The Issue with Ulysses and the iPad

Compared to our measurements, we have received like a zillion inquiries lately that asked us when an iPad version of Ulysses will be available. First things first, here’s the answer: We have no clue…

This does not sound too promising, I guess, but let me explain. We are having major technical and/or legal problems. All of Ulysses can easily be realized on the iPhone — except one part: Ulysses’ heart. Semantic text editing.

More precisely, the whole problem resolves around on single issue: Displaying styled text while editing it. We need this ability to display the styles, which is the core of our concept. Everything builds on top of it. Apple greatly improved in the iPhone OS 3.2 on what is possible for text editing, however there are still major parts missing. Currently, we see two ways we could do the coloring:

1) The hacky way: We observed that the text editing view in iPhone OS is actually a web view. A web view which edits and displays HTML. HTML which we can get access to. Access we can use to modify the structure and styling and hence add colors, etc.
The Problem: Private API. Each of the steps I just described is private API. And you know what that means. Bummer.

2) The legal way: New to iPhone OS 3.2 is an advanced text rendering engine, CoreText. This does nothing but display text, but it does it well. And there is the ability to directly grab the keyboard input.
The Problem: All the rest. We would basically have to re-write ALL user interaction! Text selection, text loupe, copy and paste, spell checking, etc. All these things are missing. Even worse, while we could eventually implement all of these, we will never be as sophisticated as Apple. I bet they used a couple of man-years to implement this stuff, no power we have. Ulysses would always feel like an alien on the iPad. If you know the level of quality we require from our products, you know that we’d never go for such a solution.

And this is the mess we are in. We have – right now – an implemented working version of the first approach. We also have an implementation of the second one – except of all the nice user interaction you’d naturally expect. I will be going to WWDC next week and talk to some guys at Apple. I hope they will have good news for me, but I’m afraid they won’t.

We would sooo love to do Ulysses on the iPad. 1) is that Apple would not let us, 2) is too much effort for producing average results. We know no other way. Let us hear what you think! We’d like to discuss this issue with you!

The Soulmen

45 Responses to “The Issue with Ulysses and the iPad”

  1. Sami says:

    As if I had it coming … I just chose a new MacBook Pro over an iPad. I’ll rather shlep the extra weight to have the original Ulysses running than settle for something that does only just barely work. But if you can find a solution in the not-so-distant future — go for it! I have just bought myself time to wait for it, but I still want it :)

  2. MacOSX Guru says:

    I was so hoping for a different answer.

    The fact is that there is no real competition in the marketplace. Scrivener is busy trying to finish version 2.0 for the Mac. SimpleNote and its clones are great for what they do but their feature list is not comparable with Ulysses. Write Room is apparently coming to the iPad, but again it seems to be in the SimpleNote mould rather than Ulysses or Scrivener.

    The iPad user is forced at this point to hack solutions together to do any writing really.

    I am hoping that you guys solve this problem. What can we do to help?

  3. chrisash says:

    It’s a sticky widget, no doubt.

    I’m a mac/iphone/ipad user who is currently evaluating where to put the dollars I’ve budgeted toward purchasing a writing suite. Ulysses is a strong contender, as are others. I keep hoping that one team will tip the scales in the form of supporting the ipad in one form or another.

    For myself, all that would be necessary is a way to access my project documents, review them, and edit them in some rudimentary way. Oh, and creating new documents. :) I am perhaps atypical, but I do not expect the full suite of Ulysses features in a mobile application. Getting new thoughts into my projects while away from my mac is really all I need.

    I appreciate the hard decisions and harder work that lies in front of you, and I hope you are able to arrive at a satisfying outcome. Keep up the good work!

  4. bashosfrog says:

    For the moment, the “professional writing on the iPad” space is wide open. I think you should grab it, semantic text editing or not. The gap won’t be there forever.

