Of course there are plenty of other sites to give you the run down on this morning’s Apple event, and the following sentiment from Benny Ling writing at AppleTalk Australia summed things up for those in this fair country:
Now if you’ll excuse me, I will proceed to light my credit card on fire, thanks to how poorly the Australian dollar is doing
So, although this is not the blog for in-depth analysis, I did have a few thoughts as things unfolded, and here they are.
Order of Appearance
The Apple Watch is a non starter for me at the current time, therefore no big excitement here. With my current priorities and the status of my tech world, it just doesn’t really have a place. Of course that doesn’t necessarily infer it isn’t a great product, with some love given by Apple in the form of watchOS 2 and some updated watch colours and bands. I’m sure watch owners – current and future – will be pleased come OS 2.
Well the iPad Pro looks like a powerful monster, however is just a little on the large side for how I tend to use mine. All that power? Well, probably wasted on my text editor, web browsing, email, social media and an episode of The Americans on my afternoon commute. As I do write more and more on my iPad, an Air 2 is looking like a reasonable upgrade from my iPad mini 2 for a little more screen and iOS 9’s split view.. I’d imagine going from mini to Pro would be rather…well…jarring. Not a common transition path in any event though I expect.
The new Apple TV? Yes, thank you. Our second TV has been crying out for some content assistance in the form of a little streaming, and what better opportunity than to grab a new model Apple TV. The Siri remote looks pretty handy, as does the revamped UI which will now include Apps. I can confidently say this will definitely be a starter in our household in the not too distant future.
Then there were the iPhones of course. Having upgraded to an iPhone 6 last year – that is where I’ll stay, however my wife’s 5s is due for handing down to the kids, so I certainly had an interest in what is in store. The usual improvements in camera and phone internals, along with more enticing features such as 3D Touch (with an awful lot of Peek and Pop going on) and Live Photos1. Of course the new Rose Gold colour also made its debut, so eloquently described on a special early morning edition (by geographical necessity) of the Reckoner Podcast:
…the new colour pink – they call it Rose Gold but its pink
And finally, lets face it – my complexion is crying out…just crying out I say, for the new Retina Flash on the front facing camera. I’m sure I’ll look a lovely shade of rose gold.
So in the end, given the pre-event rumours, you’d probably say not a lot of surprises, however nice to see it all finally unleashed.
Pricing? Well apart from the iPhones, nothing to report here as yet, although I would add the paid iCloud storage tiers will improve in value — though where exactly they will land in $AUD per tier is still to be announced.
Of course anyone can rabbit on precisely in the vain I have done above, however might I point you towards some more seasoned analysis (emphasis indicates sites which carry the Australian flag):
If I were a conspiracy theorist, I’d say a little more storage space will be required for photos; I might as well use Apple Photos and iCloud; better upgrade my iCloud storage plan to cope; Apple makes up the drop in iCloud pricing at each tier through increased volume. Um…but I’m not. ↩︎
I am hopeful the revamped Notes app will relieve me of my increasing disillusionment with Evernote ↩︎
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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)
statistics and word count goals
adding keywords (effectively tags in sheets) for longer writing organisation and sheet filtering
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
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.
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.
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:
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.
Alt+Tab (Or CMD+Tab as the case may be depending on your platform).
For the purposes of this post we’ll go with Alt+Tab, given my office job ties me to a Windows PC. Alt+Tab being the keyboard shortcut which instantly takes you to another open programme, and one I use dozens of times per day.
I mentioned in a previous post how the concept of work life separation resonates with me far more than that of work life balance. All day, five days week, I sit and peer into two monitors, hopefully make a difference, get up and go home. I’m certainly not alone in this. Whether or not you sit, stand, walk or crawl(?!) around all day, you also get up, go home, then come back and do it all again.
How do we separate the work day from everything else? More importantly, how quickly and how often can we switch off from work and into…well, something else. It may seem counterintuitive to suggest my iPhone and iPad mini help me switch off from work. They’re just another screen right?
Not so much.
My morning commute generally involves listening to my favourite podcasts and a bit of music prior to walking through the office doors.
Once I hit my desk it all begins, with my focus on work and generally not much else. Though my iPhone is close at hand, it is rarely used, other than to reply to an occasional text message or to check either my calendar or Omnifocus.
Whatever you may think of “multitasking”, or the fact that replying to a text message only takes a few seconds (please tell me you realise how long it takes to regain the same level of focus you had prior to a minor disruption) – tasks that are not work and disrupt focus are the true productivity killers of the modern office. Don’t even get me started on the design flaws of the modern open plan office where “collaboration is king” – well yes, if you accept that 90% of all collaboration occurring is about the latest concert, Game of Thrones episode or why someone just needs to get out of that relationship.
I digress, so let’s just say I’ve been hard at work for a couple of hours by this point.
I exit my office building at approximately 11am for a mid morning coffee, call my wife to see how things are going, then open Tweetbot and catch up on my Twitter feed, check Instagram, or what my family are up to in Path. I may search or stumble across some articles to save for later in Pocket or ‘flip’ into my Brew magazine on Flipboard.
That is, an immediate transition from my office role into another virtual space where the interactions are all about my other interests and passions. Family, pens, coffee and technology being some. Some of these interests lead to interactions over the web and social media, with like-minded individuals both in other parts of the country, and around the world. There is nothing quite like providing feedback to a pen blog in the UK, or backing a Kickstarter project in the USA to instantly take your mind off the emails, phone messages or Excel spreadsheet waiting back at your desk.
Coffee break over – back into work for another couple of hours through to lunch time.
