Ulysses Mobile Grammar Tools

I’m currently working on a future secret Field Guide project that involves a lot of writing. So, before digging in I took another look at all the writing tools, as you do, and settled on Ulysses(https://ulysses.app). That was in January. The Ulysses updates this year have only affirmed that decision.

Most recently, we got version 21 on the iPad and iPhone(https://ulysses.app/releases/). The headline feature is grammar, style check, and text revisions. With revisions mode, you can track your annotations and comments in addition to the app’s grammar and style suggestions. I immediately implemented these features in my secret project, and my words are better for it.

Get Three Free Months of Ulysses – Sponsor

This week, MacSparky is sponsored by Ulysses, the writing application I use every day. Ulysses gives me a focused writing environment, eliminating distractions and encouraging me to do the hard work of moving the cursor across the line.

While there are plenty of minimalist writing tools, there is only one Ulysses. That is because in addition to obsessive design, Ulysses has some real power under the hood.

I love the way Ulysses organizes the various facets of my life and where I do my writing. This screenshot is only the tip of the iceberg for me. As I go deeper in these levels, I have all sorts of text that I’m currently writing, have already written, or use as a reference. And because it syncs across macOS and iOS, all of it is always available to me. There is a reason I always have this app open.

For the latest operating system updates, Ulysses was there. Version 14 adds a new dark mode, better designs on sheets, Siri Shortcuts integration, and iPhone XS Max support. The Siri Shortcut support lets you create a new sheet, view an individual sheet, or even view a group of sheets. 

My thanks to Ulysses for not only sponsoring the website this week, but also for helping me move the cursor every day. You can get three free months of Ulysses with this link. Check it out.

Ulysses 13

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The latest version of Ulysses is out. I like the way they simultaneously make releases to the iOS and Mac versions of the application. The newest version adds daily goals, deadlines, and session history, helping you along with writing goals. They also added colored keywords, which is a relatively small change but more useful than you’d think if you are using keywords. If you’re writing about code, they’ve also added code blocks.

These changes to Ulysses are somewhat representative of the new subscription-based software model world. In that, we’re getting routine releases of new features as they get finished rather than saving up features to release new versions with a laundry list of new features.

Either way you can get Ulysses from the developer directly or as part of a Setapp subscription.

Ulysses Updates to Support Drag and Drop on iOS

Today Ulysses released its iOS 11-friendly update. With this update, the interface follows a lot of the iOS 11 user interface conventions, like big text at the tops of lists. My favorite part of the update, however, is Drag and Drop support. You can now pick up and move individual text buckets and move them around inside Ulysses. This is, for me, the most useful new feature. I am continually moving notes around inside Ulysses, and now it is much easier (and faster). I also feel that, inherently, the Drag and Drop paradigm makes a lot more sense when working on the iPad or iPhone. The Drag and Drop also extend to other applications, letting you drag text passages and images between Ulysses and other application. One more new feature that made it to both the Mac and iOS application is image preview. Now you can see previews of your imported images.

Learn Ulysses

I know that Ulysses is the subject of some controversy lately as a result of their switch to a subscription model, but I have been using the app quite a bit in my large writing project workflows. One of the things I like about Ulysses is its relative ease of use. However, like all great apps, there are some hidden depths there. If you are using Ulysses and would like to get better at it, I recommend the Sweet Setup’s new Learn Ulysses course. Shawn Blanc and team did a great job on these instructional videos.


Ulysses Moves to the Subscription Model

This week Ulysses moved to a subscription model. As Dr. Drang has already observed, this will lead to much gnashing of teeth and navel gazing concerning subscription pricing.

At this point I feel as if I’m over it. I use Ulysses every day. I’ve already signed up for the discounted pre-owner subscription and I’m back to work. If you don’t want Ulysses in your life, you should take a pass.

What you shouldn’t do is trash the app in review because you’re not happy with the business model. Here’s Ulysses’s rating as of a few minutes ago. This App deserves so much more than 2.5 stars.

While I’m on the subject of Ulysses, I should mention why I subscribed. I use the heck out of this app. It syncs great between iOS and Mac. I like the opinionated design. Of increasing importance to me, it works great with automation on iOS. For example, one of my tricks is that when I set up a new podcast project, Workflow (among other things) creates the skeleton text and links for me in Ulysses so when the show publishes, the post is already half written … by robots!

I’ve also moved all of my text-bank style text into Ulysses and out of Apple Notes. I like the organization in Ulysses better and in Ulysses I can even assemble different text snippets into a starting place for documents without too much effort.

In addition to Ulysses, Disney also announced this week that they are pulling their content out of Netflix to start their own service that will … of course … be a separate subscription. This subscription model is only getting bigger in the years to come.

Ulysses Version 2.8

As time goes on, Ulysses (website) (Mac App Store) (iOS App Store) becomes more and more important in my writing workflows. At this point I’m using it for much of my books, this blog, and extended legal writing. I like the app’s clean design. (It won an Apple Design Award last year.) I also like its reliability and ubiquity on all of my Apple devices. Yesterday they released the newest version 2.8. There are several new features worth mention.

Touch ID Security

The updated version adds Touch ID security. You can now add a password to your Ulysses file and optionally open it with Touch ID. As a lawyer, I appreciate this. It’s now going to be a lot harder for unwanted eyes to see my briefs.

