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Posts tagged with "markdown"

Ulysses 20 Review: New Dashboard Featuring Advanced Grammar and Style Check, Outline, and Much More

Ulysses 20 for iPad’s new dashboard.

Ulysses 20 for iPad’s new dashboard.

One of the promises regularly made by apps transitioning to a subscription model is that they’ll be able to deliver more regular, incremental updates rather than going untouched for extended periods of time, and they can also focus on adding functionality that existing users will appreciate rather than needing to build something entirely different to attract a new target market. Ulysses has been a subscription app for nearly three years already, and I believe it’s one of the apps doing the best job of delivering on both of those fronts.

A quick search on MacStories will show that I’ve covered Ulysses a lot, in part because it’s my primary Markdown editor, but also because there are consistently several updates per year that stand out as noteworthy and meriting a fresh review. Today’s version 20 is no exception, introducing an advanced grammar and style check ‘revision mode’ on the Mac (coming soon to iPad and iPhone) and a new dashboard view across all platforms. Both enhancements leave what was already great about Ulysses alone, while offering valuable new utility for writers sure to delight existing users and perhaps even draw a flock of new ones.

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Drafts 20 Introduces Advanced Wiki-Style Linking

Drafts 20, the latest update to the powerful text editor and capture tool, introduces an excellent feature for creating in-line links to other drafts, workspaces, or even searches.

I’ve always appreciated the ability to link notes inside of other notes, like what’s available in Bear, and that’s exactly the behavior that Drafts 20 enables. By typing an existing draft’s title inside of double brackets (e.g. [[Draft Title Here]]), you can create a Wiki-style link to that draft that can be tapped or clicked for instant access. For research purpose especially, I’ve found this functionality useful in the past, and I’m glad to see it in Drafts.

One nice detail of Drafts’ implementation is that you can use the same syntax to create links to brand new drafts; if you type a title in brackets that doesn’t currently exist, the app will automatically create a new draft with that title. The system is smart enough, too, to work with only partial titles entered. For example, with an old draft titled “Apple Card Now Available for All US Customers,” all I had to type in brackets was ‘Apple Card’ for the link to be created. The only enhancement I hope to see in a future update is auto-complete suggestions when typing a draft’s title so you can ensure you’ve entered the correct one.

Linking to other drafts is certainly the primary appeal of the new bracketing syntax, but developer Greg Pierce has included a handful of advanced options too that make the feature even more valuable. As detailed in the update’s release notes, you can bracket not just other draft titles, but also links to your existing workspaces, a search term inside the app, or even a Bear note. My favorite options, however, enable creating one-tap links to Google or Wikipedia searches. By typing google: or wikipedia: then a search term, all inside double brackets, Drafts will create links to initiate those types of searches. The added flexibility afforded by these links, alongside the new links to other drafts, makes Drafts a strong research and database tool, alongside all the other things the app’s great at.

Drafts 20 is available on the App Store.


iA Writer 5.5

iA Writer, my favorite text editor for all Apple platforms (which I still use as the central piece of my Markdown collaboration workflow via GitHub), has been updated today to version 5.5 both on Mac and iOS/iPadOS. I’ve been testing this version for quite some time (it’s the update I originally mentioned in my Modular Computer story back in April), and there are some fantastic details worth pointing out.

On iPad, the app can now be fully controlled with the trackpad. Besides obvious support for clicking toolbar buttons and other elements in the app’s UI, trackpad support includes the ability to swipe horizontally with two fingers to show/dismiss the Library sidebar (which I do all the time now) and – my favorite touch – support for clicking a document’s name in the title bar to rename it. I’m so used to these two new pointer features in iA Writer 5.5, I wish more iPad apps adopted them.

Version 5.5 also brings support for highlighting text inside a document by surrounding it with two equal signs – e.g. ==like this==. Highlighted text will turn yellow, and it’s impossible to miss. When I used Scrivener to write one of my iOS reviews years ago, the ability to highlight text in the editor was one of my favorite options to mark specific passages for review; with iA Writer 5.5, I can now highlight text and have a clear visual indication without giving up on the Markdown syntax. Even better: there’s a new ⌘⌥= keyboard shortcut to toggle highlighted text.

Among a variety of other updates (you can read more about them on the developers’ blog), iA Writer 5.5 also comes with a powerful PDF preview (which supports custom templates, so I can export my drafts as PDFs that look like the MacStories website) and the ability to show multiple stats in the editor at once. Thanks to the latter option, I can now see my word and open task count at once while I’m editing a story.

