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Posts tagged with "markdown"


Ulysses 12: Writing on iOS Has Never Been Better

This summer Ulysses announced a major business model shift, with its iOS and macOS apps moving from up front purchases to subscription supported. As tends to happen, the move stirred up some controversy. In my mind at least, the company’s reasoning was sound – as the app’s co-founder stated, “Writers want to rely on a professional tool that is constantly evolving, and we want to keep delivering just that.”

Today brings the first major update to Ulysses following its switch to subscriptions. Bolstered by Apple’s recent focus on evolving the iPad platform, Ulysses 12 is primarily an iOS release; while the Mac version gains some improvements, it clearly isn’t the centerpiece here. Ulysses on iOS gains drag and drop support, multi-pane editing, streamlined library navigation, and image previews – all of which make an already powerful writing tool even better.

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NotePlan Calendar + Markdown + Notes Comes to iOS

When I first heard about NotePlan, I was intrigued. It was a Mac app that used a text format (Markdown) as a calendar-based system, a note for each day, allowing you to easily create tasks and take notes, then see it all in an organized calendar. NotePlan for iOS was released today, and it's enough to sell me on the idea.

I have a lot of side projects (I suppose my whole life is side projects these days), and organizing todo lists is vital. I love using the TaskPaper format, with TaskPaper on Mac and Taskmator on iOS, to track action items for individual projects. I also have a calendar, and a bucket of notes. Combining all of this in one place is appealing to me, and being able to use it on both Mac and iOS makes it truly useful.

In NotePlan, tasks are created as Markdown lists. You can have it recognize any list item as a task, or tell it that only lines with a checkbox (- [ ] Thing to do) are action items. There's an extra keyboard row available when editing that makes it easy to create items, complete or cancel them, or even schedule them for a future date.

Tasks can sync to Reminders lists as well, so it can incorporate into other workflows (and even shared lists). In the calendar view you can tap a day to see the note and associated task lists for that date.

Each day on the calendar gets a note, and you can add freeform notes in the All Notes area. A note can be bits of information, its own action list, or both. You can use #tags anywhere in the notes to organize, and wiki style links ([[title]] or [[YYYY-MM-DD]]) to reference other notes. Tasks added to freeform notes can be scheduled to the calendar with a tap, so you can use notes as a central project repository and schedule out the day's (or week's) tasks as you're ready to tackle them.

NotePlan on iPhone

NotePlan on iPhone

On the new iOS version, you can drag and drop tasks around by pressing a text block until it turns blue and sliding it into place. You can also press and hold until it turns blue, then release and press another one to expand the selection between them, at which point NotePlan will offer you a toolbar to allow batch completion, rescheduling, etc.

I'd label NotePlan as a day planner, not a task manager like OmniFocus or Things. It's ideal for planning out your day, Bullet Journal style. You won't find extensive project management features or perspective overviews, but the combination of scheduling, tagging, and (plain text, portable) notes in one place makes it a true productivity tool.

If words like productivity, GTD, Markdown, TaskPaper and Bullet Journal cause a stirring within you, you're probably the right audience for this one. Check out NotePlan for iOS, and then try out the Mac version for fully-synced productivity. Today and tomorrow, NotePlan for iOS is $11.99. After that, the price will be $14.99. NotePlan for Mac is $16.99.



MindNode for iOS Adds TextBundle Export Option

I've long been using iThoughts to create mind maps for my longform stories, but I've been playing around with the latest MindNode for iOS over the past couple of weeks, and I'm intrigued. MindNode 4.5 for iOS adds the ability to export mind maps as TextBundle archives (more precisely, the compressed version called TextPack), which can then be opened as rich documents in Ulysses.

Launched three years ago, TextBundle is an archive format designed to let Markdown text editors exchange text documents that also contain referenced images. Ulysses, my favorite text editor, fully supports the TextBundle spec, along with the popular Bear and Marked. With the latest MindNode 4.5, this means you can now create a mind map that contains sub-nodes, inline images, and notes, export it as TextBundle to Ulysses (or other apps), and you'll end up with a Markdown-formatted sheet that retains inline attachments.

A mind map with an image becomes a sheet in Ulysses thanks to TextBundle.

A mind map with an image becomes a sheet in Ulysses thanks to TextBundle.

While writing in plain text with Markdown formatting is fantastic for file portability, there's the downside of .txt files not being able to act as containers of other referenced files (such as screenshots). Ulysses' unique handling of sheets breaks with the tradition of plain text files, but it enables for powerful additions to standard Markdown editing, including notes, keywords, and images. I've been writing in Ulysses for over a year, and its non-standard approach to Markdown hasn't been an issue because every time I publish a story or save a draft for a document I'm working on, I also save a second copy of the same file as a regular .txt in my Dropbox. This way, I enjoy the best of both worlds – Ulysses' richer editing environment, and the portability of plain text files synced with Dropbox.

With MindNode, TextBundle, and Ulysses, I can now create mind maps that contain images and notes, outline a document visually, and then copy it to Ulysses, where I can write, edit, and continue to see images referenced inline. This feels like a much better workflow than having to constantly keep my text editor next to a mind map. I'm going to test this system and evaluate how much it could be automated1 over the next few weeks, but, overall, it's a fantastic improvement for MindNode and Ulysses users.

MindNode 4.5 is available on the App Store.


