Our Byword review explores how this Markdown app works and what it’s best at for curious writers!
What is the Byword App and Who Is It For?
Byword is a Markdown text editor aimed at Apple writers.
I’ll talk about this more below, but essentially it's writing software designed for a highly focused experience that allows you to input formatting with various keyboard symbols, allowing you to quickly format as you go without the need for a mouse or menu. That makes this writing app ideal for working from mobile devices.
If you’ve ever used an app like IA Writer, you’ll immediately notice the similarities. Both are text editors focused on Markdown with minimalistic interfaces so writers can focus and get stuff done.
However, the writing apps do have their differences: IA Writer is more expensive, available on more platforms, and offers more settings options to tweak.
Byword is the more minimalistic, affordable app, and is only available on Apple devices, so iOS devices and iPads will benefit the most from it. Apple users, mobile users, and writers dealing with ADHD or distractions will all get the most out of Byword.
Testing Criteria for the Byword Review
I tested Byword looking at quality, ease of use, and value for money. Quality generally covers how the app works, what features it offers, and what it excels in.
Ease of use is about the interface, how the app feels, and how long it takes to learn. Value for money is, of course, focused on whether the app is worthwhile to writers for how much it costs.
For such a simple app like Byword, my focus is primarily on how the app feels to use, and how it enables a mobile writing style on something like an iPhone or iPad, ideal for a quick writing session in a café or while on the go. It works well on Mac, too!
Quality: 3 out of 5 Stars
What Byword does, it does well. In addition to the basic Markdown support, while you are typing, the app also supports keyboard shortcuts for a variety of settings. That includes a Preview mode to take a quick look at how the text will look when published, MultiMarkdown support for things like cross-referencing and footnotes, and the option to include metadata.
The experience is very hands-on – that’s the whole point – but it also means that you have to do everything yourself. No formatting is automated, so you need to choose exactly what you want and input it yourself.
These limitations are seen in other ways on the iOS app. If you want to insert an image into the text, you can drag and drop one in, but that will just create an HTML link to that image file, and you’ll have to format it yourself if you want to change anything about its size or location.
The default for publishing during your workflow is simply copying text documents and pasting the HTML in whatever publishing tool you’re working with. This holds some advantages for bloggers and website development, but it’s a good thing that Byword includes a more direct Publish option in the File menu to publish on common platforms like WordPress, Evernote, Tumblr, and Medium.
If you are using Byword for writing content as opposed to pure HTML code, you’ll also like the spelling and grammar checkers, the word counter, and the included dictionary, but it’s still a very bare-bones writing program.
The good news is that syncing is providing via iCloud (with Dropbox support as well), so your files will be automatically updated no matter what device you are working on.
Ease of Use: 3 out of 5 Stars
Do you already know the Markdown format? Markdown is basic HTML that’s used to change the properties of text – if you’ve ever used the “* *” trick in a messaging app, you’ve used a bit of Markdown. There are also a couple of shortcuts designed to work with Apple keyboards to make some formatting easier, and a whole deeper subsection of MultiMarkdown for more complicated work.
Here’s the bad news – if you don’t already know Markdown, this is going to take some time to learn before you get comfortable typing without the need for a mouse or a settings menu. How long will vary from person to person, and it’s difficult for me to judge because I sat down with Byword already experienced in basic HTML.
The good news is that Byword does include a Markdown guide on their site to help users get started, as well as a more advanced MultiMarkdown guide once you are ready to move on.
Once you do have Markdown mastered, using the Byword app flows very well. You may have to look up specific code for some special formatting you want to do, but for general content writing, nothing is especially complicated.
Byword also lets you switch between a light mode and dark mode, but otherwise, there isn’t much to say about the interface for such a simple Markdown editor.
Value for Money: 4 out of 5 Stars
Byword is a good Markdown app, especially if you are using the iOS version on a mobile device, but it costs $11 to download on Mac and $5.99 for iOS.
As I mentioned, that’s far less expensive than the similar IA Writer app and also Ulysses. But Byword is also a much simple app, so you aren’t getting nearly as many additional writing tools. Fortunately, it’s just a one-time purchase with no need to mess around with pricing tiers or subscriptions, which makes the cost much more reasonable in my opinion.
Value, however, will largely depend on the type of writer you are. Byword is best suited for those working in web development and blogging. If constantly relying on a cursor has you mad, the plain text, minimalist solution of Byword is probably welcome.
Functionality: 4 Out of 5 Stars
Byword is an ideal distraction-free Markdown app. We found writing short-form articles and blog posts in Markdown quick and easy with this software. It's ideal for anyone with a Macbook, iMac or an iPad. We are able to write several short-form blog posts of about 600-words in length and test publish them to platforms like WordPress and Medium. It also supports publishing to Blogger, Evernote and Tumblr.
However, it's less suitable for writing longer-form works like a book or series of essays. That's because it doesn't support a document library in the same way as Ulysses. It lacks some comparable publication tools like compiling a manuscript for self-publishing. And don't expect tools for tracking your daily word count, the status of a writing project or setting a writing goal. Depending on how easily you get distracted that may be a good thing!
For long-form writing, we recommend Scrivner or Ulysses. They have additional publication and writing workflow tools.
Read our Scrivener review
Read our Ulysses review
FAQ for the Byword App
What Sort Of Writers In Byword For?
Bloggers, web developers, website content writers, and similar people.
Are Markdown And HTML Hard To Learn?
Not especially. If you’ve learned new keyboard shortcuts, you can learn Markdown in much the same way. A basic list of Markdown codes is all you really need for casual writing (bold, italics, centering titles, etc.), and those skills will transfer over to plenty of web writing apps as well. It really depends on how important it is for you to learn how to write without needing to use a mouse.
Is Byword Good For Novel Writers?
Probably not. Unlike other apps, Byword doesn’t support any tools that are helpful for large projects like writing a novel. There’s no customizable glossary for terms, no optimization for phrasing, etc. You can categorize and save your work with basic file management, but that’s about it.
The most Byword would be good for in this situation would be to write a chapter or section when you are on the go, then copy or export it to another writing app that you are using as the primary source of your novel.
On the other hand, if you absolutely need zero distractions when you are writing, or you prefer to get as far away from the “computer” experience as possible and as close to writing on something like a typewriter, Byword may be your novel app of choice.
What Writing App Would Be An Alternative To Byword?
Ulysses is a great pick, especially for Apple users. It includes a host of useful tools while still offering a minimalist interface. The downside is that it is a subscription app, not a one-time purchase.
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The Bottom Line: Byword Review
Byword is one the best Markdown app for Apple users and can help writers fulfill their dreams of typing on an iPhone or iPad without the need to worry about a mouse or expensive folio. It's a good choice for bloggers and freelance writers who live in the Apple ecosystem.
But you need familiarity with Markdown for this to work, and that could take a lot of learning for writers without any experience.
If you want more advanced writing and publishing tools or you're working on a book, check out our Ulysses or Scrivener. You may also like IA Writer for a comparable distraction-free writing experience.
- Easy to use
- Pleasing interface
- iOS and Mac only
- Publishing features not as advanced as other Markdown apps
- Less suitable for long-form writing