I’ve been using iA Writer as my only text editor for two years now, and I’m continuously impressed by the thoughtfulness and attention to modern iOS/iPadOS technologies that goes into the app. You can get iA Writer 5.5 on the App Store and read more about my writing setup based on iA Writer, Markdown, and file bookmarks here.

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Ulysses 19 Brings iPad Cursor Support, External Folders, Material Sheets, and More

The latest version of Ulysses, the excellent Markdown editor, is available now. Ulysses 19 offers enhancements in several different areas, from fully optimizing for the new iPadOS cursor, to supporting external folders for the first time, introducing a new ‘material’ designation for sheets, and adding keyword improvements, exportable backups, and even a new font. It’s a strong update, and one that continues to prove Ulysses the best app for my writing needs.

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Tot Review: Collect and Edit Bits of Text

Tot for iPhone, configured with SF Mono as a custom font.

Tot for iPhone, configured with SF Mono as a custom font.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been on a quest to discover the best iPhone and iPad apps to collect and edit various bits of text I come across every day. The result of this research was a collection in Issue 211 of our Club-exclusive newsletter MacStories Weekly, in which I rounded up the six most interesting plain text apps I’d found browsing the App Store. Members can check out the full collection in the newsletter archive, but, for context, here’s how I led the story:

I often find myself wanting to store random bits of plain text in a document, which I don’t want to save in Apple Notes or iA Writer where my more important notes and documents live. I just want a quick way to stash random, disposable pieces of text – phone numbers, addresses, URLs, etc. – that I will discard shortly after. Inevitably, my research led me to discover a bunch of apps I wasn’t familiar with.

[…]

For the purpose of this roundup, I have excluded apps like iA Writer, 1Writer, Drafts, and other, more complex text editors that go beyond the simple act of just saving text in a scratchpad. While it is possible to use those apps for that kind of task – and I believe plenty of folks use Drafts like that – I was effectively looking for iPhone and iPad alternatives to Apple’s TextEdit for Mac.

I use Apple Notes for general-purpose note-taking, but I’ve started moving some of my videogame-related documents and notes that require heavier formatting to Noto (which Ryan reviewed here). All my writing happens in iA Writer, where I do not want to store any other plain text (Markdown) content that won’t end up either on MacStories or Club MacStories. Lately, however, I’ve found myself searching for a tool that lets me jot down (or otherwise collect from Safari or Mail) random bits of text that are important for the moment, but ephemeral, and as such not a good fit for the richness of editing tools available in Notes or Noto. You may be familiar with this problem: maybe it’s a phone number you need to keep handy for a couple minutes, or a list of three items you need to buy at the supermarket, or a URL to a webpage you need to share with a colleague. To me, using Apple Notes or Drafts for this kind of plain text content expiring soon feels excessive; I just want a scratchpad that frees my brain of the responsibility to hold this text with as little friction as possible.

Enter Tot, the latest release from The Iconfactory. At a high level, Tot is a plain text editor that lets you swipe across seven documents from a single view; each document is represented by a colored dot, and the color is also used for the document’s background to make it visually stand out from the other six. You can switch between plain text and rich text editing modes with the tap of a button; there are word and character counts above the keyboard; when you’re done editing, you can share your text as .txt or .rtf documents with other apps. On a superficial analysis, Tot may not seem that different from the plethora of lightweight Markdown or rich text editors available on the App Store. What sets The Iconfactory’s latest app apart, however, is the combination of embracing constraints and adopting system technologies with a thoughtful, balanced design. Allow me to explain.

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iA Writer 5.4 Adds New Export Options, Local Backups, and Hashtag Suggestions

Over the holidays, the iA Writer team released version 5.4 of its iOS, iPadOS, and Mac apps, which added improved export options. The iOS and iPadOS apps also gained local backups and hashtag suggestions.

The new export feature adds the ability to share, export, print, and copy from the app’s Library using context menus. On iOS and iPadOS, each of those commands is available by long-pressing an item in your Library and picking from the popup context menu. The experience is similar on the Mac, where the same options are available when you right-click on an item in the Library. iA Writer’s release notes say that publishing is available via context menus too, but the MacStories WordPress setup doesn’t work with iA Writer, and I don’t use Ghost or Medium, so I haven’t tried that feature.

iA Writer includes a new Copy Markdown Action.

iA Writer includes a new Copy Markdown Action.

The alternatives for getting text out of iA Writer have been expanded too. The update’s Copy action has added a Copy Markdown option that makes it trivially easy to copy your work and drop it into another iOS or iPadOS app or paste it into a Mac app using Handoff.

