As I wrote in my roundup of must-have iOS apps, I've been using iA Writer as my text editor, primarily because of its integration with Working Copy, beautiful typography, and syntax highlighting mode. As a non-native English speaker, I find the latter particularly useful when editing articles. iA Writer was updated to version 5.2 last week, and I'd like to point out a few welcome enhancements in this release.
Posts tagged with "markdown"
Tim Nahumck, writing about the latest Drafts update for iOS:
One thing that is included with MultiMarkdown as an option is Critic Markup. Looking through the guide, there are several helpful elements that can be used for editing my writing utilizing Critic Markup. I can highlight some substitutions, additions, and deletions. I can highlight text to show something I might want to work on later. I can also add a basic comment somewhere that won’t be shown in a preview. And with this action, I can easily add any of them with a tap and a text entry, which inserts it in the proper format. This is helpful for creating and previewing the documents in Drafts, and gives users the flexibility to mark up files and save them back to a cloud service. I can see myself using this a lot for longer posts or large reviews. I’ve even modified my own site preview action to render the MultiMarkdown via scripting, as well as updating both my standard and linked post WordPress publishing actions to do the same.
I've always been a fan of CriticMarkup but have never been able to get into it as it wasn't integrated with the text editors I used on iOS. Considering how Drafts is my favorite option when it comes to writing and editing certain annual long-form stories, and given how I came up with my own syntax in previous years to embed comments in Markdown documents, I'm going to give this a try.
For the past couple of years, I (and the rest of the MacStories team) have used Working Copy to store and collaborate on Markdown drafts for our articles. As I explained in a story from late 2016, even though Working Copy is a Git client primarily designed for programmers, it is possible to leverage the app's capabilities to perform version control for plain text too. Each MacStories team member has a private GitHub repository where we store Markdown files of our articles; in the same repository, other writers can make edits to drafts and commit them to GitHub; this way, the author can then pull back the edited file and use Working Copy's built-in diff tool to see what's changed from the last version of the file and read comments left by whoever edited the draft.1
As I mentioned two years ago, this system takes a while to get used to: GitHub has a bit of overhead in terms of understanding the correct terminology for different aspects of its file management workflow, but Working Copy makes it easier by abstracting much of the complexity involved with committing files, pushing them, and comparing them. This system has never failed us in over two years, and it has saved us dozens of hours we would have otherwise spent exchanging revised versions of our drafts and finding changes in them. With Working Copy, we can use the text editors we each prefer and, as long as we overwrite the original copies of our drafts and keep track of commits, the app will take care of merging everything and displaying differences between versions. From a collaboration standpoint, using Working Copy and GitHub for file storage and version control has been one of the best decisions I made in recent years.
One thing the MacStories team loves to do is constantly try new apps, compare the serious contenders in each app category, and settle on the app that suits us best. Most of the time this app evaluation process takes place on a merely private level, for personal purposes, but today I wanted to share in public an in-depth comparison and analysis of two excellent writing apps: Drafts and Ulysses.
These two apps have been on my mind a lot in recent months. To share some context, I have used Ulysses as my primary Markdown editor almost exclusively since early 2016. During that time I’ve been very happy with the app, even through its transition last year to a subscription model. I’ve continued trying out the latest updates from Ulysses’ competitors, of course, but nothing else has stuck for me. However, there's one app I’ve long wanted to give a serious look at, but hadn’t been able to until recently: Drafts 5.
Tim Nahumck’s review of Drafts was the first tug on my interest, causing me to follow updates to the app with a close eye. Then Federico had a successful experience writing his iOS 12 review in Drafts 5. Ultimately, I couldn’t resist giving the app a serious shot any longer.
Drafts and Ulysses are very different apps in many ways. However, they share in common being powerful Markdown editors. In this article I’ll walk through their similarities, divergences, and ultimately share which app I’ve decided to write in going forward. The goal is not to say which app is better, as the answer to that question is entirely subjective. Instead, I want to help you decide which app is likely best for you.
