Byword 2.1: Beautiful Markdown for iOS 7

One of the best text editors for iOS, the Markdown-powered Byword has been a firm favourite of ours with its simple iCloud and Dropbox integration and clean, distraction-free layout. With the release of iOS 7, the Portuguese-developed app has embraced this and has been updated with a more fitting UI and some other enhancements that make writing any quantity of text even more of a pleasure.

I put the latest release of Byword, now only available for iOS 7, through its paces to see what benefits it brings for those using Apple’s latest iOS release.

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Flat White? No Way!

Byword has been restyled in response to iOS 7 and the new coat of paint looks great. Unlike other apps that have taken iOS 7’s flatness to heart, Byword has gone most of the way but a gradient remains within the title and status bars, though far more subtle. It adds a small amount of depth and it’s good to see an app not copy iOS 7’s styling completely.

Byword hasn't changed all that much, with many changes to bring the app up to date with iOS 7.

Byword hasn’t changed all that much, with many changes to bring the app up to date with iOS 7.

The layout remains the same with file navigation on the left and the main content area to the right. Gone are the options to sort files and folders by name or date, instead these have been removed and placed within the app’s settings to make the search bar larger and make room for a button to create a new document. The refinements also eliminate the need for the title bar and the storage option name now resides within the search box, meaning there’s less chrome taking up vertical space needlessly. On the iPhone especially, this is good news.

Navigation remains almost unchanged within Byword, though the layout has been tweaked with some elements shifted to make it more efficient.

Navigation remains almost unchanged within Byword, though the layout has been tweaked with some elements shifted to make it more efficient.

Byword still retains the option to switch between a light and dark theme and Byword’s dark gold accenting within the dark theme is an almost perfect fit for those fortunate enough to have a gold iPhone 5s, something the developers have even conveyed with their product images on the Byword website.

Byword's dark theme is now more subtle and contains a little colour, making it a little easier on the eyes.

Byword’s dark theme is now more subtle and contains a little colour, making it a little easier on the eyes.

Font Restrictions

Unfortunately, the font choice within Byword is still woefully small, with only 4 fonts available to choose from: Avenir, Helvetica Neue, Courier and Georgia.

Compare this with Editorial for iPad’s choice of ten fonts, Byword really could do with some more variety of fonts. Source Sans Pro, an open source font by Adobe, is my font of choice for Byword on the Mac and it would be great to see this available on the iOS version, especially as it has already implemented by many other apps.

Smarter Keyboard

Byword’s iPad keyboard accessory, the top row of specialised keys above the default iOS keyboard, is much simpler and has been condensed to two panels instead of three. One panel contains word count and selection information, the other panel features all of the dedicated Markdown buttons that you’d expect, from tabs and links to lists and images.

Selecting text will display information within the keyboard accessory.

Selecting text will display information within the keyboard accessory.

The keyboard even features enhancements for iPad with Retina display, providing text descriptions underneath the Markdown buttons, something not available when testing on my iPad mini.

A dedicate Undo button also resides in this accessory panel which is easier to access than the button found within the standard iPad keyboard, letting you easily undo any text entry with a single tap.

The keyboard accessory now includes text descriptions of each Markdown function on retina devices, though iPad 2 and iPad mini owners will not see these.

The keyboard accessory now includes text descriptions of each Markdown function on retina devices, though iPad 2 and iPad mini owners will not see these.

Markdown Highlighting

A feature that Byword for Mac users have been itching for, Markdown syntax highlighting, is finally available in Byword for iOS. Markdown syntax is faded so that the actual text of the document you’re working on is more in focus.

Syntax highlighting now makes it to Byword for iOS, providing less distraction and more focus on content.

Syntax highlighting now makes it to Byword for iOS, providing less distraction and more focus on content.

Previously, it was always a bit more difficult to distinguish text from syntax as it would all be displayed in the same colour. Byword leverages some of the new features of Text Kit, a new feature of iOS 7, to have more granular control over how text is displayed. Once you’ve used an app that uses any form of Markdown syntax highlighting, it’s hard to go back to an app that doesn’t and was a reason why I had to stop using Byword on my iPad.

Gestures

Navigating through documents and folders is now much easier thanks to iOS 7’s swiping gestures that let you swipe from left to right. Within Byword, this allows you to navigate back through folders within the navigation view.

Quirks

Byword still has some quirks and performance issues that can impact the overall experience of using it. Switching between the light and dark theme, for example, takes a good few seconds of unresponsiveness before the changes come into effect.

iCloud syncing is still quite unreliable and I often found changes would take some time to update or fail to update at all. Whether this is the fault of the app or iCloud remains to be seen but given iCloud’s track record, I’m inclined to be a little more forgiving with regards to iCloud and simply suggest avoiding this feature altogether, sticking to Dropbox.

Although more an aesthetic release than a fundamental revision of the app, I still find the Settings and Tools menus are somewhat poorly implemented. Additionally, buried within the Tools menu is Preferences, yet another set of configuration options. Apart from the Dropbox setup, all of these options could exist simply within a single settings menu rather than be scattered around. At the moment, there are three different areas that you may need to explore just to find the correct setting to change.

Wrapping Up

Byword 2.1 feels like a sold update to an already great text editor. It’s own take on the look of iOS 7 and use of Markdown syntax highlighting have made this an even more stylish, and functional, app than ever before.

It’s a worthy upgrade for anyone running iOS 7 and for newcomers to editing text in iOS, you really can’t do much better than Byword.


Summary

A fantastic writing app for iOS that feels right at home on any iOS 7 device. Markdown syntax highlighting will be well received by Markdown junkies though it could certainly benefit from a more varied font collection.

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