Better yet, the Copy Markdown functionality includes content blocks to the copied text. That way, if you split a long document into multiple files, copying the Markdown of the main document will automatically incorporate the externally referenced files as content blocks. It’s an excellent way to assemble a long-form story and paste it into a content management system or another app with just a couple of taps. Together with the app’s existing copy, share, and export options, iA Writer has become one of the most versatile text editors when it comes to delivering your final text in the format you want and where you need it.

A local backup is saved as your document is edited.

A local backup is saved as your document is edited.

On iOS and iPadOS, iA Writer 5.4 has also added local backups, which are accessed from the action button in the toolbar, by swiping left on or long-pressing an item in your Library, or using Quick Search, which Federico covered in his review of version 5.3 of the app. Backups of your files are created as you edit them, and reverting to an older version is as simple as selecting the one you want and tapping ‘Restore.’ If you change the name of a document, the app keeps the older backups under the file’s original name. You can also navigate to the root level of your Library folder structure from the backups of the document you are currently viewing, allowing you to browse every local backup created by iA Writer on your device.

The strength of iA Writer’s backup feature is that the backups are local. iOS 13 has been a buggy release, and iCloud Drive continues to cause trouble for some users. By creating a local backup, iA Writer provides its users with a copy of their work on whichever device they’re using that isn’t affected by sync or other cloud-based issues.

In my testing, the new backup feature worked well and provided additional peace of mind that my work is safe, which I love. I did run into a bug when navigating back to the editor from the backup view when I entered it via the Library’s context menu. The editor lost the focus, so I had no cursor or keyboard, though it’s an issue that can be fixed by tapping into another document and then back to the one you’re editing. Hopefully, that will be fixed soon, but for now, the workaround is simple, and the issue is easily avoidable by not using the context menu to access backups for the time being.

iA Writer’s hashtag suggestions appear in the row above its custom keyboard.

iA Writer’s hashtag suggestions appear in the row above its custom keyboard.

Another iOS and iPadOS-only feature that’s new for version 5.4 is hashtag suggestions. Hashtags aren’t a feature of iA Writer that I use, but the update makes accessing hashtags more convenient by displaying the most recent three in the row above the app’s custom keyboard if your cursor is on an empty space. Alternatively, if the cursor’s inside a word, the top row offers to convert the word into a hashtag. It’s worth noting, however, that hashtag suggestions are not displayed when iA Writer’s custom keyboard is displayed as a popover on the iPad Pro.


In the broader scheme of iA Writer’s development, version 5.4 is a relatively minor update, though it does reinforce why the app was chosen as the MacStories Selects App of the Year. iA Writer has been a category-leading text editor for years, but it continues to receive regular updates that incorporate the latest technologies on every platform in ways that refine the experience for users and expand the app’s capabilities.

There’s an incredible amount of power tucked away behind iA Writer’s simple UI. That power is always just a tap or two away, but stays hidden until you need it, which is my favorite sort of pro app UI.

iA Writer 5.4 for iOS and iPadOS and for the Mac is available as a free update for existing users.



Agenda Gains Drawing and Handwriting Features, Plus Document Scanning and Dark Mode Enhancements

Once upon a time, in the early days of iOS’ life, note-taking apps on the iPhone and iPad were, strictly speaking, for text-based notes. The original Notes app, pre-iOS 9 makeover, was designed for text alone, and yet despite that limitation it remained the most popular notes app on iOS.

Times have changed. Today Apple Notes is a powerhouse tool for not just typed notes, but also images, document scans, checklists, sketches, rich links, and much more. Apple’s aggressive development of Notes forces third-party contenders to up their games as well, and that’s exactly what Agenda has been doing over the last year.

Agenda is a note-taking client that integrates with your calendar in a way unlike any other app, enabling tying your notes to specific calendar events so they’re easy to keep track of. Recent updates have meaningfully complemented that core purpose, adding Reminders integration, extensive keyboard shortcuts, and file attachments. Over the last couple weeks the app has also launched not one, but two more significant updates, versions 7 and 8, which expand Agenda’s capabilities further with drawing and handwriting features, alongside iOS 13 enhancements such as dark mode integration and document scanning.

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Ulysses Adopts Multiwindow, iOS 13 Design Updates, and Modern Shortcuts

Earlier this year Ulysses debuted the best implementation I had seen of single-app split view on iPad, enabling working in two documents at once or editing a document while simultaneously seeing its export preview. In today’s Ulysses 18 release, that proprietary implementation has been replaced by iPadOS’ native multiwindow capabilities, bringing more power and flexibility than was previously available. Today’s update also integrates with iOS 13’s dark mode and other new design elements, makes automation easier than ever with Shortcuts parameters, and offers a gift to Dropbox users who have long had their Ulysses capabilities restricted.

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