Creating Ulysses Mobile

Ulysses Mobile Concept iPhone

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.

Ulysses Mobile iPhone

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.

9 Responses to “Creating Ulysses Mobile”

  1. femalebrains says:

    So, bring it on!

    I don´t care so much for design, functionality is most important.

    USB/wifi sync with the desktop app is a must.

    Actually, I do not care at all for the “non-WYSIWYG”-way of Ulysses, it is hard for me to use, but to being able to sync all my stuff easily with my iPhone would make it worth the effort for me getting used to Ulysses ;-)

    Currently, it is a pain in the *** to be in sync, either the apps lack desktop counterparts with painless file management (e.g. Notebooks, DTG) or they do not have landscape mode (like Bento) or totally lack functionallity (like Wrightroom). There will be something 3rd party out for Scrivener soon, but without any sync. Great if you could get it working soon.

  2. Marcus says:

    The syncing is very problematic. There’s just too much going on in the desktop version. We had to make some rather tough decisions here, and some users will (most likely) disagree with the choices we made.

    But at the end it all boils down to reason: “Is this possible yes/no, does it make sense yes/no, will people use it yes/no, how many and how often?”

    I believe that what we’ll release will be a good compromise and good use for most people.

    BTW: I just checked out the third-party Scrivener app you mentioned, but as far as I can tell from the mockups, it’s (no offense) exactly what we were (and still are) NOT going for. It sure looks like a great technical achievement, but our approach is vastly different. This only *starts* at not implementing a color picker…

  3. Crystal says:

    Hi, will I be able to run Ulysses on the new iPad? Thanks

    • max says:

      The iPhone version will probably run on the iPad as well. But it’s not yet clear whether we will make it on the iPhone. If we do, we’ll probably do a special iPad version as well…

      • Flex says:

        Wait, what? It’s not clear if you will make the iPhone version?

      • max says:

        Well… The problem is that our current implementation as we shipped in the Beta in November uses private API, with absolutely no way around it. And as you may know this is a blocker. Either Apple will have to lessen this constraint or release a more powerful legal API that we might use instead…

  4. Flex says:

    Aw man, this is a tragedy.

  5. don johnson says:

    Anxiously waiting for the app to appear. I do hope you continue to strive for the iPhone / iPod touch mobile version.

  6. Silus Grok says:

    I’d be happy to just have a viewer on the iPhone. I write at my desk or, occasionally on an iPad … but sometimes I just want to muse on what I’m writing — or to show it to a colleague. So I’d kill for an iPhone app that read and displayed my Ulysses project files.

    If you wanted to add a function to do voice annotations, that’d be awesome. But I can’t even imagine writing on my iPhone.