Software & Apps

Major New Ulysses Release

As you probably know if you follow this blog, I am a massive fan of the writing application Ulysses (yes they are a sponsor but I was using it for several years before that). I think every post that has appeared on The Mac Quad has started in Ulysses.

Well, the best has just got better. A major new release hit the usual outlets on 28th May with some great new features. These new features include:

Daily Goals and Deadlines (img.1), users can now specify the number of characters or words they aim to write on a daily basis. A circular symbol visualises the progress in relation to this goal and is reset every morning. Daily goals are not the only upgrade to Ulysses’ existing goal feature. While users were always able to set the desired length or reading time of a text and track their progress towards its achievement, they can now also set a deadline. Ulysses will then calculate the number of words that need to be written per day in order to finish the project in time. I think the deadline feature will be a welcome addition for myself, being the only member of The Mac Quad and The Mac Quadcast team I could occasionally do with somebody else giving me a prod in the right direction.

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Coloured Keywords (img.2), keywords can be used to classify and filter texts stored in the Ulysses library — for example, I could assign the keyword “Homepod” to text I've written about Apple’s new device. In the new version, keywords can be assigned a dedicated colour, making them easier to spot and distinguish in the library. The available colour selection covers the seven colours of the spectrum and a light grey. 

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Revamped Code Blocks With Syntax Highlighting (img.3), for the coders out there. When writing manuals or documentation, technical writers often need to add code examples, and Ulysses has always featured a dedicated code block markup tag. In the new version, the addition and handling of code blocks are greatly improved, and they’re now easier to distinguish in the editor. Also, if a programming language is indicated, code blocks can now display syntax highlighting in the editor and when exported. These can import from, and export to GitHub style fenced code blocks. This is the feature that I possibly may not make use of, my coding attempts floundered back in the days when Basic was modern!

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There’s more which you can find out about in the New Features section of the Ulysses website. As I previously said I think the best just got better.


Check iPhone Battery Health With iMazing

With recent news about Apple throttling the speed on older iPhones with batteries that are degraded and the subsequent announcement that they have put in place a program to replace any battery in an iPhone 6 or later that requires it for £25.00 instead of £79.00 (see Apple’s Message) it is probably the appropriate time to check your iPhone’s battery health.

There are not, in my view, any reliable apps installable on iOS that will show the health of the battery due to the fact Apple does not make this information available to owners or third party apps. However, there is a great program that works on Mac and PC that can give this information, it is iMazing, which I have been using for several years.

The program iMazing (https://imazing.com) is £34.99 for a single machine license but offers so much more than just checking an iPhone’s battery. Other features include copying media between your iOS devices and your Mac or PC, app management (not possible in the latest version of iTunes), backup your iOS device and selectively restore information for specific apps, save and browse also print your iPhone messages, access the file system on your iOS device and much more.

The primary focus of this post is check the battery health of the iPhone and if you choose to use iMazing the process extremely quick and easy.

How To
Once iMazing is purchased and installed, launch it and plug your iPhone into your Mac or PC via the Lightning to USB cable, the window displayed is relevant to your individual OS device. Now click on the battery icon in the lower right of this window (img.1).

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The battery information is then shown in a pop up window which can be scrolled to show further battery statistics (img.2).

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Battery health is clearly shown and further down the number of charge cycles is displayed, which is a good indication whether your battery is becoming degraded, the average life of an iPhone battery is 400 - 500 charge cycles.

This will give a good indication if you need to take your iPhone in and request a battery replacement under the £25.00 program.

Ulysses

Website: Ulysses

Price: $39.99 (£35.99) (Billed Annually) $4.99 (£4.49) (Billed Monthly)

Free Trial: Yes (14 Days)

There has been a lot of discussion about the writing application Ulysses recently, very little of it has been about the app itself but instead focusing on the fact that the developer has moved the application (both macOS and iOS) to a subscription model of payment instead of the one-off purchase that it has been up until the present. I must admit I am one of those who has entered into this discussion and is opposed to such applications opting for this payment model. However, having looked at several other options of a minimalist markup text editor I have come to the conclusion that the yearly subscription of $29.99 (for existing owners of both applications) is a price worth paying for one of the best markup text editors on the market for Mac and iOS.

Some basic users may be asking why would I need a text editor with markup when I have many word processors available to me on my system, also, what is markup anyway? Firstly, markup is a form of computer text language that can show on screen actions such as Bold, Underline and Italics without adding ridiculous amounts of script in the background, this enables writers to enter their text and add their basic formatting but also enables them to export the text to whichever destination they want to without having to worry about underlying script being added. Secondly, a text editor such as Ulysses, Byword or IA writer give a distraction free environment for writing while maintaining some features of a word processor that writers like or require such as word counts and other such stats about their document.

