The Reckoner Podcast Hits 100

It is no secret I listen to the odd podcast, and one of my favourites chalked up episode number 100 last night, and a hearty congratulations is in order. The Reckoner podcast provides a great weekly roundup of Australian technology news, and lasts the length of my commute, and at just under an hour – is the perfect length for a podcast.

Regulars Peter Wells, James Croft, and Anthony Agius are frequently joined by rotating guest hosts, and serve up a weekly dose of tech-based fact, opinion and humour. What I like most about Reckoner (both the podcast and website), is that topics and discussion are current and highly relevant to the tech goings on locally here in Australia. Admittedly, technology these days is a global entity, however regional differences continue to exist, and sometimes local relevance is lost if you usually follow a diet of overseas based shows.

Having been an avid listener since around episode twenty-something, I’m grateful my Monday morning commute is accompanied by a brief football roundup followed by an entertaining show, week after week. Here’s to another couple of hundred episodes, by which time I might have actually worked out how to implement one of Anthony Agius schemes for obtaining about half a decade’s worth of free Netflix – if government legislation or a T&C clause doesn’t stop him first.

So if you have at least a passing interest in Australian tech news, Reckoner is certainly worth an hour of your time once a week. Believe me – your Monday mornings will thank you.


Apple Music

After almost a month of the initial three available in the free trial period with Apple Music, I have confirmed my initial thoughts in relation to the likelihood of continuing to pay a subscription come the end of the trial period.

The short answer is no. The service itself? I do enjoy using it, and the user interface of the iOS app I find straightforward and simple to use, with the layout appealing. The reason I won’t be continuing with a subscription is largely a financial one, tied to the overall value I would (or wouldn’t as the case may be) get from such a service.

My Usage

More and more these days when I play music, it is often simply in the background, and beyond the types of artists or genre, I don’t really mind what that the specific music is. Prior to Apple Music, this was often one of the dozen or so iTunes Radio Stations I had created based on artists I enjoy listening to. I am not a big playlist creator, and am happy to hear something new or random in the genre I enjoy. Failing that, I am happy to listen to something from my own collection.

Will Apple Music change this?

To date, it hasn’t. Sure, I might miss the For You recommendations a little when the trial ends, for as I’ve mentioned, this part of the service fits the way I most often listen to music. That is, having offered to me an artist/genre/scenario, after which I’m happy to be surprised by what I hear. Of course the obvious choice here will simply be creating more radio stations, which is as simple as tapping “Start Station” from any artist or song in the service.

Looking at my Recently Played in the Radio Tab on iTunes is also quite representative of “Most Played” from the past few weeks as well. On high rotation has been The Mixtape, along with Beats 1, and my usual alternative Radio Station selections, be they genre or self-created based on artists.

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I don’t have what you’d call a large collection of music, with around 8000 tracks, however I know what I like, and anything I discover through these stations or by other means can readily be purchased and added to my collection should I so desire.

With the audio output from my iPhone just as likely, if not more so, to emit the sounds of a podcast as it is music these days, the desire for an endless on-demand library just doesn’t have the same attraction it once might, and that compelling reason to undertake a monthly subscription seems a little further away.

Cost and Data

Another consideration not out of the question in all of this is simply renewing my subscription to iTunes Match. Although it may seem counterintuitive given what Apple Music has to offer, here we are talking $AU34.99 per year compared with the equivalent of $AU143.88 for a single membership, or $AU215.88 for the family option. If you will get a lot more out of Apple Music, and access to the extensive catalogue that is iTunes, I don’t think this figure itself is necessarily too expensive. However for someone who will only use it in a more limited fashion as I’ve described above, then it becomes a fairly expensive radio station.

So, with the first hurdle being the subscription cost (which is fair enough given the requirement to pay artists for their work, and whether or not this is enough is another discussion), perhaps a more significant barrier lay in cellular data plans. My current 2.3GB per month plan — more than enough for my day-to-day usage, often runs relatively close to its limit — and that is without a streaming service in moderate to heavy use. Overall, I am quite happy with my data plan and how I manage it, yet extracting full value from a music streaming service would require consideration of additional data add-ons or an entirely new plan — both at additional cost to what I am currently paying.

