They say “a good craftsman never blames his tools”, and this is largely true except when it comes to typing on a touchscreen. Regardless of how good a writer you really are, your clumsy fat meat-pointers will prove themselves a hindrance.
We’ve shown you how to write your next novel on an iPad, now it’s time to learn all about the importance of good word processor. If you’ve got some words to be processing on your iPad, we’ve got the apps to help you do it.
Pages (free, $9.99)
Free with all new purchases of an iOS device since late 2013, Pages is Apple’s very own word processor aptly named after its Mac sibling. In case you didn’t know, new users are also entitled to a copy of Numbers and Keynote too, which makes up Apple’s mobile Microsoft Office counterpart. With full iCloud support, Pages syncs with its Mac equivalent, as well as iCloud.com where documents can be edited in-browser.
Pages offers full control over the layout of non-text items including images and shapes, and comes with more than 60 templates to get you started. There’s a media browser for adding images, and formatting controls built into the on-screen keyboard. Pages also supports collaboration with other users like Google Docs, change tracking, footnotes and endnotes, list-making, word-count tools and the ability to create impressive 2D, 3D and interactive (for non-print) charts and graphs.
Pages is an impressive package let down by a lack of support for third party cloud services and limited (but in most cases adequate) file support.
- Free with all new iOS purchases
- Imports Microsoft Word files, but only via WebDAV, Mail and iTunes File Sharing
- Syncs with iCloud; no support for Dropbox, Google Drive or other cloud storage
- Collaborate with other iOS, Mac, and even Windows users via iCloud.com
- Export documents to .PDF, .ePub, Word, or a viewable web link
Microsoft Word (Free)
If you have an iPhone, regular 9.7″ iPad or smaller device then Microsoft Word is completely free to use on iOS. If you have a 12.9″ iPad Pro, then you’re going to need to sign up for an Office 365 subscription because you’ll be breaking Microsoft’s 10″ screen threshold for touch devices.
As a result your choice of device will likely affect your likelihood of using Word, which is essentially a refined and mobile-friendly version of the long-established desktop package. As you’d expect, there’s support for images, tables, charts, SmartArt, footnotes and equations. Access documents via cloud services including OneDrive and Dropbox, track changes, collaborate with others, and use the same consistent UI you’re used to on a computer.
If you already have an Office 365 subscription or your device qualifies, Word for iPad is a compelling choice. You might not be so thrilled if you’re an iPad Pro user who has to pay up though.
- Free to use unless you have a 12.9″ iPad Pro
- Import Microsoft Word files from One Drive, Dropbox and iTunes File Sharing
- Realtime collaboration for working with others
- Export to Word and PDF
WPS Office (Free)
Formerly Kingsoft Office Free, WPS Office is a rare treat: a completely free suite of business-oriented apps for iOS. According to the app description, it’s the world’s most popular free mobile office suite with more than 600 million installs.
The package includes four tools: Memo, Document, Spreadsheet and Presentation. Document includes support for .DOC, .DOCX and .WPT or .WPS text files, and you can export to Microsoft Word and PDF formats. There’s a real emphasis on simplicity here, everything from the sharp Office-style design to the uncluttered interface is minimal. You can create and edit Word documents, track changes, add comments, insert pictures, find and replace text and even encrypt documents.
A worthy Microsoft Word competitor particularly given the price, but it doesn’t offer some of the advanced features or premium polish of Pages or Microsoft’s flagship.
- A completely free suite of office apps.
- Opens a wide range of Word document formats, and allows you to create them in-app.
- Support for Google Drive, Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, SkyDrive and WebDAV
- Export in .DOC or .DOCX format, share to another app of your choice. Also supports AirPlay, AirDrop, DLNA and Wi-Fi share.
Notes Writer+ ($7.99, free trial)
Formerly Textilus, Notes Writer+ is a fairly comprehensive office app that provides a well-rounded package, plus a restricted free version to try before you buy. The app is designed as a word processor for rich text format (.RTF) and markdown (.MD) files, rather than using the Word format.
That means the app won’t technically save to .DOC or .DOCX and that you’ll need to save any existing .DOCs you want to edit as .RTFs to begin with (File > Save As in Word).
There are plenty of bells and whistles including the ability to work with images, a distraction-free mode, live counters for tracking document length, find and replace, dark mode, and a powerful organizer. The app also includes great .PDF support, allowing you to annotate, fill in forms, and sign documents. There’s also a document scanner included.
When you’re done you can export your work to .RTF, markdown, .PDF, ePub, HTML, plain text and more; use Wi-Fi transfer; and ZIP whole notebooks for backing up elsewhere.
- Create and edit Word-compatible rich text (.RTF) files, and also markdown (.MD) files.
