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.
Posts tagged with "text editor"
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.
I love using the iPad as my primary computer, but a long-standing frustration I’ve had involves the keyboard row that lines the bottom of the screen when an external keyboard is attached. I like the row itself, as it usually offers valuable utility such as in Apple Notes, where a text formatting menu is available in the keyboard row. The problem is that iPadOS doesn’t adapt apps’ UI to account for the keyboard row, rather it simply hides the bottom portion of an app – which in many cases means hiding the app’s tab bar or other important controls.
This is mainly an issue when using Split View or Slide Over, not full-screen apps. But most of my iPad use does involve Split View and Slide Over, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to manually hide the keyboard row so I could access an app’s tab bar. This is a regular occurrence when writing articles, for example, as I’ll keep Ulysses and Photos in Split View, and the keyboard row that appears when working in Ulysses obscures Photos’ tab bar so I can’t switch tabs in Photos without manually hiding the keyboard row. The row also hides the share icon when viewing a photo, which is what I press many times when writing an article so I can run shortcuts via the share sheet. So as a workaround I have to manually hide the row, a short-lived fix because it then reappears after typing a single keystroke in Ulysses.
In iPadOS 14, Apple is halfway solving this problem. Because apps are being encouraged to switch from a tab bar-based design to one that involves a sidebar, there are fewer occasions when tab bars will be visible. In the iPadOS 14 beta, if I have Ulysses and Photos in a 50/50 Split View, there’s no longer a tab bar for the keyboard row to obscure, because Photos uses a sidebar instead where I can easily navigate to the view I need.
Unfortunately, this is only a partial solution because iPadOS 14 apps still revert to using a tab bar in a compact size class (i.e. when they’re an iPhone-like size). So all Slide Over apps retain tab bars for navigation as before, meaning those important tabs will be hidden any time you’re also working in an app that uses text and thus presents a keyboard row. The same is true for Split View when an app is the smaller app in your multitasking setup. If the app you’re writing in is the larger app in your Split View, the smaller app will have its tab bar obscured by a keyboard row. This is especially problematic for writers, who live in a text editor all day, but it also applies to anyone working in a note-taking app, messaging app, or anything else involving text. iPadOS 14 improves things via sidebars in certain situations, but in many multitasking contexts the years-old problem remains.
But there’s a happy ending of sorts, at least for me. My inspiration for writing about this issue was the discovery of a feature in Ulysses that fixes the problem for me. The app’s View Options inside its Settings panel contains a toggle that has been there for quite a while, I simply never thought to activate it: Hide Shortcut Bar. What this does is perpetually hide the keyboard row whenever a hardware keyboard is attached to your iPad. No keyboard row means no hiding tab bars in other apps while I write.
Ulysses does place some important shortcuts in the keyboard row, but most if not all of them can be triggered via keyboard shortcuts instead, making the keyboard row unnecessary (for my uses at least).
After making this discovery, I dug around in a few other apps’ settings to see how common this feature is. iA Writer offers it, as does Drafts, and possibly many other apps I haven’t tried. It seems more common in text editors than note-taking apps. It’s a shame that the whole keyboard row needs to be hidden just to account for an iPadOS design flaw, but I’m thankful that third-party developers have stepped in to address the issue themselves.
Ulysses is the app I multitask in most frequently, so the ability to keep its keyboard row hidden forever has truly made my day. I tried explaining to my wife why I got so happy all of a sudden, and she didn’t really get it. I don’t blame her.
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.
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.
Noto, the modern notes app for iPhone, iPad, and Mac that I reviewed back in February, recently launched a 2.0 update that introduces brand new features and key fixes and enhancements. On the iPad, mouse and trackpad are now natively supported, and you can use drag and drop to easily import notes from another app into Noto. Additionally, the app’s syncing engine has switched from iCloud Drive to CloudKit, making it faster and more reliable than before. Finally, several of the issues I noted in my initial review have been resolved in this latest update.
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.
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.
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.