New Automation Tools

The new version also adds some additional automation tools via URL callbacks. Specifically, you can now set a group title and you can read from an existing sheet. That second one is interesting. As I’m increasingly using Workflow to automate Ulysses, the ability to pull data out of the database will be useful. I need to play with this more before I can share some useful Workflows but they will be coming.

Better filters Statistics

Document management tools got a bump as well. Filters can now also be used to narrow down the library content according to negative criteria. For instance, you can look for documents that do not include the word “rutabaga”. You can also now see text statistics for groups and filters, which up until today was only available on the Mac version.

An Interesting Story about Icons

I met some of the Ulysses team last year at WWDC. We got in an extended discussion about, of all things, icons. I find the little icons in Ulysses useful as a visual guide as I’m working through my various banks of words. Here’s a screenshot of my MacSparky folder and its related icons. 

I asked why can’t add my own custom icons and they gave me a very opinionated answer. Put simply, they don’t want anyone but their own design team putting graphics into Ulysses. As a compromise, however, they said they take user requests for additional icons very seriously. They explained they intended to regularly update the app with custom designed icons in response to user requests. 

While this approach can work, they’ve got to make good on it. Today they did with several new and interesting icons to help customize your Ulysses groups. I will note that while they have rain clouds, they don’t have a MacSparky thunderbolt. Hopefully 2.9.

Ulysses 2.7

Today Ulysses got a significant update to version 2.7. The new version adds several useful features.

Touch Bar Support

This new version fully supports the Touch Bar. It is interesting to note how some developers are using the Touch Bar to replace keyboard shortcut functions and others are using it to add new and different functionality. It is still early days and, since I am already pretty handy with keyboard shortcuts, I prefer the new functionality model. Ulysses’ update includes a little bit of both. It’s obvious that conscientious app developers are struggling with how best to take advantage of the Touch Bar and I expect the design language around the Touch Bar is going to evolve quite a bit in the next year.

Sierra Tabs

The Sierra update made it easy to add tabs to any application. This makes a ton of sense in an application like Ulysses and now it supports it.

There is More

Additionally, the new version supports storing images in external folders and Evernote import. Is it just me or does it seem like a lot of developers are finding ways to accommodate unhappy Evernote users?

This is a nice update for Ulysses and I’m happy to see the continued development and support. You can read more about the Ulysses update on their blog.

Ulysses Version 2.5

Ulysses isn’t a text editor or a word processor. It is a writing tool. It lets you collect bits of text together and organize them, reorganize them, hide them, delete them, write them over again, and generally carry you through all the angst that comes with large writing projects. I currently have 2 books half-written in Ulysses and several long legal briefs and letters. Ulysses released version 2.5 today and it’s a doozy.

iPad Pro Support

The new version looks gorgeous on the iPad Pro. They’ve added native iPad Pro keyboard support and full support for iOS multitasking. Now you can have Safari on half of your iPad and Ulysses on the other and get some serious writing done.

iPhone Support

Ulysses now has an iPhone application. You may be wondering, “Why on earth would he care about an iPhone app if he’s using this to write books?” That is, at least, what I initially thought but I was wrong. I carry the jumbo iPhone and quite often I do find myself stuck someplace for 15 or 30 minutes. Being able to open Ulysses on my iPhone and jump into my most recent book to do a little editing or even a little writing (using voice dictation of course) is something I find myself doing every day.

Historically, I’ve done most of this writing in Scrivener. It’s a great tool on the Mac. Unfortunately, it is just on the Mac. Because Ulysses allows me to platform hop, it has become my default big writing tool. Ulysses is less fiddly than Scrivener which could be a plus or minus depending on how you use those extra tools in Scrivener. Ulysses also does not handle research as well as Scrivener does. Using Scrivener for my legal stuff, I would often throw word documents, PDFs, and all sorts of other research into the actual Scrivener file. I could then use the split screen mode to have my research available on the left side of the screen as I wrote on the right side of the screen.

Ulysses doesn’t have that ability to track research so easily and, frankly, I don’t think it quite fits in the philosophy and feel of the app anyway. For my tech writing, it doesn’t bother me because most of my “research” is in my head anyway. For the legal writing, I do miss the ability to have extensive research right in the writing file.

Ulysses uses iCloud for its synchronization engine. There is no Dropbox option. I’ve heard rumblings that people are against the application on that grounds alone. I’ve been using Ulysses nearly every day now for over a year–including this beta now for several months–and I’ve not lost any data through iCloud synchronization.

However, I’m drifting. The big point for me is that I can now work on large writing projects on any of my Apple devices and I love it. I really appreciate the hard work that the Ulysses team put into bringing this application to the iPad Pro with panache. Despite all the new wizz-bang, version 2.5 is a free update. There’s a lot to like about the new Ulysses. For an in-depth review go over to David Chartier’s review at MacStories.

Ulysses for iPhone

Ulysses is an interesting long form tool for Mac and the iPad. For me, it falls somewhere between a traditional text editor and Scrivener. I’m currently using it to write one of the two field guides I’ve got in development (Yes. Two.) and I’ve been pretty happy with the experience.

Today Ulysses’ developers, The Soulmen, announced they’re working on an iPhone version along with some iPad Pro tweaks to their already excellent iPad version. They’ve already announced that when complete, it will be a universal version and they’re looking for beta testers so now’s your chance.