· software · ios · review ·

Everyone loves Editorial, the new iPad text editor. if you have missed hearing about it, a good place to start is with Federico Viticci’s wonderful and very thorough review. I’ve only been using it for a short while compared to Federico’s 6 months, but I already love it. I’m pretty sure that it will become my standard editor for doing any kind of writing on the iPad.

I’m embarrassed to tell you how many text editors I have downloaded over the years for the iPhone, and more recently, the iPad. Since I got the new iPad I’ve been using it a lot for notetaking in meetings, conference talks1, seminars and so on. What I need in an editor is something quick, flexible, and that lets me quickly enter and view Markdown text, which is now my de facto standard for everything. I keep the files I work on in Dropbox, but I need to be able to create folders and move files around, as well as name files and set the extension I want. I’ve found some pretty good editors, a few I couldn’t get along with at all, but none of them felt entirely comfortable. Each of the best editors had some thing that was missing, or not to my liking, and that thing was different for each editor. WriteUp came closest to fulfilling my needs, but it insists on a *.txt extension, and doesn’t offer all that much in the way of assistive features for Markdown.

As many people have mentioned, Editorial is a very decent and well-featured editor to start with. You can set it up in a sandboxed Dropbox folder of its own, specify another folder hierarchy, or just let it read from the whole of your Dropbox. When you create a new document, you can choose whether it is a *.txt or *.md file. You can also create nested folders and copy or move files around, which is ideal for my blog publishing workflow. There are lots of convenience features for Markdown entry, and nice clean previewing of files2, as well as TextExpander support. If this was it, though, Editorial would be a good, but not outstanding editor, missing some features that some people might want.

Editorial’s extensibility is what makes it a really outstanding editor, and one that you can customise to your own needs and tastes. Federico’s review I linked to above gives an in-depth review of these features, but in short, you can set up workflows to manipulate text and connect with other apps in various ways. The workflows are pretty easy to use for non programmers (once you’ve explored the way it works by looking at some of the workflows Editorial ships with). However, if you know Python, you can also incorporate Python scripts, which makes workflows exceptionally powerful. There are some great workflows already out there that you can just download, including one that presents a list of your recent bookmarks on Pinboard and then inserts the one you choose as a link. I’m really enjoying using that one, as it lets you do your research first on whatever device you wish, saving links to Pinboard as you go, then get quick access to them as you write.

I’ll give you another small example of the kinds of small but impressive improvements you can make to your writing workflow. We have weekly lab meetings at work, at which we all share what we’ve been up to for the past week, what we’re planning for the upcoming week, as well as getting advice on anything we’re stuck on. I usually take notes at these meetings on my iPad, and then post them as a discussion on our lab Basecamp account. This helps us keep track of what’s being done, allows those who couldn’t make the meeting to stay in touch, and helps with compiling progress reports later. Previously, I’ve copied the text, logged into the website and then pasted the text, titled the discussion appropriately and so on. It wasn’t that hard, but it was a bit repetitive. It struck me that I could use a workflow to convert the text of the open document to HTML then send it as an email to the Basecamp email address, setting the sender and subject automatically, including the current date. It was really easy to write, and now I can just finish my note, tap the ‘Send lab meeting notes’ bookmark, and it all happens automatically. It doesn’t save a huge amount of time, but it removes the need for me to think about the steps required, what the heck the date is today, and so on. I’m sure that I’ll be adding a lot more workflows as I go.

If you use an iPad for writing, and are a bit unsatisfied with the editors you have come across, I highly recommend taking a look at Editorial.

  1. I must say that I love the iPad for notes during conference talks: the battery easily lasts all day, and you can balance it on your lap if there are no desks to lean on. ↩︎

  2. I find Editorial really good looking, both in the source and preview modes. It may be shallow, but it matters when you are staring at something for long periods. ↩︎