Image: iStock/scyther5

If you’re a Mac or iPad user who regularly drafts copy, authors reports, produces blog and social media posts or otherwise writes material professionally, iA Writer may be the most helpful application you didn’t know you need. This fact remains true even if all you usually compose are email messages, Google document notes and Microsoft Teams posts.

What are the benefits and features of Markdown apps like iA Writer?

Because iA Writer uses Markdown, the lightweight markup language that simplifies formatting, you can write text that can be used in multiple locations — a common need when preparing product, service, advertising, marketing, technical and financial performance information. This means you don’t have to suffer repeated frustrations when importing your text within various applications (including Word, Pages and Adobe products), cloud programs (such as CRM, financial and ERP platforms) and web services (Ghost, Medium and WordPress among them).

iA Writer is not unique in that respect. Common features of popular Markdown applications include the ability to export to HTML, Microsoft Word, PDF and and rich text file formats, support for common Markdown language text-formatting code (such as single asterisks for italics, double asterisks for bold-face type and the pound symbol for headings), iCloud file-storage compatibility, Dark Mode support and cross-platform (Mac, iPad, iPhone and even Windows) compatibility.

SEE: Apple Silicon M1 Mac buying guide: 2021 iMac vs. 2020 MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro vs. Mac mini (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

What are alternatives to iA Writer?

iA Writer includes all those capabilities, similar to competing products from Bear, Byword, MacDownMarked 2Markdown Pro and Ulysses. But iA Writer’s combination of a simple-but-elegant user interface, an easily navigated organizer for locating and storing files, customizable menus, basic time-saving templates and optional focus elements that help improve writing help explain why I’m increasingly encountering other media mentions and authors admitting to a dependence on the app. iA Writer adds a unique blend of additional features in a way that genuinely assists the writing process.

Bear is a Markdown app that supports more than 150 programming languages, so you can write all your code in it, too. You can encrypt individual notes with facial recognition, and use hashtags to find specific information. It’s available on the App Store for free, and has a Bear Pro option for $1.49 a month or $14.99 a year.

Byword is simpler than most of the iA Writer alternatives. It includes complete Markdown support. You can preview your documents in the app, export to HTML, PDF, rich text, or publish directly to Medium, WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr and Evernote. The new version has a premium upgrade to enable publishing to WordPress, Tumblr, Blogger, Scriptogram and Evernote. It requires a one-time, in-app purchase of $5.

MacDown is an open-source Markdown editor for those who write code in Markdown. The creator of MacDown, Tzu-ping Chung, said it was modeled after Mou, which was created by Chen Lou, but Chung added some extras. MacDown includes highly customizable Markdown rendering, syntax highlighting in fenced code blocks and sophisticated auto-completion. It’s free.

Marked is a previewer for Markdown and other plain text markups. Use it with your favorite text editor, and it updates every time you save. With features for previewing, reviewing and exporting documents, you can work in plain text with the benefits of formatting. Marked also has a basic AppleScript dictionary and a URL scheme, which makes it easy to integrate into your workflow. It works with text editors from Vim and Emacs to Sublime Text and TextMate, Markdown editors like MultiMarkdown Composer, Byword, iA Writer, Ulysses, Scrivener, VoodooPad, MarsEdit and more. It costs $13.99 one time.

Markdown Pro has live preview as you write. You write in plain text on the left, while the panel on the right shows you how it will look live. With Markdown Pro you can write beautiful documentation, notes, essays and term papers all by using plain text to tag your formatting. The website claims you never have to take your hands off the keyboard when writing. It has full-screen support, autosave, version history, the ability to resume where you left off, UTF8 support and more. It costs $5.99 one time.

Ulysses is considered one of the best apps for writing on the market. Exclusively for Mac, iPhone and iPad, it is geared toward writers who aren’t writing code – more like fiction, blog posts, research papers and the like. Writers like its pleasant, focused writing experience, combined with effective document management, seamless sync and flexible export. The app is free to download, but in order to use its full scope of features, it offers multiple membership plans from $5.99 a month to $49.99 a year.

How do I use iA Writer?

Writers, and professionals who must regularly draft text for work, know how easily distractions derail the process. iA Writer helps with that problem by encouraging and assisting writers with maintaining their focus. Although the program features simple menus and exponentially fewer options than, say, Microsoft Word, iA Writer’s Focus Mode (Figure A) makes concentrating on your writing and minimizing distractions automatic. Regardless, the program’s writing-focused features still provide a wealth of helpful options—automatic highlighting of unrecognized words, multiple exporting capabilities, PDF previews, common formatting choices, multiple view settings and seamless cloud storage integration to name but a few—that assist the writing, creative, operations, production and publishing processes.

Figure A

iA Writer’s Focus Mode helps busy professionals resist distraction and keep their business writing on track.

The app also assists in improving the actual quality of your writing. With the ability to quickly enable highlighting adjectives, nouns, adverbs, verbs and conjunctions in different colors automatically as you type, repetitive and unnecessary words readily become apparent.

Why’s that important? As an eager English major sporting a still-fresh B.A., a seasoned journalism mentor once prohibited me from using adjectives and adverbs in news releases. I was perplexed. Wasn’t that part of the point of a promotional announcement, to play up the drama? But he taught me a lesson that would repeatedly prove true throughout my career: The best communications are short, sincere and free of extraneous text.

SEE: M1 MacBook Pro vs M1 iPad Pro: Which is quickest in the real world? (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The program itself is low load. The app requires few CPU cycles and little memory. I don’t even recognize iA Writer as placing any load on my Mac, iPad (whose iA Writer presentation is shown in Figure B) or iPhone, so quickly does it load and respond to typing and comments. It’s footprint is tiny. Yet, everything I draft—from client reports to news articles to blog posts—comes more easily.

Figure B

iA Writer’s iPad version provides the same simple interface as the Mac, helping maintain concentration by leveraging simple, easily read text.

Thanks to iA Writer’s simple interface that focuses on and prioritizes writing, I find my attention better concentrated and my production more efficient. Because iA Writer uses an easy-to-read monotype font, by default, my confidence builds after typing just a few sentences. The New Yorker recently commented on this phenomenon, noting how the font’s equal spacing of each letter and punctuation mark generates a sense of progress not found using formats that don’t dedicate equal space to each character. Admittedly, it’s weird, but a true sense of progression results.

Fortunately, you can experience iA Writer with no commitment: A free trial of the program is available for Mac users. iPadOS users, however, need to pony up $29.99 for the iPad app. But, to be fair, you receive both the iPadOS and iOS version when purchasing the program from Apple’s App Store. Just be prepared to pay another $29.99 for the Mac version. So far, the two purchases are the best investments I’ve made and are helping me get 2022 off to a pleasant, productive start.

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