The Service

As I’ve mentioned, on the whole I like Apple Music both as an app and a service. I know there are many who have been frustrated with the app interface, and there are tales of larger problems involving loss of music doing the rounds recently, however personally I have found not found this to be the case. You’d also do well to read beyond the initial hysteria surrounding such issues and onto the resulting clarifications on exactly what did and did not happen in some of these cases.

Of course it goes without saying that playing around with cloud services and something like your entire music library without having a local copy backed up is, well… to put it politely — not the best course of action.

The available catalogue itself? Again, I’ve personally found no real issues — however within the first few days of the service launch, there was of course the usual “who can find an artist not on Apple Music and tweet about it first” epidemic. I do find these types of things a little tiresome, more for their tone than anything else.

So once the trial period ends, what will I have remaining to me? Looking at the What you get with your membership section: Beats 1 and the Apple Music Radio stations — both my own creations and those put together by Apple. This was the same as before, and when my iTunes Match subscription was current, I enjoyed these stations ad-free. I’ll most likely give it a run and see — perhaps my Match subscription would be worth it to eliminate ads alone.

Closing thoughts

I was not a subscriber to a music streaming service prior to Apple Music, so it should come as no surprise I will not be subscribed to one after this initial trial period ends either. In summary, my patterns of usage, cost considerations and general value I may gain from a paid subscription simply don’t add up to pushing the button, and to be honest I cannot really see that changing.

Probably something to mention also (as you well know), is that Apple Music is not the only option, and in such a crowded marketplace, there is quite a bit of value to be had in sampling the many other services on offer. This post was written whilst listening a very enjoyable Alternative station provided by the Australian owned Guvera streaming service.

So for the current time, I am more than happy to either listen to my own collection or be served up a selection of music from genre or artist based stations. For the times when this isn’t the case? Well, there are always one or two podcasts in my queue.


Podcasts I’d Burn Data For

Before a recent overnight business trip, I was running through my usual packing list to check all was in order, and upon planning my usual in-flight entertainment options, began thinking about the podcasts I cannot do without these days. Of course the episodes load automatically on our home network, however the timing of the particular trip in question would see certain shows releasing new episodes after I had left.

The mobile data plan on my iPhone is what I would call adequate, though not excessively large, and I usually avoid downloading podcasts or running app updates and the like when not on a network conserve some of my data (hardly urgent downloads in any event). However sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures. Perhaps that is overstating things just a little, however when away from home, Face Time and phone calls are —absolutely fantastic, however there is also nothing like having familiar voices fill the remaining void of silence in a solo-business-trip hotel room.

So just what are the podcasts I’d happily burn data for? In no particular order (except number 1 perhaps), the following are my favourites.

The Podcasts

The Pen Addict

broadcast_thumbnail_penaddict_artworkThey say: The Pen Addict is a weekly fix for all things stationery. Pens, pencils, paper, ink — you name it, and Brad Dowdy and Myke Hurley are into it. Join as they geek out over the analog tools they love so dearly.

I say: What more is there to say really? All about pens and other related goodness every week. Definitely my favourite, and still going strong after 160 episodes. I’ve been religiously listening since about episode 34.

Try it if: Pen, pencils and paper are either a keen interest, or downright obsession for you. Wallet be damned.

Lore

cover170x170They say: Lore is a bi-weekly podcast about true life scary stories. The people, places, and things of our darkest nightmares all have real facts at their core. Each episode of Lore looks into a uniquely scary tale and uncovers the truth behind it.

Sometimes the truth is more frightening than fiction.

I say: This is just fantastic entertainment. A really well produced podcast which highlights the creepier parts of true stories, with some legend, intrigue and folklore thrown in for good measure. My sister would really love this.

