When preparing my review of Ulysses 2.5 for MacStories, I asked my fine Twitter followers for any questions they’d like me to answer. I covered some of them in my review, but it occurred to me that I left quite a few on the table. Here is my attempt to clean up.
Lots of great answers here. In addition to our review, I also posted an in-depth note on how I've been using Ulysses as my text editor in the latest Monthly Log for Club MacStories members. I'm liking this app a lot.
Ulysses 2.5 for iPad
Maybe I'm biased because I'm a writer, but when it was announced in 2010, the iPad struck me as a device which could become a great tool for, amongst many things, my craft. A number of good writing apps (and accessories) have appeared in that time, but when I found Ulysses about a year ago, something clicked.
Made by an 11-person team in Germany called The Soulmen, Ulysses is pitched to authors, bloggers, students, and every writer in between. Much more than a typical 'distraction-free' Markdown editor that hooks up to Dropbox, I think of Ulysses as a writing environment. It has a full suite of tools including a post-Finder document system, the most thorough Markdown shortcut keyboard I've ever seen, the ability to split and merge documents, a unique approach to attachments, and so much more.
I'm writing this review because The Soulmen just released Ulysses 2.5 for iPad, Mac, and, for the first time, iPhone, though I'll focus on the iOS version for this review. The company told me this is the largest iOS update it's ever released, and having helped test the beta for the last couple of months and perusing the release notes, I believe it. Surprisingly, not only is this major upgrade that makes the iPad edition universal, it's free to existing owners.
Ulysses arrives on the iPhone
With the modern maturity of the App Store and no shortage of writing apps with myriad specialties, though, how does a premium app stand out from the crowd?
Let's find out.
Agile Tortoise's development of Drafts never seems to slow down. Today, version 4.6 was released with a long list of new features and refinements. Here are my favorites:
- Trash Can: Drafts now saves 30 days of deleted drafts in a trash can from which they can be restored, which makes writing in Drafts safer than ever.
- Interface Enhancements: The Drafts editor has been refined to improve the readability of your drafts, especially on the iPad.
- Automatic Dark Mode: Drafts can now monitor the ambient light in a room, and turn its dark mode on and off according to a brightness threshold that you select.
- Box Support: Last year the MacStories team started using Box as part of our document collaboration workflow, which makes Box support especially welcome. Much like Drafts' Dropbox and Google Drive support, you can now create files in Box, and append and prepend to existing Box files.
- Today Widget: Drafts 4.6 debuts a redesigned Today Widget with a streamlined look.
- Icons: Drafts has added many action icons, which I like because it makes it even easier to identify my Drafts actions.
There are also some treats in Drafts 4.6 for power users too:
- Open in Drafts: Instead of opening Safari, you can set a URL action to open URLs in Safari View Controller, which keeps you inside Drafts. The Agile Tortoise blog includes a couple good examples of this that search Google and DuckDuckGo.
- 'replaceRange' URL Scheme Action: When used with an x-success callback parameter in a URL scheme action, 'replaceRange' can replace selected text in a draft with the results of a URL scheme call to another app. This is powerful stuff, and means you can do things like send selected text to Agile Tortoise's dictionary app, Terminology, to look up a synonym, select it, and return it to Drafts, replacing the originally selected text. A similar action works with my app, Blink, where the selected text kicks off a search. After you select an item from the results, Blink sends an affiliate link back to Drafts, replacing the selected text with the link. I have more detail, and a demonstration of the Blink action on squibner.com. Both of these actions work on any iOS device, but the first time I saw them in action with both apps running in Split View on an iPad Pro, I was blown away. Writers will love these actions.
- Include Action: You can now incorporate one action into another by reference, which makes building actions more modular.
With version 4.6, Drafts continues its steady pace of innovation by continuing to redefine what a text editor can be, which is why it has been one of my go-to text editors for many years now.
Drafts 4.6 is a free update for existing customers, and $9.99 for new users.
Typed for Mac
Realmac released Typed, their new Markdown editor, as a direct sale product a little while ago. Today it hit the Mac App Store.
If I had to pick one iOS app I couldn't live without, that would be Editorial.
Developed by Berlin-based Ole Zorn, Editorial was the app that reinvented text automation in 2013 and that pushed me to start working exclusively from my iPad. Editorial is a powerful Markdown text editor that combines visual Automator-like actions with a web browser, text snippets, Python scripts, and URL schemes to supercharge text editing on iOS with the power of automation. I spend most of my days writing and researching in Editorial, and my workflow depends on this app.