I have been using Ulysses for a couple of years now but when it moved to a subscription model I searched for a replacement, however, I quickly realised that Ulysses had become my preferred writing tool and despite my aversion to subscription models the yearly payment was going to be an essential expenditure. So what makes Ulysses such a good writing tool?

On the initial launch of the application, a section in the library is displayed called introduction which gives a basic overview of how to use Ulysses including First Steps, an introduction to Markup, the finer details of using Ulysses and also some shortcuts and tips (img.1). This introduction is very helpful to new users of markup and basic text editors but once the introduction has been mastered it can be turned off and hidden in the application’s preferences. Ulysses gives the user a library pane where the organisation of writing projects is accomplished, writing projects can either be saved on the Mac or iOS device solely or in the cloud via iCloud syncing (Dropbox is available via the external folders option), iCloud is obviously the best option if you wish to access your documents across all Apple devices. The library allows nested folder structures and also, the nice touch of, user selectable icons for each level of the nested structure. The next pane that is available to the user is where your sheets of text are kept this is named the article pane (img.2), the sheets that are shown here are dependent on what is selected in the library, if a top-level folder is selected everything in the lower levels will be shown, however, if one of the bottom level folders is selected only the sheets in the lower level folder will be displayed, this offers the file structure that many users are used to. The final pane is the editing pane where the entry of text takes place and where users will spend most of their time.

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The first two panes can be hidden just leaving the editing pane for distraction free writing (img.3), other features available in the editing pane are typewriter mode (which keeps the text at a set level on the screen so the text entered only scrolls upwards), Dark Mode which inverts black to white and vice versa on the screen making writing at night much easier, there is also a Page Mode which gives borders to the page, once again enabling distraction free writing. Ulysses has autosave which means you will never lose text due to a power cut, crash or if the application is quit for some reason. As noted above an icon in the toolbar gives access to a number of stats about the document currently being edited including number of characters (with and without spaces) and number of words, paragraphs and pages. Another icon gives quick access to the markup commands while there is also an attachment icon that allows images etc. to be placed within the text (as with all markup text editors the images do not display in the editing pane but can be seen via a preview or export). Web links can also be added and once again show via a preview or export. This brings us to the share icon where a preview of the document can be seen in HTML, PDF, EPUB and several more file formats, exports can also be executed from the share icon.

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In the application preferences, the look of the entire application can be set to the user’s desired preferences, while Ulysses offers predefined themes and access to users uploaded themes on their website. The application preferences also allows accounts from WordPress and Medium to be added so that documents can be published directly to them. Finally, there is an option to automatically have Ulysses backup the user’s library to a destination of their choice.

The subscription model payment could be a problem to some people, I myself feel that too many applications are moving to this model and users have to be much more selective as to which applications they use and subscribe to, this, could in the long run, lead to a decline in the number of people using a specific application, however, I do realise that developers must find ways of making their hard work in developing and updating good applications give them a decent income. Ulysses is a writing application that I now find indispensable and worth the yearly subscription.

A 14-day free trial is available and the subscription cost is $4.99 per month or $39.99 on a yearly basis, there are lifetime discounts for owners of the stand-alone purchased applications that were available prior to the subscription plans being introduced. A subscription gives the user access to both the macOS application and the iOS app.

I feel that Ulysses is probably the best application in this area, the markup text editing application field.

Todoist

Website: Todoist

Price: Basic Free - Premium $28.99 per year

Task management is a subject that consumes many column inches in technology blogs and numerous minutes in Mac podcasts. The general consensus being that OmniFocus is the go to application for all task management needs. I however, have come to a different conclusion. Yes, I think that OmniFocus is an amazing piece of software for major project management (I will always open it up if I have a big project I am working on) but I find it quite unwieldy for basic day to day tasks, to do lists, shopping lists, etc. Reminders is great for shopping lists but a basic feature, repeating events, is not included. Therefore, I have been looking for an application to fill this middle ground and is where Todoist more than excels. 

At a basic level Todoist is a to do list application with all the features you would expect, such as the ability to add projects and then add tasks within those project, add dates, add times and have notifications but there are several things that make Todoist stand out. The first thing that grabbed me was the look of the application, it is completely integrated with the look and feel of macOS Sierra and at first glance looks basic and unintimidating (an intimidating look is an issue many people have with OmniFocus) but this friendly user interface belies vast power underneath the hood which becomes apparent once the user begins to dig deeper. After the initial download from the Mac App Store there is a brief registration process primarily to enable sync of your tasks between multiple devices and platforms, then you are ready to go without spending anything, yes the basic applications and service is free. 