Try it if: You love those ghost stories people tell around camp fires at night.

Mac Power Users

broadcast_thumbnail_mpu_artworkThey say: Learn about getting the most from your Apple technology with focused topics and workflow guests. Creating Mac Power Users, one geek at a time since 2009.

I say: Although I’m not a power user myself, I have always subscribed to the adage that the only way to really learn is from those smarter than yourself. When it comes to Macs, both hosts and the many and varied guests fit the bill nicely. The best part about MPU is the way it covers everyday situations in a very practical and understandable way. Yes, there are other tech podcasts out there, however some are simply too geeky for me to understand. On a side note MPU also has your iOS devices more than covered was well.

Try it if: You love your Apple products, and desire some new and slightly nerdy ways to get the most out of them.

Covered

covered_show_artThey say: A conversation about books with the people who write them.

I say: Whilst the episodes can be a little irregular, that is not a concern to me. One of the most enjoyable aspects of Covered is listening not only to authors recounting their writing process, but reading from their own work as well.

Try it if: You have a keen interest in reading and writing, and would enjoy hearing how those who are very successful at that very thing, get it done.

Connected

broadcast_thumbnail_connected_artworkThey say: Connected is a weekly panel discussion on Apple and the impact of technology on our lives. With each co-host having a unique background — and accent — Connected provides a perspective that no other show can.

I say: As well as very diverse cultural backgrounds, the hosts also have very different perspectives and requirements around their technology usage, which leads to some lively discussion and analysis. Tech based — yes, however again pitched at a level that is enjoyable and understandable for a wide cross section of listener tech ability.

Try it if: You love your Apple products, and are keen to hear more on how they influence our lives from a technological, cultural, and at times philosophically nerd-ball perspective.

Dot Grid

FullSizeRender 15They say: (about The Nerd Uprising network): We think things are AWESOME, and we let it show. We’re all some kind of nerd. It’s time to own it. Dot Grid explores the intersection between the analog and digital tools we use.

I say: With those podcasts listed above largely based on technology and analogue pursuits, of course there must be one combining both. This is where Dot Grid steps in and fills the void very nicely. Some great interviews with talented individuals, whose work indeed encompasses both spheres of the analogue and digital — with a healthy dose of the creative thrown in.

Try it if: Bits and pieces from each of the above items in this list speaks to you in some way.

Cortex

broadcast_thumbnail_cortex_artworkThey say: Myke Hurley is fascinated by the methods and tricks that CGP Grey uses to get his work done. Each week on Cortex, Myke will quiz Grey on how he remains productive, whilst producing YouTube videos that are seen by millions of people.

I say: New on the scene, and slated for an initial run of ten episodes, which I hope is just the beginning. Thankfully, not just another “productivity” podcast. Some real gems here, for example going from start to finish producing and uploading a You Tube video, or a somewhat humorous debate on the merits of various iPhone homescreen set ups.

Try it if: (a) You enjoy hearing about various aspects of productivity in a unique way, with very cut and dried opinion on what does and does not work in an area of great interest to many; and (b) you don’t mind going off and rearranging your iPhone home screen after listening to that episode.

Reckoner

podcast-art-205x145They say: We talk over the Australian technology culture news of the week with a rotating cast of hosts.

I say: For me, every working week starts with Reckoner. Hitting the airwaves every Sunday night, Monday morning’s commute to work is made that much easier with the accompaniment of these guys. Covering technology in general with an Aussie focus, a great bunch of hosts with topics to match.

Try it if: You enjoy discussion around technology, yet understand a local viewpoint on things such as metadata retention and website blocking legislation is as important — probably more so — as how you use the glances feature on your Apple Watch.

Tamper Tantrum

tt_iTunesAudio_1400x1400They say: Now hailed as “one of the world’s premier platforms for coffee bickering, brainstorming, and live speaking engagements,” Tamper Tantrum is delighted to bring an inspiring speakers to live & online audiences around the world.