Editorial also has a slow release cycle. Zorn likes to take his time with updates that contain hundreds of changes: Editorial 1.1, released in May 2014, brought an iPhone version and custom interfaces, making Editorial feel like an entirely new app. The same is happening today with Editorial 1.2, which adds support for the latest iPhones, iOS 8 integration, custom templates, browser tabs, folding, and much more.
Editorial 1.2 with iOS 8 support is launching right after Apple's announcement of iOS 9, but the wait has been worth it. The new version builds upon the excellent foundation of Editorial 1.1, and the enhancements it brings vastly improve the app for users who rely on its automation features and Python interpreter.
Rather than covering every single change, I'll focus on the 10 new features that have most impacted the way I get work done with Editorial on a daily basis.
Editorial developer Ole Zorn has created a workflow showing how the new Editorial can tag parts of speech in text to highlight lexical classes like nouns, verbs, adjectives, and more.
linguistictagger module is a new Python addition in Editorial 1.1 and it's reminiscent of the part of speech highlighting found in apps like Phraseology and Writer Pro. In Editorial, you won't get any editing features, but the basic syntax highlighting will still come in handy to understand how you write when reading a document in the Syntax preview.
Also from Zorn, check out two UI workflows to display a sidebar for Wikipedia and a Markdown preview while writing in the text editor.
Nebulous Notes, a Dropbox-enabled text editor with a macro system, has been updated for iOS 7 with a design refresh and fixes for iOS 7.1 (via Macdrifter).
Nebulous Notes is the app that kickstarted my interest in automating tasks on iOS thanks to its macros, and while I've switched to Editorial for my daily writing, Nebulous Notes is still a great choice on the iPhone. Combined with Byword for publishing, Nebulous Notes lets you speed up writing on the iPhone to assemble posts on the go; the macros that I published in October 2012 still work today, and some additions to the macro system were brought with version 6.1 released in November 2012.
Nebulous Notes is available at $4.99 on the App Store.
Editorial for iPad
When I'm writing in Editorial, I often need to make sure I'm dealing with a valid URL in the system clipboard, the document editor, or in a variable. To do so, I've long employed John Gruber's liberal, accurate regex pattern for matching URLs, which has reliably allowed me to confirm that a workflow is about to handle a proper URL rather than a string of text that contains something else. Gruber recently improved the regex pattern again, and that seemed like a good opportunity to briefly detail how I've integrated his pattern in my workflows.
The key to match URLs and provide error-handling features in Editorial is to use a conditional block based on a regular expression pattern. Editorial comes with this functionality built-in: given a regex pattern, a block of actions can be run only if a value (plain text or variable) matches the pattern. In this way, you can run a set of actions if you have a URL, and another set if you don't have a valid URL.
I've created a simple workflow that can be installed and reused as a preset in other workflows. The workflow, called Match and Open URL, consists of a single If block that checks for a URL contained in the clipboard. If you have a URL that matches Gruber's pattern, the URL will be extracted from the clipboard and launched in the browser; if you don't have a URL…it's up to you to provide an alternative.
Editorial makes it extremely easy to build this kind of advanced workflow with just a few built-in actions. Gruber's single-line version of the regex pattern can be pasted in Editorial's If action with no modifications; inside the If block, the text in the clipboard is passed to a Find action that extracts a URL using the same, untouched single-line regex pattern. The extracted URL is opened in the browser and a HUD alert is displayed.
Combining Gruber's regex pattern and Editorial's workflow system can yield interesting results. You could use a variable instead of the system clipboard to match URLs; you could implement the pattern in a Repeat block that performs a set of actions for every matched URL found in the target text; instead of having my workflow inside an If block, you could match a URL among other bits of text, extract it, and do something with it. Editorial is a text automation playground and your imagination's the limit.
You can download the workflow on Editorial Workflows' website, and check out John Gruber's regex pattern here.
Note: The screenshot above shows a beta version of Editorial, currently in testing.
A $2.99 app available for iPhone and iPad, WriteRight is a text editor that, instead of offering powerful Markdown tools or customizable sharing features, focuses on providing synonyms, antonyms, and other phraseology-related features through a built-in grammatical engine that supports both English and Spanish.