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Posts tagged with "plain text"

Tot’s New Share Extension

Craig Hockenberry, writing on The Iconfactory blog:

We’re happy to announce a new version of Tot with some features frequently requested by the app’s legion of fans.

The main focus of today’s release are system extensions that allow Tot to co-exist with other apps. To this end, we’ve added a Sharing extension for both iOS and macOS. Additionally, there’s also a widget for iOS that lets you quickly access any of Tot’s dots. Like everything else in Tot, attention was paid to minimizing friction, allowing information to be collected as quickly as possible.

Tot’s new share extension is, quite possibly, the best one I’ve ever tried for a plain text note-taking app. In an intuitive, compact UI, the extension offers everything I need: I can pick one of Tot’s seven dots; I can choose to append or prepend text to a dot; the extension even lets me pick the number of line breaks I want to put between a dot’s existing content and the new text I’m inserting into a note. And here’s the best part: the upper section of the share extension’s popup has a full, scrollable preview of the selected dot, so I can see what the entire note will look like before appending or prepending text. Tot is the first note-taking app I’ve used that gets this aspect of sharing text/links to an extension right.

Tot's new share extension

Tot’s new share extension

It may be considered a small enhancement to the app, but Tot’s new extension shows how much consideration went into designing an experience that is both powerful and willing to get out of the way as quickly as possible. I wish more note-taking apps offered a share extension similar to The Iconfactory’s app, which, months after its original release, I still use as my go-to scratchpad every day.

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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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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.



Drafts for Mac: The MacStories Review


The quest for the perfect text application – for some of us it has been a lifelong goal, or at least it feels like it. I realised very early on in my computing life that I did not enjoy playing with formatting in Word or Pages, and when I discovered that Markdown provides the ability to make items **bold** or _italic_ with just a few simple characters, I felt like I had finally found my text formatting holy grail.

Many years ago I discovered Drafts for iOS, and the idea appealed: you open the application and type. No creating a new file, or trying to decide what to do with the text before the thought is fully formed, just open, type, then decide. I frequently need to jot down notes, save links, and have found being able to write without thinking too much about where the words need to go, and how they’re going to get there, is extremely helpful in today’s world of constant interruptions.

Last year saw Drafts 5 released for iOS with even more capability than before, allowing you to truly customise it to be the text editor you’ve always dreamed of having. There was only one small but important snag – no Mac version.

Today there is a Mac app. It is what many of us have been waiting for, albeit with a few missing features at the moment. Drafts for Mac has landed.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: you’ve probably heard of Marzipan, the Apple project to enable iOS developers to bring their applications to the Mac. This is not one of those apps. It is an app written from the ground up for macOS, which works as expected with the system features.

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iA Writer 5.2: Better Typography and External Library Locations

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.

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Drafts 5.5, MultiMarkdown, and CriticMarkup

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.

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My Markdown Writing and Collaboration Workflow, Powered by Working Copy 3.6, iCloud Drive, and GitHub

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.

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