who writes by the seat of their pants.
Whether you like outlines or not, you can be required to write them for certain publishers or producers. When that’s the last requirement before they start paying you, suddenly you can get to be very fond of outliners.
Try OmniOutliner 3 for iPad when you have any thing like a book structure to create, or an event to program. It’s free to download and try, then costs from $19.
There is an outliner in Word, but it’s built for academics and is like working in treacle. There was an outliner in Pages, but Apple removed it.
Actually, you can jury-rig an outline in Pages using heading styles, but moving around it, changing text, grouping ideas together, it’s as bad as Word.
Scrivener also has its own outliner and that’s pretty powerful. But the separate, standalone OmniOutliner is the kind of writing tool that turns you from a user into a fan.
The best writing apps for iPad
This has been about the best writing apps for iPad, but it’s really about the best writing apps for writers and those are on the iPad. We are now most definitely spoiled for choice for straight writing tools, and it is a fantastic thing.
And we have even more choice when it comes to writing being part of a larger project, a larger business. Then there are apps like Notion and Craft which are good for handling lots of information, orDEVONthink which is like a bionic research and writing too.
There may never be an end to the best writing apps for iPad, and there certainly won’t be an end to the debate over just what constitutes the best.
But what doesn’t change is that each of these runs on every iPad from the regular one, through the iPad mini, and on up to the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. We can have superb writing apps, and we can have them anywhere we go.
After you write your novel, you may want to try to publish it. We’ll be talking about that very soon.