  1. My ideal scenario: I would like to export a .textbundle archive from Ulysses and let Workflow turn local image references into images uploaded somewhere on the web. However, I can't figure out how to open .textbundle archives with Workflow, as changing their extension to .zip won't work. ↩︎

Workflow’s New File and Ulysses Actions

In a seemingly minor 1.7.2 update released over the weekend, the Workflow team brought a few notable file-based changes to the app.

Workflow's existing support for cloud storage services has been expanded and all file actions have been unified under a single 'Files' category. You can now choose files from iCloud Drive, Dropbox, or Box within the same action UI, and there are also updated actions to create folders, delete files, and get links to files. Now you don't have to switch between different actions for iCloud Drive and Dropbox – there's only one type of File action, and you simply pick a service.

Interestingly, this means that Workflow can now generate shareable links for iCloud Drive files too; here's an example of a workflow to choose a file from the iCloud Drive document provider and copy its public link to the clipboard. (Under the hood, Workflow appears to be using the Mail Drop APIs for uploads. These links aren't pretty, but they work.)

There's also a noteworthy change for Ulysses users. Workflow now allows you to easily extract details from Ulysses sheets using their ID. After giving Workflow permission to access your Ulysses library (which, unfortunately, still has to be done using a glorified x-callback-url method), you'll be able to chain Workflow and Ulysses to, say, get the Markdown contents of a document, extract its notes, or copy its title to the clipboard. The new 'Get Ulysses Sheet-Get Details of Ulysses Sheet' combo makes Ulysses automation much easier and faster.

If you work with files in Workflow on a daily basis, and especially if you're an iCloud Drive user, you'll want to check out the new actions and rethink some of your existing workflows. You can get the latest version of Workflow here.


Editorial Updated with 12.9-inch iPad Pro Support, Split View Multitasking

Ole Zorn's Editorial was the text editor that completely reimagined how I could work from iOS. While I have since moved to Ulysses as my primary text editor, I still use Editorial almost daily for its unique Markdown automation. Editorial's combination of Python scripting and visual workflows for plain text editing is unparalleled and there's nothing else like it on the App Store.

After a couple of years without updates and a long TestFlight beta period, Editorial has been updated for iOS Split View and the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. There are other changes (the workflow editor has been moved to the accessory panel and the Python editor now opens in a separate tab), but, overall, it's still the same Editorial you know and love, updated for the latest iOS devices. I've been using the beta version of Editorial 1.3 for several months now – being able to keep Editorial next to another app is great for editing and research, and moving back and forth between a document and a workflow is easier.

As for everything else, my coverage of Editorial 1.0, 1.1, and 1.2 still stands; Editorial is the text editor for iOS power users thanks to its excellent automation features, advanced Markdown editing, and TaskPaper integration. As I wrote in November, I still edit all my longform stories in Editorial. Despite the paucity of updates, I love the app as it's a shining example of pro software for iOS.

If you haven't played with Editorial in a while, now's a good time to check it out again (the app is also available at a discounted price of $4.99).


Workflow Adds Bear Automation

In the latest update released today, Workflow has received support for six new Bear actions. Bear is the note-taking app with power-user features I reviewed in November, which I'm still using.

With the new Workflow actions, you can further automate Bear without writing a single URL scheme yourself. They are quite powerful: you can create new notes in the app, open a specific note in Bear (something Apple Notes can't do), and even turn a webpage into Markdown and save it as a note in Bear.

My favorite action, though, is 'Add to Bear Note', which can take any file or text and append it to an existing note. I have a Scratchpad note in Bear where I keep a little bit of everything, and with this workflow I can quickly pick a file or a photo and send it to the bottom of the note. Great stuff.

Bear actions are available in the latest version of Workflow.

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iA Writer 4 Adds Markdown Content Blocks

A major update to iA Writer, the popular Markdown text editor for iOS and macOS, has been released earlier today. I didn't have enough time to test the beta of version 4.0, but I'm intrigued by the idea of file transclusion – effectively, a way to structure documents with content blocks based on local file references.

From the blog post:

We’ve made a swath of improvements in iA Writer 4. The meat on the bone is this new file referencing syntax. Every file reference you insert adds a block of content to your document, be it an image, table, or plain text file. These content blocks can then be ordered, stacked and chained with ease.

We think this syntax is a natural extension to Markdown, and it would please us to see other apps use it too. We’re a bit nervous since it’s a deviation, but we’d still like to try it out and hope it finds friends. We’ve published an introductory spec on GitHub to get the ball rolling. Hopefully, content blocks based on file transclusion will become a thing beyond iA Writer. One day all Markdown editors may work like that, but, as IBM famously said, why wait?

You can reference text files, images, and even .csv files to include in the compiled text output as MultiMarkdown tables. I think this is a genius way to handle file embeds in longer documents, and it's something I would consider for future longform projects. I'm not aware of any other Markdown text editor for iOS that implements a similar option. I'd also like to see iA go beyond local file callbacks (which only work with iCloud) and allow documents to be comprised of files stored in iOS document providers. iA Writer is one of the few text editors that fully support opening and editing files from external document providers, so extending that integration to content blocks would be the next logical step.

There's a lot to like in iA Writer; I don't think it's appreciated enough by iOS power users. The aforementioned integration with iOS document providers is solid, there are several editing tools such as writing statistics and parts-of-speech highlights, plenty of output options, support for iCloud versions, and more. I hope that iA will consider adding more features to the app's basic URL scheme in the future – one area where iA Writer is considerably behind alternatives such as Ulysses and 1Writer.

I'm going to play around with iA Writer for a while – I feel like the app deserves more attention, and I want to experiment with document providers and content blocks for MacStories reviews and our newsletters.