October 25, 2015

Textwell - The Modeless Textbox for iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.

(Originally posted on 2015-01-04)

In the world of text editors this is a strange beast. The closest product that this is analogous to is Drafts on iOS.

Conceptually it is one sheet of paper. You type on it. You fill it with content that you are working on, and then you send it somewhere. You can save it to a file, prepend or append it to an existing file, or you can use a bundled action/write an action yourself to do with the content what you wish.

Does that sound confusing enough? It does because it is not what we usually do with a text editor. We edit text, we save it to a file, and then we move on. We might occasionally take the content and put it into an email message or a tweet and use some other dedicated program to send it along, but in Textwell it is all done within it. The program ships with a slew of actions which let you do a whole bunch of things with the content you create. When you are done, you clear the one sheet of paper you have, and start with a new blank sheet of paper. Efficient and a little different from the norm.

It has a companion iOS version. With iCloud Drive support, you can work on the same piece of paper on all your devices.

The Mac version of Textwell

This is a well designed piece of software. Don't get me wrong. This is not competing with BBEdit or SublimeText. It is not feature comparable with a text editor. It is as the developers describe it, a "modeless textbox.” A window where you input text. Then you perform some actions on the text.

For instance, I wrote the following tweet: Trying out the Mac version of #Textwell, the modeless textbox for iOS and Mac OS devices. https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/textwell/id905944937?mt=12&uo=4&at=10lrLv.

I selected the text of the tweet and hit ⌥⌘T, which is the keystroke I assigned to the Tweet action, and it posted the tweet through the Twitter app. Done. I cleared the textbox and it was now empty and waiting for the next thing I wanted to do with it.

The interface of Textwell is simple. It is a textbox.

You can extend the window to the right and the left. The left extension is a panel which shows different versions of documents you have been working on. I think this is the version control provided by iCloud Drive. But they are a listing of the different iterations of the content of the page you are working on. On the right is the actions panel. This contains all the actions available to you. You can arrange these in folders and that helps you locate the particular action you are interested in. The actions are Javascript programs which run in the built-in web view. They are very well documented here.

The application ships with a bunch of these actions and you can easily write more if you need them. I have just started learning Javascript, so it will be a while before I write my own actions.

Textwell is customizable to a certain extent. You can use any font you like, and design your own theme to a point. I came up with a version of Solarized Dark. I wish the cursor was a little thicker. I changed the cursor color to Red to help it stick out a little more. Textwell lets you set the maximum text width and that defines the width of the text in your input window.

Interestingly, Textwell doesn't provide a keyboard command for full screen view, but if you click on the green doohickey on the top left of the window, it will switch to full screen view. It is a usable full screen view, and that is the mode I am in when I am in Textwell. The absence of a keyboard command for that is a little weird.

One suggestion to improve the product for me would be to add a typewriter scrolling mode. It is something I have gotten used to and miss when it is not available.

When I started this review, I was planning a comparison between Drafts and Textwell. The more I use Textwell, the more I realize that the two products are essentially build around the same idea. Write something, move it on to other uses.

The comparison with Drafts on iOS

There are a few differences between the two programs which make a direct comparison between the two somewhat problematic:

  1. Drafts does not have a Mac version.
  2. Textwell is at version 1.3.4 while Drafts is at version 4.0
  3. Textwell on iOS costs $2.99 while Drafts costs $9.99
  4. Drafts is markdown friendly. Textwell just does text.

On iOS, Drafts is much better designed. It is not even remotely close. Textwell is functional, but Drafts is heavenly. I have been using Drafts since the day it was released, and I think that it is one of the best designed apps for the iOS. Textwell has a long way to go to catch up.

So where does that leave us?

Do you need a textbox? I am a SublimeText user and initially looked on the whole textbox idea as a bit of a gimmick. The more I gave it time, the more I realized that there is something to be said for the modeless textbox that Textwell provides. I like having a dedicated program where I write something, do something to the text and then move on the next task. It focusses you on the task and then lets you clear the page and move on to next task. It deserves a place in the workflow and it is adding value to my routines.

The Mac version is well designed. It is a worthy addition to any text file users arsenal. My hope is that the iOS version matures and becomes as useful on the iOS devices.


If the idea of a textbox on the Mac intrigues you. Get the Mac version and the iOS version of Textwell. You are going to find a lot of ways you will use this neat little program. If you spend more time on the iOS devices than the Mac, get Drafts.

You can buy Textwell Mac version here. $9.99.
You can buy Textwell iOS version here. $2.99.
You can buy Drafts 4.0 for iOS here. $9.99.

macosxguru at the gmail thingie

Textwell text Drafts

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