It’s been nearly three years since I first started using Obsidian. The app has come a long way since then. The app’s core functionality has expanded, its vibrant plug-in developer community continues to go strong, and more and more users have been captivated by its flexibility. According to Jared Newman, writing for Fast Company,
Obsidian estimates that it has one million users, and its Discord channel has more than 110,000 members, who use the app for everything from task management and bookmarking to organizing their daily thoughts.
That’s remarkable growth for an app originally developed by just two people and with a team that still stands at under a dozen members.
John Voorhees, the managing editor at MacStories, started using Obsidian a couple of years ago after being drawn to its local file structure, and both he and MacStories founder Federico Viticci have written extensively about their Obsidian setups since then.
Obsidian is on [sic] some ways the opposite of a quintessential MacStories app—the site often spotlights apps that are tailored exclusively for Apple platforms, whereas Obsidian is built on a web-based technology called Electron—but Voorhees says it’s his favorite writing tool regardless. He and Viticci have even commissioned some bespoke plug-ins for their Macstories [sic] workflows.
“No matter what your writing needs are, there’s probably a plug-in to satisfy them,” he says.
There are a lot of other reasons I use Obsidian, including its use of local, plain text files formatted in Markdown, but it’s the plug-in system that has made it indispensable to my work. The app simultaneously serves as my text editor, note-taking app, and database all at once, allowing me to move effortlessly among projects and tasks, thanks to the portability of plain text.
Today, Shiny Frog launched Bear 2.0, a ground-up rewrite of its popular note-taking app for the iPhone, iPad, and Mac that has been years in the making. The new version has been rebuilt with a custom text editing engine and introduces a long list of features, including:
Tables of contents and backlinks
Nested text styling
Link and PDF previews
Image cropping and resizing
Custom fonts and new themes
A lot has happened in the note-taking world since Bear was first released on the App Store in 2016 and won over writers with its modern design and Markdown-friendly features. Block-based editors like Craft and Notion have become popular as have a long list of plain-text editors, like Obsidian and Roam Research, that support wiki-style linking.
With Bear 2.0, Shiny Frog seems to be trying to thread a needle by maintaining the elegant design of the Bear 1.0 while accommodating the advanced features of more recent entrants to the note-taking category. That’s not easy to do, but I like what I’ve seen in my early use of the update.
Today’s update comes with a new price structure too. Bear is available on the App Store as a free download but requires a subscription for some features. As Shiny Frog announced in the spring, existing subscribers won’t be charged more as long as they maintain their current subscription, but new users (and re-subscribers) will pay $2.99/month or $29.99/year.
iA Writer has long been one of the premier text editors on Apple’s platforms. The app’s design is top-notch, and it offers a feature set that makes it among the best options for writing in Markdown. Best of all, the app’s features stay out of your way while you’re writing. They’re easy to access, but they aren’t a distraction. That’s as true of iA Writer 6 today as it was with previous versions.
However, the Markdown text editor market is changing rapidly, with tools for creating interlinked notes and documents in a variety of ways that have quickly become table stakes for text editors and note-taking apps alike. iA Writer 6, which is available on the iPhone, iPad, and Mac, is a response to those changes that fits comfortably with the app’s existing feature set and design. The update doesn’t go as far as an app like Obsidian when it comes to internal links. Nor is it extensible with plugins. However, for many users, I suspect iA Writer’s impeccable design and thoughtful features will outweigh its lack of certain power-user features.
Whenever I review notes I’ve taken on a video, I inevitably want to go back to rewatch parts of it. However, finding the right segment is a slow, cumbersome chore, which is why I’ve created Timestamped Notes, a trio of shortcuts that are optimized for the Mac, but adaptable to iPadOS, to automate the process of creating timestamped notes without interrupting your typing.
There are two scenarios where I use or plan to use these shortcuts a lot. The first is during Apple events when I’m under time pressure to get stories out and don’t have the luxury of scanning through large sections of a presentation as I write. Timestamped Notes got its first real-world test with Apple’s March event and passed with flying colors.
The second scenario where I’ll use Timestamped Notes a lot is during WWDC. I take lots of notes as I watch recorded presentations, but I often don’t revisit the notes I take for days or weeks later. If I need to refresh my memory of what was said during the session by skipping back through the session, Timestamped Notes will be what I use. No matter what kind of video or audio you take notes on, though, if there’s a chance you’ll want to go back to the source material, Timestamped Notes makes finding what you took notes on much easier.
Part of the inspiration for this shortcut came from a series of articles by Jason Snell and Dan Moren on Six Colors. They built a Stream Deck-powered shortcut for taking timestamped notes to highlight portions of podcast audio that needed editing. I built a similar shortcut at the time but abandoned it because it didn’t fit with the way I edit podcasts. However, the experience got me thinking about other ways to use timestamped notes that might fit better in other scenarios, which is what led to Timestamped Notes.