Lunch time. Again I leave the office. With iPad in hand, walk for bit, order some of the finest filter coffee you will find, sit, and draft the next post for this site. Once I’ve given a fair effort to something productive such as a blog post, then it’s on to personal emails and social media.
Lunch break over, and my focus switches back to work for the long haul through to the end of the day.
Once I physically “clock off”, again it’s a quick switch back to my iPhone at the bus stop (usually a quick catch up on Twitter and Instagram whilst keeping half an eye out for the bus), and once on it, sink into watching a TV series on my iPad until home.
An Easy Escape
Each change of focus outlined above involves a physical change in my environment. The coffee break, the lunch break, the bus stop – all times I have left my desk and escaped outside, not simply to another screen. I suspect it is not by chance that these physical location changes greatly contribute to switching my thoughts away from work and into my personal areas of interest so quickly. Heading into the lunch room at work with my phone or iPad has no appeal to me.
Not only is it great to have outside interests, it is amazing the ease in which we can access them – whether on a break or walking across town to a meeting. It is this instantaneous shift in thinking which not only keeps me sane, but also provides the break I need to sharpen my work focus on returning to my desk. To me, the personal technology I use is therefore not simply another screen, but a powerful way to delineate work and personal boundaries, much like Alt+Tab is a powerful keyboard shortcut to access another programme in an instant.
Are we really all slaves to technology?
Perhaps at times, however depending upon how you use it (I admit we are not all lucky enough to exert total control), it can be an extremely powerful means of breaking out of the mundane work mindset at various points during the day, and escaping into something that allows you to feel that each weekday is not just work. There is a portal to your world of other interests, communities and knowledge, and if used wisely, can add a significant amount of value to your life.
Outlined above is the digital perspective of my day. Any interaction with my digital devices is trumped (and often is) by human conversation. If you find me on one of these breaks feel free to chat – just don’t ask me to talk about work.
After a trip to visit my parents in northern NSW (usually about a 2 hour trip south from Brisbane), a particularly appalling traffic jam on returning home highlighted a couple of things to me regarding how I use my phone on journeys like these, and the limitations still presented to us when doing so.
Lets just say I am very pleased for those people who were visiting the town of Byron Bay over the Easter Weekend (our destination was a little further south), however these were not my thoughts when stuck in northbound traffic for close to two hours over a stretch of the Pacific Highway approaching the Byron on-ramp (which we usually cover in 10 minutes), thus making the trip home a leisurely 4 hour drive.
So how was my phone involved in all of this? Firstly, the day before I had sent my mother an invitation to share my location in the Find my Friends app on her iPad, allowing her to have a reasonable idea of when we would arrive that morning. All worked well for most of the journey, with the exception of a request by the app for a login which was at the time unknown to my mother. Minor aberration soon fixed upon my arrival. During this trip, I streamed my music collection though iTunes Match for a little over two hours (I have a generous amount of data on my current plan), with the connection dropping out just the once.
Trip rating 9/10
The return journey and technology – not such a great pairing. The almost two-hour traffic jam where we moved only a few kilometres occurred where our 3G signal was fairly poor, leaving us without any connection throughout the entire period we were stuck. A disaster? No, however it did get me thinking about how I tend to use my devices when traveling, and the possible ramifications of this.
Starting with the Find my Friends app. It was all well and good to download this for my mum on her iPad and set things up to enable her to track our journey when we visit. When we lose connectivity? A couple of concerned parents who wonder why the location is showing a position 2 hours into a journey we should have passed in the first half hour. A breakdown? Accident? They were not to know.
Relating to the above, we were also out of range when trying to send messages. For iMessage? Forget about it, and it was difficult even getting standard SMS through. My mother’s attempts to send iMessages (as she often uses her iPad for messaging not her phone) both to myself and my wife were obviously not received either. So, again, from their end – breakdown or accident? This was ultimately resolved by eventually getting an SMS through to my mother’s mobile phone.
Of lesser importance in the connectivity side of things, we were also unable to check maps (Apple, Google or otherwise) to see if any of the side roads afforded an alternate route; check the web traffic updates to confirm if what we expected to be the source of the problem was actually the problem (and hence should be resolved once we passed that particular point); and obviously no music streaming was possible to pass the time (heaven forbid should we all actually talk – kidding, we did plenty of this).
The alternatives? Listen to CD’s (remember those?), albeit the 6 CD’s loaded into the 6-stack in-car stereo afforded a little less choice than the 6000 or so songs in my iTunes match library, however got the job done; the kids watched videos on laptops or listened to music actually on their phones; I could have listened to the podcasts I had downloaded, however didn’t necessarily see the need to subject the rest of the vehicle’s occupants with my own niche interests. As far as knowing what was going on and alternate routes? We did exactly as we used to do 10 years ago, and just waited it out along with the other few thousand motorists doing exactly the same
Return journey rating 6/10 (well we made it didn’t we – there has to be some score for that right?)
In summary, although we arrived home safe and sound, the above occurrence did highlight a few shortcomings of this “all connected” world we live in (I do acknowledge those who live in areas who experience these problems every single day). Much of what occurred above I admit were classic “first world problems” and did not really significantly concern me at the time, however when they affect others in your family, you do begin to consider how worthwhile these bits of technology are without 100% reliable coverage to ensure they work all of the time.
In future? Perhaps the case for a fully loaded dedicated car iPod; actually using the phone to call (go figure) my family rather than hopelessly trying to reach the iMessage server or get an SMS through; and resurrecting such classics as I-spy and car cricket.
By the way, had a great day with my great family. Hope your easter weekend was just as good (and fully connected).