I say: Again, with reference to my sentiments about MPU above, there are many aspects of the TT podcast which a heavily industry focused. Again, however, I’ve found this to be a great way to learn what those within the industry are talking about.

Try it if: As an outsider, the specialty coffee industry interests you. If you work in the industry you are most likely not reading this blog, and certainly would not need me to tell you about this podcast.

My app of choice

If you were wondering (and are at all interested), I listen to the above shows on Overcast, a podcast app released about 12 months ago. There are many great independent podcast apps on the market, or of course there is also Apple’s default option. Overcast does have some specific features, however in general it is well thought out, attractive and easy to use, and I have not been tempted to move to (or back to) any of the others which are available. Overcast also has an iPad app and can be used in a web browser, syncing your current play position on both if you are logged into your Overcast account. I must admit to using neither, as my iPhone is the simplest and easiest way to listen to podcasts.

Overcast’s Smart Speed feature tells me I been saved 25 hours in listening time beyond speed adjustments alone (Smart Speed works by cutting out the periods of silence in a podcast, reducing by a small amount the overall time taken to listen to an episode). Given the above list only contains the essentials, making the most of my available listening time is important. Using Smart Speed allows me to avoid bumping the speed up to unlistenable levels (now 1.25x at most; 1.5x plus in the past), yet still feel I am getting ahead a little in my queue. With upwards to 20 shows in my queue (although I often cherry pick episodes from the shows I do not auto download), any help clearing the list is welcome.

Conclusion

So, there you have it. My current favourite podcasts — which I would happily sacrifice cellular data for. Familiar voices speaking on topics I am passionate about, and listening to them brings me considerable joy while I learn a heck of a lot along the way. Podcasts are a fantastic medium, bringing entertainment, education and inspiration to a large number of listeners around the world.

If you haven’t dived in yet, I’d suggest downloading a podcasting app of your choice, subscribing to some shows and seeing where they take you — at whatever speed that might be.


Press app for iPhone – logging your coffee journey

App IconFirst things first. If ever there were an app icon that encapsulates the predominant themes of this blog — surely this has to be it.

Brilliant. Er…except that I didn’t think of it first.

After coming across Press a few months ago, I have begun to slowly add some coffees into the database for future reference.

As is the case with many great independent apps, Press was borne out of one man’s frustration — from the App developer’s contact page:

I’m Jeff Hatz, the sole developer of Press. I was frustrated with the lack of quality coffee apps on the App Store, so decided to write my own. I hope you love it as much as I do.

Love it? Indeed I do sir — indeed I do.

What is it for?

Press is an app which contains a number of features to assist you in both brewing and logging notes about the coffee you drink:

IMG_4267Log detailed notes about the coffees you drink, and see a world map with pins for each if the coffees you enter. Use the built in brew timers courtesy of Corvus Coffee Roasters, or add your own, to brew a perfect cup every time. Expand your knowledge of coffee in the Resources section.

Features:

IMG_4275In list form, Press has the following features:

  • Coffee Notes
  • Brew timers
  • Map
  • Today Widget (quick brew; last coffee added)
  • Advanced Options
  • Resource page (links to books, blogs etc)
  • Share sheet integration (export and sharing options)

As lovers of all things coffee, I am sure we all have our own methods of brewing with our various devices, so I must admit I have not really used the built-in brew timers.

I would note however these are customisable, and you are able to add your own, featuring the timer name, coffee/water ratio (allowing calculations based on changes in dose), dose, grind, temperature, notes, and brew stages.

IMG_4296IMG_4293

Overall, the app has a really nice UI, which is attractive to look at, yet functional enough to get the job done very smoothly, with a few extras such as Markdown formatting and a custom URL Scheme for users on the geekier side of the spectrum.

Perhaps it is worth mentioning longevity and storage. Although each coffee logged is merely a text file, adding numerous photos I expect would add to the data storage requirements of the app. Were I to use this over a few years, with say, a few hundred coffees and associated photos, I wonder about the storage requirements then, and perhaps cloud support might come in handy. For now, this is not an issue.