- A powerful editor with additional keys for touchscreen typing, margin control, support for references, the ability to use images, find and replace, and track document length with live counters.
- Syncs with iCloud, Dropbox, Box, WebDAV and Google Drive; share via Wi-Fi.
- Export to RTF, Markdown, .PDF, ePub, HTML, .RTFD, .TXT, .ZIP, and more.
Probably the most hipster word processor on the iPad, Werdsmith describes itself as a “portable writing studio” and even comes with an Apple Watch app. The app is almost free, but there’s a limit on how many documents you can work on at the same time. You can either pay a one-off fee of around $5 to remove the limit, or sign up as a member for a monthly $7 to receive other benefits.
Werdsmith offers a personalized experience, allowing you to choose from five themes and a truckload of formatting options. The emphasis is on writing, so it lacks the rich editing features like image and table support in favor of features like “writing rituals” which prompt you to write more. Werdsmith offers its own cloud service which backs up your work, and you can even protect everything with a fingerprint.
If you want a customizable word processor that focuses on the words, give Werdsmith a shot.
- Create and edit Werdsmith documents, wherever you are with syncing between devices
- Back everything up to the cloud, protect your writing with biometrics
- Themes, formatting options, and a feature-rich experience in a simple package
- Export work and share with friends, or create a writer’s portfolio with the app
iA Writer ($3.99)
iA Writer has been featured among the best in the App Store for four years running, and it’s easy to see why. Behind the modest entry fee is a powerful word processor that focuses on providing an elegant environment in which to get serious work done.
The app focuses on Markdown (which is worth learning if you haven’t already), and places your document library a swipe away to the right, and a document preview a swipe to the left. Rearrange the keyboard bar for a truly personal experience, use Focus Mode to concentrate only on the words, and back everything up to Dropbox or iCloud.
iA Writer is another word processor that focuses on the words above all else, with a shedload of features and proper markdown support.
- Create and edit documents on the go
- Sync with Dropbox and iCloud, share to WordPress and Medium
- Markdown support, Focus Mode and dark theme
- Export to Microsoft Word, HTML and PDF
Ulysses is another mainstay of the word processing world, and can fit into virtually any word-centric workflow. Whether you’re a student, writing a novel, composing blog posts on the go, or simply love writing — this app can do the job. It’s not cheap, but it’s rammed with features.
At the heart of the app is a simple yet powerful toolset by way of a markup-based text editor. Enable the distraction-free mode and the UI melts away, allowing you to focus on just the words. Store all of your writing within the library, which syncs via iCloud with other devices and the Mac version.
You can then export to PDF, web, ePub, Word, RTF and plain text; or publish on WordPress and Medium. It might be the most expensive single app here, but it’s probably worth it if you’re serious about your writing.
- Create and edit documents, import Word files, markdown and text
- A powerful editor with distraction-free mode, markdown support, search and replace, spell checker, and shortcut buttons for on-screen keyboard users
- An scaleable organized library, with groups, filters, favorites and bookmarks and integration with Spotlight
- Import from Dropbox, sync via iCloud, export to Word, web, PDF and more.
Last but certainly not least is Scrivener, a writing tool that focuses on larger writing projects like manuscripts. If you’re writing a screenplay, film, or stage production then Scrivener is one of the best tools for the job particularly when it comes to organisation.
With purpose-built organization features like grouping of documents, the ability t ostore research materia like images and PDFs to hand, easy rearranging of content, project-wide searching and progress tracking Scrivener is a must-have for those undertaking larger writing projects.
Export to Word, RTF, Final Draft, PDF, or plain text; converto markdown; and ZIP your project ready for emailing.
- Create and work on manuscripts on the go, with a tutorial project to get you started.
- A scaleable editing environment for projects of any size.
- Organization is key, rearranging your projects is easy, add images, track ideas, make notes and comments, store research, and navigate large projects quickly.
- Export to Word, PDF, Final Draft, ZIP and more, sync your work using Dropbox, or use iTunes file sharing.
Pick the Best App for the Job
These apps are word processors, designed for working with words and documents. They are not designed specifically for coding, and they all offer something a little bit different. Pick the tool that’s right for you — whether you’re looking for a cheap powerful scratchpad like iA Writer, the familiarity of Microsoft Office, or a highly capable editor and organizer like Ulysses.
The best app on this list is the app that appeals to your budget and requirements the most. Pages is probably good enough for most users’ needs and it’s free, but all of the apps on this list have compelling use cases. That’s why we’ll leave the decision up to you!
Which is your favorite iPad word processor? Let us know in the comments below!
Article updated by Tim Brookes on November 15, 2016