RichText Edit for the iPad - At Last!

At last! The wait is over.

There has never been an iOS app that can create or edit .rtf (rich text format) documents. Until now. It’s called, appropriately enough, RichText Edit. [Update: The app has since been renamed Textilus.]

The absence of .rtf editing in iOS has long been a big deal for me because TextEdit is my primary text editor on my Mac. As TextEdit uses .rtf as its default format, this iOS limitation meant I had no way to sync TextEdit documents to an iPad and edit them.

More generally, the .rtf format seems like a perfect match for the iPad: a relatively simple generic format that is still sophisticated enough to support a host of formatting features that go way beyond what plain text can handle.

So what’s been the problem? Why are there no .rtf apps for iOS? Is there a limitation in iOS itself, one that Apple would need to address before such apps become possible? I wasn’t sure. I began to despair that we might never see an iOS app with .rtf editing support. It would remain a Holy Grail.

And then…out of nowhere…comes RichText Edit. This is the real deal: the first (and currently the only) .rtf-editing app for the iPad. The app is so good in so many ways that I have already elevated it to the top of my list of preferred text-editing apps. Here’s why:

RTF. The big one. The app can create, edit and save .rtf documents. ‘Nuff said.

RichText Edit

Format. RichText Edit supports a full range of formatting features. You can select different fonts, font sizes, styles (bold, italics, underline, strike), paragraph justifications, lists, colors, super- and sub-scripts. It even supports the insertion of graphic characters — such as arrows, parentheses variations, pictographs, math symbols, and emoji.

You can’t paste images, such as jpegs, into a RichText Edit document. But you also can’t do that with .rtf documents on a Mac (unless you convert the file to the .rtfd format).

Magic Cursor. RichText Edit sports a “Magic Cursor” trackpad that is the best cursor manipulation tool I have seen in any iOS word processing app. It appears as part of the virtual keyboard.

With Magic Cursor, you tap to move the cursor backward or forward, without having to resort to the loupe tool to reposition the cursor. You can even select text directly from the Cursor, including extending or contracting a selection on a character-by-character basis. The Magic Cursor eliminates almost any need to shift your hands from the virtual keyboard to the text itself, making typing faster and more efficient. My only requested improvement would be to be able to directly move the cursor up and down, as well as right and left. [Update: While there are no arrow buttons, you can move the cursor vertically by swiping your finger up or down.]

If you tap and hold on the Magic Cursor, it brings up a list of additional helpful options, including Show Statistics (for word and character counts) and Find & Replace.

Magic Cursor

RichText Edit’s Magic Cursor

Dropbox. You can link RichText Edit to Dropbox accounts. This makes it a breeze to share documents between your Mac and your iPad. However, there are a couple of limitations.

First, RichText Edit does not access your entire Dropbox folder. It only syncs documents that are in a Dropbox>Apps>RichTextEditFiles folder (which is created automatically when you first link Dropbox to RichText Edit). This means you may have relocate some Dropbox documents if you want to access them from the RichText Edit app. It also means that you can’t use subfolders to help organize your files.

Second, syncing is not automatic. You have to specifically select Refresh Dropbox Sync from the Action menu.

These are relatively minor obstacles. Dropbox syncing works very well overall.

You can alternatively sync documents to your Mac via iTunes Sharing, but Dropbox is so much better that I don’t know why anyone would bother.

iCloud. RichText Edit supports syncing to iCloud. The developers especially tout this as a way to preserve documents even if you have to delete RichText Edit at some point. You can restore your documents from iCloud after reinstalling the app. You should also be able to do this via Dropbox.

The main problem with iCloud syncing is that there is no way to access iCloud-synced documents on your Mac. It’s only good for syncing among multiple iPads. That’s why I prefer Dropbox instead.

You cannot sync the same documents to both iCloud and Dropbox. It has to be one or the other. However, if you sync to iCloud, you can select specific documents to omit from such syncing; these documents can/will sync to Dropbox.

Export. You can export documents to other iOS apps, via a choice of .rtf, .pdf, .txt, or .html formats. You can also send a document as an email attachment. Finally, RichText Edit supports AirPrint; if you have Printopia installed, Print is yet another way to send a document to your Mac.

Export formats

RichText Edit’s Export options

Links. RichText Edit, despite its abundance of features, is missing one especially critical option. There is no way to create embedded links (as you can easily do via the Add Link command in TextEdit on a Mac). This is a matter that I explored at length in a previous column —  and which has led me to use iOS plain-text editors that support Markdown. 

But wait. Good news! The developers of RichText Edit inform me that version 1.1, coming soon, will include a “web link” feature. Hooray!

Help. One place where RichText Edit could definitely use improvement is in its documentation. The app’s promotional material cites numerous features (such as Send via Email and Find & Replace) that I was initially unable to find. It was only after ferreting around (and, in a couple of cases, contacting the developer) that I was able to locate them. It also took more effort than it should have to unravel the intricacies of how Dropbox and iCloud syncing worked in RichText Edit.

The developers are aware of this; they are working on a “video tutorial” that will hopefully fill in the gaps.

Bottom Line. I remain supremely impressed with RichText Edit. By providing .rtf support, it has somehow managed to accomplish a feat that has thus far eluded every other developer of text editing apps. I’m still not certain how they did it, but I’m glad they did. Even if you don’t care about .rtf, you should still consider RichText Edit. With its Dropbox syncing, Magic Cursor, multiple export formats, and graphic character insertions, RichText Edit [now called Textilus] surpasses the overall capabilities of every other iOS text editor I have tried.