In terms of longevity and back up options — exporting to Day One or Evernote works like a dream, with the resulting output reminiscent (minus the associated photo) of some Drafts app templates for coffee logging I have seen around the web.

IMG_4284
Output to Day One

 

My favourite features

There is a lot to love about Press, though my favourite features (and reasons for downloading the app in the first place) are definitely the integrated map and notes sections. Locations of origin appear on the map once the region is added to an entry, allow zooming, and have an info button which changes to a popover noting the particular coffee featured in that location.

IMG_4271

Other great features include the customisable notes fields (through the settings pane), auto-capitalisation throughout the notes input fields, and a next button during text input which avoids the need for scrolling and tapping into the subsequent field.

Beyond the specifics, I’d say it is great to have an attractive, well thought out and extremely functional app which allows me to track coffees I have tasted when out and about, or those I have roasted myself at home.

Photo support was also added in March of this year, and has added a whole new dimension to how I plan to use the app going forward.

As my home roasting involves pencil and paper1 for recording time, temperature and any notes commenting on particular aspects of the roast, linking this IMG_4298data to particular coffees after brewing and tasting involves collating the data together in a spreadsheet — which I admit is not always updated. With the photos feature in Press, I have begun to snap a photo of the roast notes page which I now keep right inside the app with the tasting notes and rating of the particular coffee — perfect!

In conclusion

As you can gather, I do believe this is a great app for logging many aspects of your coffee journey over time.

Yes, I can link in my roast data to the brewing and tasting profiles through the photos feature, but I can also see this used for capturing those moments when sharing a wonderful brew with a partner or group of friends.

Press strikes what I believe is a perfect balance between allowing the recording of “enough” data and the flexibility to add more, in a beautiful and highly efficient way. With ongoing support, the developer has laid the groundwork for perhaps even more features in the future.

Oh and how about that icon?

Press for iPhone is available from the App Store, and is well worth the $AU3.79 you’ll pay.

  1. Currently the Science edition of the Field Notes Arts and Sciences seasonal release, and a Blackwing 602 for those interested. A perfect combination for the purpose I might add.

Writing With Ulysses

In recent weeks there has been a good deal of discussion around the release of the updated Mac version of this writing app from developer The Soulmen, which also coincided with the release of an iPad version to go with it.

Ulysses-Mac-128x128
Ulysses – Mac

As I have written about previously, I am a recent convert to the Mac app, and earlier this year began using the iPad beta version prior to the full release (affording little value to the developer during the bata period mind you). What follows should be taken as it is intended, simply a few thoughts on how I find both the Mac and iPad applications (certainly not an exhaustive review), and why I enjoy writing with them — from a somewhat less than power user of both.

Ulysses-iOS-120x120
Ulysses – iPad

It is certainly not to sell you on Ulysses – after all, writing is writing — a keyboard and (hopefully) output. There are many other apps out there which may suit your particular needs far better than this one, and I suspect those who are entrenched in something like Scrivener might read these words and be quite happy they already have everything covered. Of course if that is the case there remains the iPad to consider, depending on where your writing occurs.

Other writing apps

A point to note here is that I have been an avid iOS user for around three and a half to four years now (both iPad and iPhone), and a Mac user for two, during which time, most of my writing has occurred in Byword on both the iPad and Mac. Over time I moved to Editorial on my iPad mini, although continued with Byword on the Mac, syncing both through Dropbox.

Although I do have the iPhone versions of both Byword and Editorial, I have never really taken to longer form writing on my phone,  preferring the iPad — and more often than not an external keyboard, which remains the case today.

I find much of Editorial’s more powerful workflows remain under utilised in my writing, and although Editorial continued to serve my iPad writing needs well until the release of the Ulysses iPad beta earlier this year, since that time I have not ventured outside Ulysses for writing on either platform.

Why Ulysses?

