in Opinion

Yesterday I got an email from Apple telling me that my subscription for Ulysses was about to renew. That meant that it’s almost been a year since Ulysses switched their pricing model to be a subscription plan instead of a single payment. As such I thought It would be a good idea to review how Ulysses has changed over time and to see whether it was a good investment of money.

What is Ulysses?

Ulysses is a writing app that has a markdown like interface. It’s not actually markdown as it does a few things like hide links rather than showing them in text, but it also includes rich text previews. While there are many markdown writing apps, Ulysses has some powerful publishing features and organisation tools. It is often compared with Scrivener as it has some similar features, however Ulysses feels more modern to me and simpler too.

The key publishing features come in

  • Publishing to¬†WordPress and Medium websites
  • Publishing PDFs
  • Publishing ePub ebooks.

The simplicity of these tools make it a great choice for writers, especially those who work online.

As soon as Ulysses put out an iOS app, I bought it. It quickly became my default writing app and so when they moved to a subscription last year, I decided to put down the cash (and yet keep the original app installed on my iPad…just in case).

How Ulysses has changed over the last year

In the last year Ulysses has come out with two major updates. Ulysses 12 and 13, let’s go over the new features they contained.

Ulysses 12

Ulysses 12 saw the introduction of image previews within pages. This is great for seeing what photo or graphic is where in your document (in case you forgot how you named them). Admittedly you could do this in the preview screen, still it is a feature I use all the time.

The other key feature was drag and drop, this made moving sheets around much easier in docs (though it can sometimes be triggered accidentally which is a bit annoying.)

Ulysses 13

Ulysses 13 saw a trio of updates including improvements to writing goals and the code blocks and the great coloured keywords.

Writing goals added the ability to add a daily writing goal (perfect for NaNoWriMo or similar writing challenges) PLUS you can set deadlines along with word counts on your sheets. This is great for me when I know I have a certain word count for a certain day to get done.

To be honest code blocks don’t affect me too much but I’m sure this is great for technical writers. They’ve been improved a lot AND you have syntax highlighting in over 40 programming languages.

The final touch of coloured keywords is really useful when you have a tone of keywords in your docs. It much easier to sort through them and find the ones you need. At a glance you can see items broken up into different themes. For an author, you could have you characters in one colour and then you can quickly move your eyes to see them. For a blogger, you can have certain topics grouped together or a status keyword that shows where you are in your process.

oh and one final thing, image previews can now be full colour as well.

So was the subscription worth it

In terms of feature upgrades, there’s certainly been some useful new features for me but I think the real value in the subscription is different. I only bought the iOS version and not the Mac version. Since then I have downloaded and used the Mac version which previously cost $45, more than one year of the subscription. Admittedly, I may well have not used the mac app if I couldn’t AND I definitely prefer writing on the iPad but it is nice to have the option.

Even more importantly, I can trust Ulysses to be there in the future.

I used to love Editorial. Federicco Viticci’s review of the app was the thing that got me to shift my writing to the iPad. I found it easier than using a computer at the time. But since then it has languished and looks like it is only a matter of time till it is dropped. I could still use Editorial (which I spent a fraction of the money on) admittedly without the ePub export and similar features, but I don’t want to invest in something that may go away.

In addition, since then, multitasking, drag and drop AND workflow have meant that those things that I could only do in Editorial have become accessible in more places.

So is the Ulysses subscription worth it?

Obviously, I’d rather spend less money, it’s good finances to not spend money when you don’t have to, yet I want my tools that I use everyday to always be there and so I will certainly keep my subscription around.

You may not get as much value out of ulysses or find these functions to be important for you. That’s fine, don’t get the subscription. But if there is an app you love, you should be concerned if their finance model doesn’t look sustainable. I’m glad Ulysses is.

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