If I had to pick one iOS app I couldn't live without, that would be Editorial.
Developed by Berlin-based Ole Zorn, Editorial was the app that reinvented text automation in 2013 and that pushed me to start working exclusively from my iPad. Editorial is a powerful Markdown text editor that combines visual Automator-like actions with a web browser, text snippets, Python scripts, and URL schemes to supercharge text editing on iOS with the power of automation. I spend most of my days writing and researching in Editorial, and my workflow depends on this app.
Editorial also has a slow release cycle. Zorn likes to take his time with updates that contain hundreds of changes: Editorial 1.1, released in May 2014, brought an iPhone version and custom interfaces, making Editorial feel like an entirely new app. The same is happening today with Editorial 1.2, which adds support for the latest iPhones, iOS 8 integration, custom templates, browser tabs, folding, and much more.
Editorial 1.2 with iOS 8 support is launching right after Apple's announcement of iOS 9, but the wait has been worth it. The new version builds upon the excellent foundation of Editorial 1.1, and the enhancements it brings vastly improve the app for users who rely on its automation features and Python interpreter.
Rather than covering every single change, I'll focus on the 10 new features that have most impacted the way I get work done with Editorial on a daily basis.
Alternote for the Mac is like Evernote for the Mac, done right. It dumps many of Evernote’s advanced “features,” focusing on note-taking and note-using instead. If you ever get frustrated by Evernote’s bloat, Alternote is your answer.
Best of all, it runs on Evernote’s back end, so you lose nothing by trying it out, and it automatically integrates with all your other Evernote tools.
This is a proof of concept that I put together out of curiosity today, and it'll likely break for some documents or Microsoft Excel, but it's been working well for me, and I thought I'd share it.
I created a workflow that converts colums/rows copied from spreadsheets in Numbers and Google Sheets to a MultiMarkdown table.
Brett Terpstra writes about the new integration of Marked 2 with iThoughtsX:
iThoughtsX is currently my favorite mind mapping tool on OS X. Marked 2 is, obviously, my favorite way to preview Markdown. Now they work together. You can simply drag an iThoughtsX map file to Marked, and it will start previewing an outline of your map as you work. Every time you save your map in iThoughts, you’ll see the changes in the resulting Markdown document, previewed in whatever theme you’re working with.
As you can see in the video above, the integration is seamless: every change you make in a mind map is reflected in the Markdown preview of Marked.
Both iThoughts and Marked are excellent pieces of software. I miss the ubiquitous preview capabilities of Marked on iOS, but, fortunately, iThoughts developer Craig Scott worked out a pretty sweet integration with Editorial.
An interesting initiative by Brett Terpstra and The Soulmen: TextBundle is a new file format to bundle Markdown files, metadata, and referenced images in a single file that multiple apps can exchange without asking for additional permissions due to Sandboxing on OS X.
From the website:
The TextBundle file format aims to provide a more seamless user expericence when exchanging Markdown files between sandboxed applications.
Sandboxing is required for all apps available on the Mac and iOS app store, in order to grant users a high level of data security. Sandboxed apps are only permitted access to files explicitly provided by the user - for example Markdown text files. When working with different Markdown applications, sandboxing can cause inconveniences for the user.
Here's Brett's explanation:
The Textbundle format is very simple. A folder containing a plain text file, a JSON data file, and an assets sub-folder. An app, such as Ulysses, can write a Textbundle out and pass it to Marked, and all of the necessary components are automatically included. Images, additional text files, and any metadata needed are all there and safe from sandboxing restrictions.
What's especially intriguing is metadata support: with TextBundle, all kinds of information could be stored in the file and passed across devices and platforms:
This means that data such as revision history, writing statistics, and all kinds of things we haven’t imagined yet can be stored with a file that can move across folders, entire machines, and even platforms.
For new formats to work, they need to be ubiquitous; for Markdown formats to work, they need to be supported by the community of developers who make text editors. Right now, Ulysses III and Marked 2 have added support for TextBundle; developers can check out the official spec here.
Marked, developed by Brett Terpstra, is my must-have utility to convert MultiMarkdown to HTML on my Mac. Whenever I need to publish an article from OS X rather than my iPad (usually because I need to record and include GIFs or screencasts), I rely on Marked to handle conversion to valid HTML with a keyboard shortcut. And yet, as we've shown before, there is so much that Marked can do, such as printing to a variety of formats, keyword and readability analysis, and more.