In all honesty — no particular reason in the first instance. Going backwards and forwards in my mind last October as to whether I would embark on NaNoWriMo, I came across the offer of a free 30 day Ulysses trial (available for the Mac through the developer’s website). The promise of regular email follow-up as part of the NaNoWriMo group of Ulysses users along with an extract of (the recently updated) David Hewson’s: Writing a Novel With Ulysses eBook.

I think at that point in time, having finally committed myself to the 50,000 word challenge I was looking for all the help I could get! Upon thinking more about this — credit where credit is due to Ulysses here. Had the app imposed more friction to set up, write in, and generally manage over that month, I would most likely have exported what I had written to another app and never looked back.

Retrospectively, undertaking my first NaNoWriMo and learning the features of a new app at the same time was probably not the smartest decision, however it certainly paid off this time. So as you can see, I came across Ulysses through the lure of the free trial and “extras” — am I really so shallow? Evidently yes.

My particular uses

Here we find I again under utilise the power of Ulysses and its potential as — particularly a longer form — writing app. Looking back, to date my use has consisted of the following:

  • my 55,000 word NaNoWriMo effort;
  • 5 months (31 posts) of blogging (approximately 3 months also using the Ulysses iPad app);
  • a few email drafts;
  • reviewing and commenting on some of my daughters’ high school essays

That is it — apart from the NaNo effort, utilising the “sheets” in Ulysses as book chapters – I largely use it as an app to write blog posts. It is here I see most of my future uses also occurring, however I do plan on tackling some longer form writing again in the future.

My favourite aspects and features

In no particular order, there are indeed some features of the app (on both iOS and OS X) which I use more heavily:

iCloud

I am all in with iCloud syncing in my current Ulysses set up. Having used the External Folders option with Dropbox syncing for my initial NaNoWriMo foray, I think iCloud suits Ulysses perfectly — particularly the file and folder structures, and now with both Mac and iPad options available.

It is certainly no crime to choose iCloud as the preferred method of syncing, however there have been a couple of misdemeanours on iClouds part (I believe) which unfortunately for the developer occurred around the same time as the Mac update and release of the full iPad version of the app. Although needing a restart of my iPad or Mac at varying times (no data loss — simply to trigger the sync), after this initial week or so it has been rock solid, and of course it is fantastic to have everything updated with no effort from myself when I next pick up writing — on whether device.

One particular feature I do love are the status indicators which appear on launching the app — on either platform, indicating iCloud is updating. There is nothing worse than opening an iCloud connected app, knowing a sync should be occurring, yet never really being sure it is — not until updated data suddenly appears.

IMG_0888
Two pane view on iPad with iCloud status indicators at left

 

All of my writing, templates, and planning are therefore kept in the iCloud folders within Ulysses. For those still perhaps a little wary who also use the iPad app, there is a nice use of the iOS Workflow App to semi automate a back up of these iCloud folders to Dropbox.

 

Three pane view on Mac - folder structure at left.
Three pane view on Mac – folder structure at left.

Add to the above one of the best laid out document history/version controls (Mac only), and you have the perfect way to recover or revise should the need arise.

Mac view of version screen - date scroll marker far right
Mac view of version screen – date scroll marker far right

 

Organisation

Whilst I am not obsessive about file organisation, I do like the fact my writing is kept nicely laid out within Ulysses itself, and easily accessible in the customisable three pane layout.

Pane one has my current folders contained within iCloud , and within each folder lie the “sheets” — viewable in the second pane, which, in my current way of working are the individual blog posts for example. Although currently absent from the folders after been exported upon completion — the first draft of my NaNoWriMo novel will soon return for revision. For the novel, each sheet was a chapter with keywords added, allowing filtering of specific sheets (or chapters as it were) to follow through a particular plot line relating to a particular character.

Overall, I think a useful analogy here is to consider the iCloud folders as the bookshelf; each project as a loose leaf binder; and the sheets as just that — individual sheets of paper able to be rearranged within the binder with the utmost ease.