When writing my review, I needed a way to navigate between the different sections, and all of the subheadings I had created. I had developed an action to navigate to each of the markdown headers, which I was happy with at the time. It was nice to have that functionality to switch around where I was in my review.
Well, I’m happy to say that I have been Sherlocked.
Drafts 5.2 came out while I was in San Jose for WWDC, and I've been meaning to check out the new features since I started getting back into a normal routine. Tim Nahumck, of course, has a great overview of the changes in this version of Drafts, along with some useful examples you can download.
As Tim points out, the ability to navigate headers of a Markdown document through a dedicated "section popup" is a terrific addition to Drafts. Few text editors designed for people who write in Markdown get this right; one of the reasons I still keep Editorial on my iOS devices is because it lets me navigate longer pieces with a header navigation tool. However, the implementation in Drafts 5 is more powerful, modern, and can be controlled with the keyboard (you can invoke the switcher with
⌘\ and, just like Things, dismiss it with
⌘. without ever leaving the keyboard).
Ulysses 13 launched today for iOS and Mac, and it's all about putting more writing tools in your arsenal. It takes existing features of the app and makes them all better, leaving the app no more cluttered, but notably more useful. Improvements are in three areas: deadlines and daily writing goals, colored keywords, and syntax highlighting for code blocks.
I was editing a Markdown text file in Pretext yesterday, when it occurred to me how naturally I was able to create a document and upload it to GitHub without dealing with the limitations and workarounds that used to be commonplace in older versions of iOS. Here's a brief account of what happened.
Last month I was delighted to discover a new plain text editor for iOS, Textor, that focused simply on the basics of text editing. Though I valued Textor's minimalism, one feature I did miss was support for Markdown styling. This hasn't been added to the app since then, but fortunately, I no longer have to wait for it; a new app just launched that's essentially Textor with Markdown, and its name is Pretext.
Pretext integrates directly with iOS 11's Files app, making it easy to create or edit Markdown and plain text files stored across any of your file providers. Open the app and you'll see a document browser for choosing a file to edit; alternately, you can create a new file by hitting the plus button in the top-right. If you're creating a new file, Pretext asks you to set a file name, with the option of automatically prepending the date to it, and you can choose to make it either a .md or .txt file.
While the simplicity of Pretext's "just you and the text" environment is its greatest strength, the app does offer a few specific features that are of benefit to Markdown writers especially. First is the great keyboard shortcut support: all the basics of Markdown syntax can be done with a quick shortcut, including tasks like link insertion; because of this, Pretext offers one of the most efficient means of adding links to an article. The remaining few features of the app are found by hitting the share icon during editing, which offers access to the share sheet, the app's settings screen, and previewing your Markdown file as HTML – the latter is especially useful for anyone who publishes their work online. Options in settings include tweaking the text size, switching themes from light to dark, and a couple alternate app icons.
I've been using Pretext in beta for the last few weeks to edit Markdown files shared by other MacStories collaborators in Working Copy, and the app has been exactly what I need. I can open Pretext, make my edits aided by visual Markdown styling and keyboard shortcuts, and preview the finished product as HTML. All changes are then saved directly in the file's source.
Pretext is a simple utility, and isn't going to replace Ulysses for me as a daily driver, but for some people it legitimately could. Too often writing apps are overly complicated, and Pretext focuses on offering just what a writer needs: space, and a few key tools to aid the writing process.
Pretext is available as a free download, with a $0.99 In-App Purchase unlocking the app's dark theme and alternate icons.
As I noted last month in my iPad Diaries column, I've started using Bear in addition to Apple Notes to research articles in Markdown and later convert them to drafts in Ulysses. I was impressed with Shiny Frog's work on iOS 11 and how they brought advanced drag and drop to Bear, but I'm even more positively surprised by the improvements to tagging they released today as part of Bear's 1.4 update.