As stated previously I was looking for a task management application for day to day events, so as a technology geek I like to charge up my external batteries once a month to make sure I'm not caught with a flat battery while out and about, so I wanted a monthly recurring task to remember to do this. The Todoist interface made this simple, I added a Technology project and then clicked one button within the project to add a task, typed the description of the task and then, a feature I love, in natural language added when it should be a task e.g. Every month starting on 4th June 2015 and my recurring task was added. I now have separate projects for my different recurring tasks as well a To Do project in order to add one off tasks. These tasks can be added, completed, changed around and altered anywhere as Todoist has apps and access across multiple platforms, I have used the Mac App, the iOS App and the browser interface and the syncing between them has been without a hitch, there is also an Apple Watch App.

There is much more to this application and service than basic task management though. For a subscription of $28.99 per year numerous additions are opened up. The ability to collaborate on shared projects and tasks with up to 25 family members, friends or work colleagues, to send tasks to your task inbox via an email address, to add files and notes to tasks, to add labels and filters to your tasks and projects as well as have reminders (including location based). 

For Mac and iOS users there is the benefit of a today widget on both and notifications so that tasks are not easily missed.

My search began looking for a middle of the road task management application but what I found in Todoist was an extremely powerful application/service which is simple and unintimidating to use, is reliable and looks great. What more could anybody want from a task management system.

TextExpander

Website: TextExpander

Price: $3.33 Month (Billed Annually) $4.16 Month (Billed Monthly)

Free Trial: Yes (30 Days)

TextExpander is a utility that, in my view, is a must have for any Mac user who enters text on a regular basis, so effectively every Mac user.

TextExpander works in the background and watches keystrokes for pre-defined abbreviations and extends these abbreviated keystrokes into longer words, phrases, paragraphs or even entire  letters with fill-ins so a letter template can be quickly customised with a few dropdown choices. 

When TextExpander is initially launched it will walk through creating some basic snippets e.g. a snippet for an email address by asking the user to type in their email address and then a keyboard abbreviation for this (my abbreviations always start with x, so my email abbreviation is ‘xem’) once this walk through is completed the snippets can be used anywhere (text editors, web forms, spreadsheets, etc.). With my email example whenever I need to type my email address I just type ‘xem’ and my complete email address appears. This is just a basic snippet and even this basic use will save a great deal of time but imagine if there is a sentence or paragraph that has to be entered on many occasions over time, just write it once, give it an abbreviation in TextExpander and see it appear with just a few keystrokes. 

As well as saving time TextExpander can help with commonly mistyped words. If a user has a word that they misspell in the same way on a regular basis then they can add the misspelling as the abbreviation and then add the correct spelling as text triggered, therefore, every time the misspelling is entered it will be replace with the correct spelling by TextExpander. 

There are many uses for TextExpander adding email signatures, adding salutations quickly on a letter, quickly filling out forms on a website or adding the date to a file name. Also, as I have already stated advanced features include creating entire forms with customisable drop down fields available from one short abbreviation.

Other great features include, TextExpander suggesting snippets from phrases you habitually type, reminding you of missed opportunities to use your snippets and the ability to search and expand snippets in the menu bar application.

TextExpander is now a subscription service, which enables sync across all of your devices (including Windows) and sharing of snippets.  Also, there are more immediate updates due to the fact they no longer have to be agreed by Apple in the App Store.

For any Mac user TextExpander will speed up text entry to unbelievable levels. TextExpander is a great application and is worth every penny. There is a free trial version available on Smile Software’s website, there will be no looking back once TextExpander is installed. 

Bartender

Website: Bartender

Price: $15.00

Free Trial: Yes (4 Weeks)

Bartender is a must have menu bar utility for anybody who uses a laptop and finds that screen real-estate is at a premium.  If you use even a few menu bar utilities inevitably, if you have a 13 inch MacBook Pro, like myself the icons for those utilities will disappear behind the menu options for the program you are using rendering the utilities you have invested your hard earned cash into completely inaccessible and useless.

Bartender solves the problem of inaccessible menu bar utilities.  It gives you a second row of icons that is viewed and used by clicking on the bartender icon.  The user chooses which utilities they put in this second row from within the bartender preferences and it can include the macOS default menu bar apps such as the Wi-Fi Utility and The Bluetooth Utility.

I keep my least used utilities in there such as the afore mentioned Bluetooth Utility, Alfred (always accessible via a keyboard shortcut), PopClip and more.  If you have Dropbox or other cloud services enabled but wish to know when they are updating you can still keep them in the bartender row but use a setting in the bartender preferences to have them briefly display in the main menu bar when they update.

As stated above this is a must have app for everyone with limited screen real-estate but it is extremely useful on larger screens.  I also use it on my 27 inch iMac to hide menu bar icons that I only rarely need to access, maybe I’m a little too obsessive with my desktop being tidy and efficient!

Bartender is a great menu bar app and at £11.92 UK or $15.00 US is a valuable addition to anybody’s Mac.