Sheets can be duplicated (hence my use of templates), glued, split, merged, rearranged or opened in a new window — handy for referring back to previous chapters or drafts while writing the current one. Note at the current time these features are limited to duplicating and rearranging sheets on the iPad version. The third pane is the editor, where all of your writing occurs.

For my needs, everything is here.

The structure of these folders within iCloud does not place them within view in the iCloud Drive folders, as they are proprietary folders within Ulysses itself — perfect for my needs, and with the amount of export options available you can send and backup your files anywhere you wish, or use the Open In option should you wish to continue in another App. Personally I use this feature to proofread in Marked 2 when on the Mac.

A recent post on the Ulysses blog outlines a new Open Files feature, allowing any .txt or .md file to be opened in Ulysses and edited – with the output saved in the original file location on your Mac. Handy for those times where a full import of a file or files is not necessary.

Layout and style

Navigation pop up on Mac.
Navigation pop up on Mac.

I’ve touched on the layout a little above, and switching between views is as simple as the shortcuts CMD+1, 2 or 3 for three pane, two pane or editor only. Various other shortcuts are available, including CMD+9 for a Markdown cheat sheet, and CMD+4 for the Attachments bar — a key feature allowing images, notes, goals and keywords to the sheet — all which sync to the iPad version with ease.

On the iPad, panes are accessed or hidden by swiping left or right, with tapping in the editor pane bringing it into full view with the onscreen keyboard at the ready. There is also full support for external keyboards.

For longer form writing, another handy feature is the quick access to the Navigation pop-up with the shortcut CMD+8, providing a list of headings — all of which are clickable to jump to their location within the sheet.

There are endless tweaks possible through preferences to create “themes” for the overall colour layout, which can be shared or downloaded from the Ulysses style exchange. These are simple to download for use or duplication and further customisation. Dark mode or theme options are also an option from the menu or shortcuts — handy for my pre-dawn writing.

Style and theme options in preferences on Mac.
Style and theme options in preferences on Mac.

Although reducing Ulysses to the single Editor pane does provide the “distraction free experience” that seems to have been the buzzword with writing apps for some time now — for this purpose alone you will find it similar to other writing apps. Although viewing a blinking cursor and nothing else is available to you — this is not necessarily a point of difference to many other apps, though of course is an essential feature.

Writing

At the end of the day — ultimately all that matters is it not? Well, to me — yes and no. If it were all that mattered, I could be writing in the default TextEdit app, nvAlt, Byword (the list goes on) and the default Notes app or Byword on my iPad.

If I could try to sum things up — it is the power of what this app can do (and do simply and easily), combined with some nice touches and minimalism which combine to give the “Ulysses experience”. That is why I like it.

If we refer back to my particular uses for Ulysses mentioned above, they are fairly limited in scope, yet repeated often (the blog posts anyway). Lets look at what occurs here — text, links, bold, italic, and lists. Formatted in Markdown.

Markdown XL.
Markdown XL.

Also a point to note is Ulysses makes use of Markdown XL, which is where unique markup and other notations reside through comment blocks; comments and strikethrough deletions for example (each with unique characters). Unless iCloud or local Mac storage options are used, upon export, these will be included in the output as plain text. Another incentive to use iCloud, with any markup also syncing nicely with the iPad, and are also available through the enhanced keyboard row there as well.

Images are added once I have exported the piece to the WordPress interface. In Ulysses, CMD+SHIFT+P does give an instant live preview which I probably should utilise more, however habit usually sends me to Marked 2.

Could this all be done in just about any other text editor? Absolutely. But of those I have tried – I prefer to do it here — in Ulysses. A few of the writing features I really enjoy:

  • placing a URL in the clipboard, highlighting text in Ulysses and pasting to instantly insert links (a couple of taps required on iPad)
Adding links on iPad.
Adding links on iPad.
  • statistics and word count goals
  • adding keywords (effectively tags in sheets) for longer writing organisation and sheet filtering
Attachments bar and with word count goal far right.
Attachments bar and with word count goal far right.