Today, Brett released version 2.3 of Marked and made it available on the Mac App Store as well. Both versions of the app share the same features and they are both sandboxed to comply with Apple's App Store rules. However, in spite of the restrictions, Marked hasn't lost its functionality – instead, Brett managed to add new options such as full GitHub Flavored Markdown support, improved PDF export stability, a document reading progress bar (I love this), and a mini map for navigation with fast scrolling.
What I still find most impressive about Marked isn't its feature set per se, but rather how the app can be used as a simple tool for short posts or an advanced solution for writers who are working on a book or long documents. Marked is incredibly powerful and flexible and, at $9.99 on the Mac App Store as a limited time sale, I highly recommend it.
(Check out Brett's blog post and our previous coverage of Marked.)
MindNode is an elegant and powerful mindmapping app that I use on all my devices to visualize thoughts and topics before writing an article or preparing research for a podcast episode. I've been a fan of MindNode for years, and I was particularly impressed with version 3.0, which brought a new iOS 7 design alongside more intuitive interactions, better iCloud sync, and keyboard shortcuts.
Today's 3.1 update, available on the App Store, features an entirely new sidebar for your mindmap outline that replaces the app's old popover. The advantage of the sidebar approach is immediately clear on the iPad, and especially in landscape mode: with the new version, you can keep the map and sidebar open at the same time, tapping on items in the outline to select the respective node on the map (and vice versa).
Editorial, Ole Zorn's text automation tool and Markdown editor for iOS, has changed the way I work on my iPad.
Combining an elegant text editing experience with a powerful workflow system based on actions and a built-in Python interpreter, Editorial reinvented iOS automation and explored new horizons of what could be achieved with inter-app comunication on an iPad. Editorial can be just a text editor, but its true potential and versatility are revealed by an Automator-inspired interface that is the foundation for workflows to automate text editing, web services, image manipulation, and more -- all on an iPad, without needing a Mac. Editorial sits at the forefront of the post-PC era, and it's become an indispensable tool for my professional life.
Editorial came out on August 15, 2013. Over the past nine months, I've seen Editorial go from a minor 1.0.1 release to a feature-packed, redesigned 1.1 that feels like a 2.0 update -- the kind of deep, fundamentally different version of an app that several developers would charge for as a separate product on the App Store.
It's undeniable that Zorn should have released an update with fixes and basic iOS 7 compatibility sooner, but it's important to note that Editorial 1.0 (aside from minor issues) kept working well on iOS 7, and Zorn documented the development process with notes and screenshots on the app's forums. As an Editorial user and reviewer, it's been a long journey from version 1.0 in August 2013 to today's 1.1 release, but it's been worth it.
Editorial 1.1 brings a plethora of design changes, Markdown improvements, and automation breakthroughs that, just ahead of iOS 8, represent a major milestone for Markdown text editors and iOS automation. Editorial 1.1 may be a text editor on the surface, but, in reality, it's a small revolution for iOS power users.
Hilton Lipschitz, writing about switching to Markdown and whether it paid off:
The key to Markdown writing is that you focus on the content. Structure, format, look and feel are all secondary. It’s pure distraction-free writing. Which means that you have no choice but to write and think about writing and focus on the content. Which encourages you to become a better writer.
For me, Markdown has singlehandedly revolutionized the way I can put together articles for MacStories without wasting hours over HTML and RTF issues.
I used to write in the WYSIWYG editor of WordPress, which meant that I often ended up with strange formatting in my posts and I didn't have any local copies of my files because there were no files. If the browser tab crashed and I hadn't saved a draft, the post was gone and I had to start over from scratch. I didn't want to use Word for Mac and pasting from Pages created even more issues with formatting in WordPress (we are talking about 2009-2010 WordPress), so I stuck with writing in the browser. And it was terrible.
Since I switched to Markdown in late 2012, I have generated an archive of over 600 plain text files that are fully searchable, indexed by Spotlight and Dropbox, and readable by any operating system. Thanks to plain text, my articles and notes are portable and I can switch text editors whenever I want. When I convert to HTML and I see that everything looks good, I get a geeky serotonin kick that reminds why I will never write in the WordPress editor again.
Markdown and related services1 make it easy to add links, formatting, tables, footnotes and to generate HTML with a wide array of settings and options; because of that simplicity I have written more, fixed more typos, and generally dealt with more readable files. Markdown didn't merely pay off – I don't know how I'd go back to any other format at this point. It's just natural.
Tools may not make me a better writer, but Markdown allowed me to ignore the bureaucracy of web publishing, enabling me to write complete articles from anywhere. I'm thankful that it exists.