When I started work on Ulysses Mobile, I wanted to create a stand-alone writing application for the iPhone/iPod touch. It may have had basic compatibility features with its bigger desktop brother, but I didn’t think of a 1:1 port of Ulysses 2.0 to the small screen.
I wanted to create a writing application tailored to the iPhone, and not just an iPhone conversion of a desktop app.
Of course, I also thought it couldn’t be done anyway. Filters, multiple notes, projects, bookmarks, full-fledged semantic editing with markers and stuff — impossible. Add syncing to the mix alongside Ulysses’ (desktop) system of keeping open and saved versions of each document, and you have an untamable beast of complexity; and uselessness.
See, while I strongly believe people want to write larger texts on the iPhone, I also believe nobody wants to wade through 20 different screens just to annotate a certain part of a chapter on his ride home.
So I set out to create just a nicely working multi-document editor with limited semantic abilities and a single note attached to each of the documents. No syncing, and none of the more advanced an/or complicated features such as filters or multiple notepads.
I started at the document edit screen and let the application grow around it. And as I went along, revising the interface for that simplest of apps, finding homes for the few things on the feature-set, more and more useful stuff kept popping up, which just seemed to fit perfectly well not only into this new app, but also into the goal of creating a great iPhone editor AND staying true to the Ulysses way of doing things.
Interestingly enough, I found solutions for lots of things I thought wouldn’t work, because they — at first — looked inappropriate for the device. Previews are such an example, as are multiple collapsible notes.
I didn’t set out to create previews and multi-notes. Instead, it just happened that I added functionality that, by chance, just mimicked a desktop feature perfectly. Of course, these features ended up at unfamiliar places, but that’s not a problem at all. Not for me and, most importantly, not for the user.
What I have now is the complete package. Groups, Collections, Filters, Documents, multiple Notes, Project Notes, Excerpts, Counters, Status, Labels, Timestamps, and of course Inline Styles, Paragraph Styles, Markers and Bookmarks. Even Style Jumpers. And, yes, multiple projects on the iPhone with item-specific syncing via USB and WLAN.
Easy to use, optimized for the touch screens, clear and simple in design and user interaction.
So while the first idea of Ulysses Mobile was to create a fairly basic but highly optimized application, it soon grew into a more or less 1:1 adaption of Ulysses 2.0 to the small screen.
Goal accomplished by missing it for miles, he.
But… I’m just the designer, and all I have today is every single screen in PSD format, waiting to be re-imagined in code and distributed as a stable running executable.
Estimated timeframe: Roughly six months for a beta given what else we have in store.
Not viable. Not at all. At least not right now.
So while Ulysses Mobile will happen eventually — yeah, the real deal, the big, feature-complete sync-em-all thing we’re all dreaming of WILL happen — we forced a full stop on the project, sat down and re-thought the initial version of Ulysses for the small screen.
Starting once again at the editor, and letting it grow from there, ever so slightly.
Today, we froze the feature set. We might still be weeks away from a distributable beta, but we’re talking weeks, not months.
We believe that what we got will be of great use for existing users, as it will be of great use for iPhone users looking for a versatile text editor on the go. It will be a stand-alone version, as well as a companion for Ulysses 2.0.
Excuse me, 2.1.
Given the nature of iPhone development these days, I can’t disclose much more than what I already did. And I need to get back to work. There’s an icon waiting to be tapped.