 

  • the ability to “tear off” and move around the pop up windows containing Quick Export, Statistics, Navigation and Markup information (Mac only)
  • text selection on the iPad (perhaps one of my favourites) requires one finger swipe anywhere on the keyboard to move the cursor, a two finger swipe will then select text, again making link insertion on the iPad a breeze
  • the enhanced iPad keyboard row, though not a unique feature and used in apps like Drafts or Editorial, is one of the best laid out and easiest to use when writing in Markdown
  • footnotes – probably my favourite feature – select footnote from the menu on the Mac or enhanced keyboard key on iPad; add text in the popup box and you’re done (these also work on exporting HTML to WordPress – something I have had great difficulty with in the past)
  • customisable statistics are also nicely included in a footer type bar on the iPad layout
  • plays well on iPad with an external keyboard, though I guess this is expected these days
Enhanced keyboard features.
Enhanced keyboard features.

I mentioned Editorial again in the above list — overall I find Ulysses on the iPad plenty powerful enough for my needs, yet a little more efficient to navigate and use in comparison.

To sum up the Ulysses writing experience? If you need it — its there, and if you don’t — you won’t feel like you have to actively step around it. Whatever your “it” is of course.

Exporting

Of course once written, we will be doing something with the end product. My NaNo draft was exported as plain text, Markdown, ePub and PDF (not taking any chances with that one) and ultimately tweaked in iBooks author as well.

 

ePub and HTML exporting options.
ePub and HTML exporting options.

With Ulysses, exporting your writing is an absolute breeze through the Quick Export/Live Preview popup. Also,  if you do have any concerns around the robustness and reliability of iCloud, or even the proprietary format of Ulysses, exporting your writing at the end of a session is so simple I can certainly understand those who may choose to do so (select text format from Quick Export; save to Dropbox or anywhere else).

A few other things

As I mentioned earlier, my gateway to Ulysses was the NaNoWriMo tie in, and having since purchased and read the full version of David Hewson’s Writing a Novel with Ulysses – I can highly recommend it as a fantastic way to learn some writing strategies and to organise your next big project, along with some great tips for using the iPad and Mac versions of this great app.

Developer The Soulmen also regularly publish great tips and tricks through a newsletter, which are also accessible on the Ulysses blog. As a user, I find these extremely helpful, and can certainly see how my writing will grow as I begin to utilise more of the available features. To that end, I must add the developer website does a great job of showcasing the app, and is worth checking out if you are interested in either the iPad or Mac App versions.

Also, there are far more technically minded and better writers than myself who have reviewed this app if you wish to dive a little deeper:

In conclusion

I mentioned above I was not out to try to sell you on Ulysses as a system for writing — yet in some ways I hope this post has at least been helpful enough to encourage you to try it out. That is of course if any of the above sounds like something you can relate to.

At times I have succumbed to fiddling about with the newest, latest and greatest or apps used by prominent figures on the internet. To my detriment? Maybe – maybe not. I’d like to think this time I have tried the app, liked it, and found my own way.

It has — albeit by pure coincidence — been nice to come into Ulysses at a time where active (you might even say aggressive) development was occurring, with the iPad release a joy to behold, given at least 50% of my writing is done on my iPad mini 2 with an external keyboard.

My advice to anyone considering Ulysses, is to download the free trial on the Mac and give it a try. The bonus here is that you can expect the iPad version to behave in much the same way, at least as far as writing, layout and organisation go (though I acknowledge the obvious differences between iOS and OS X).

In the end, I think you can see I am very satisfied with these two great apps which allow me to get all of my writing done — both efficiently, and wherever I choose to do it. I am confident in the fact my usual pre-workday Mac writing session will be ready and waiting for revision or addition at my lunch time iPad session — and I couldn’t be happier.

To quote the developer’s tagline for the app: Do you write?

If you do, you owe it would be worth at least taking a look.

Ulysses is available on the app store for Mac ($AU56.99) or iPad ($AU24.99); with the free trial available for Mac from the developer website.