Timestamped Notes addresses three problems:
Creating a clean starting point, so your timestamped notes line up properly with the start of the video you watched
Providing a simple and fast way to create a timestamp that doesn’t interrupt the note-taking process
Converting clock-based timestamps, so they line up with a video’s timeline, which starts at 00:00:00.
The solution was to create three separate shortcuts, which I’ll cover in turn.
Last month, after a long beta period I’ve participated in for the past few months, the official Obsidian app for iPhone and iPad launched on the App Store. I’ve covered Obsidian and my approach to writing my annual iOS review in it on both AppStories and Connected; because I’m busy with that massive project and an upcoming major relaunch of the Club (hint hint), I don’t have time right now to work on a proper standalone, in-depth review of Obsidian for MacStories. So, given my time constraints, I thought it’d be fun to do a multi-part series for Club members on how I’ve set up and have been using Obsidian as my Markdown text editor and note-taking app of choice.
I’ve been writing code for nearly a decade, and throughout all of that time, I’ve never quite been satisfied with a code editor. Each one I’ve tried has annoyed me in various ways, and eventually, I find myself looking elsewhere.
My code editor is the app I use more than any other. I spend hours in it nearly every day and often keep going deep into the night. The code editor is the main tool of my trade, and I want to be using the best one that I can.
One of my main frustrations with pretty much all of the popular code editors out there (and I’ve tried most of them, including Visual Studio Code, Sublime Text, Atom, IntelliJ, and Eclipse) is that none of them are Mac-assed Mac apps. They’re all clearly cross-platform apps with design senses that differ significantly from those of Mac-first developers.
Note-taking apps on Apple platforms have never been in a better place. Apple Notes is a fantastic built-in option with deep system integrations. Bear offers an elegant Markdown experience and powerful note linking features. Agenda takes a unique date-based approach to note-taking. Evernote just launched its long-in-the-works redesign, and Noto provides a great mix of style and substance. There are quality Pencil-based note-takers like Notability and GoodNotes. And certain web-based tools like Notion are starting to put a higher priority on their app experience.
But for all the excellent options already out there, it can never hurt to have another. Especially when that new option is as well done as Craft.
Craft is launching today across iPhone, iPad, and Mac as a new note-taker that blends the block-based approach of Notion with a thoroughly native experience, taking advantage of all the OS technologies you would hope for and throwing in valuable features like real-time collaboration. It’s the most exciting note-taking debut I’ve seen in years.
Today the latest version of Ulysses, the excellent Markdown text editor, was released for iPad and iPhone. Ulysses 21 comes with two main changes: it brings the previously Mac-exclusive revision mode to iOS and iPadOS, while also introducing design updates that take advantage of new iOS 14 design elements, such as pull-down menus. It’s not a huge update, but it’s a nice one nonetheless for iPhone and iPad users.
Creating a note link (left) and section link (right).
One of my favorite features in Bear has always been the ability to link to different notes inside one another. Putting the name of a note inside double brackets, like [[Club 5th Anniversary]], is a clever way to connect and quickly access related notes. I wish every note-taking app offered a similar feature.
The great thing about creating a note link is that you don’t need to remember the titles of the notes you want to link to. Just type the two opening brackets, then a couple characters that are part of a note’s title, and Bear presents a dynamic autocomplete list of suggested notes that best match what you’ve typed. While using a connected hardware keyboard, you can cycle through the suggestions using just the arrow keys and hit Return to select the right one – Bear will then create the link for you by inserting the note’s full title into double brackets. Once a link’s been created, you can tap or click it to quickly open that other note.
Bear has made note linking even better in its latest update, though, by expanding it to enable linking to specific sections of another note, which works by tying into the note’s headers. Every header can now be linked to individually, opening a variety of new possibilities – creating a table of contents is the most obvious option, but there’s so much more that can be done with direct section links.
This expanded functionality for links is worth mentioning because of the valuable utility it provides, but also because of how well it’s been implemented. Building on the existing system of typing two opening brackets then part of a note’s title, all you have to do to link a note section is then type a single forward slash / after you have an autocomplete suggestion highlighted – that note’s headers will all display so you can select the right one from there. If you’re using a hardware keyboard especially, the whole process is so fast and simple. It feels especially nice on iPad, where apps often drop the ball with keyboard support when navigating popup menus. In Bear everything just works the way you’d expect. Thanks to strong keyboard support and an intuitive UI for note and heading suggestions, creating links takes just a couple seconds.