    Until you can find a workaround, why not make Ulysses iPad use rich text on the iPad, but that any formatted text gets converted to tags when exported to Ulysses Mac? That way, users can write on their iPad, and then export RTF docs to Ulysses or any other program on their Mac.

    Later, when you’ve resolved the tech issues, you can allow users to toggle “rich text” or “semantic text” editing mode on their iPad. I think you would be wise to allow the same toggle on Ulysses Mac, too. I understand you have a vision for Ulysses, but it wouldn’t be a great compromise to have the vision exist side-by-side with the accepted, understood way of doing things, and let users choose their mode.

    • max says:

      The issue with RTF is the very same with anything but plain text. Apple uses private stuff to do these things in Keynote and Pages. That’s our problem.

      • bashosfrog says:

        Personally, all I want from Ulysses iPad is to be able to set a good clear font, set line and paragraph spacings, keep associated notes, be able to email copy as text, RTF or PDF, and export to and fro from Ulysses Mac. Everything else is a bonus.

      • max says:

        I read you. However – just for a note – paragraph and line spacing already fall into that problematic category…

  5. max says:

    Thank you all for your thoughts. We also received some mails that basically said the same thing. Maybe we should…

  6. Jose says:

    I understand completely the desire to make a full implementation of Ulysses in the iPad. I would love one. But I think that most users will be happy to have a light version capable of opening Ulysses files and do some basic editing. In other words, the functionality of Simplenote but the ability to open and save Ulysses files.

  7. singleton says:

    Thanks Soulman,

    I really appreciate your sharing your position with us. It stinks, but I guess it is what it is. Not your fault and I understand Apples reasoning. Ulysses is the only app which I’ve held great hopes of seeing on the iPad.

    Again, thanks

  8. Shane says:

    I actually never use any color-coding in my projects. Never.
    What I do use Ulysses for is the multi-window feature, VERY handy for notes, etc. As well as the Documents view. And the ability to add a label or status to a given Document. I wonder how many other people use Ulysses WITHOUT color. (Labels could be done without color, it is simply the text I refer to anyway).

    Any chance you could put out a version of Ulysses without colors, but all the other fantastic project features? I frankly am hinging my decision to buy an iPad on the availability of Ulysses, so one without color I am sure would suffice! Please let me know if I could test something like that out for you on my current iPod Touch.

  9. Shane says:

    I must add, I use it because it handles Kazak Cyrillic and Arabic fine (although at the moment there is no arabic keyboard for the iPad, there is one for the iPod Touch).

  10. RickL says:

    I would urge you not to let your product development be distracted by the pad. I see the ipad as a distraction for writers. While I see its value in doing occasional research on the web, or taking an occasional note, I just dont see the ipad as useful for doing extended writing. And, once it is set up on a desk, with a stand and a keyboard, I just see it as the poor brother to a real mac or pc. The ipad is fine for playing, viewing or reading media. But, it is not really useful for creating media. Alternatively, if one has a brilliant idea when he doesnt expect it, the iphone or ipod is useful to create a note that can be sent to a mac or pc later.

    • Narziss says:

      Yes. I second this. I dont see how the iPad implementation would benefit me or many other people…although it might benefit some…

      However, should you decide to continue the project, Ulysses for iPad should begin as a simple text editor for Ulysses Mac files.

      • Matt says:

        I understand your point here, but I swing the other way (I think I’m the only person left in the world with out a mobile phone so maybe I’m a freak).

        I’m transitioning to a paperless life style (slowly, but getting there). I find the iPad a great tool to record ideas and grow them out a little. I use my my computer to finish and format them but most of the seeds are nurtured on the iPad. I do agree that the iPad isnt a device to write lengthy peices, at least I could not do it, but I believe it does have a place in writing.

        So my vote is for a stripped down version of Ulysses compatible with the iPad. Doesn’t need all the bells and whistles, just needs to function well enough for jotting down ideas etc.


  11. Ashworth says:

    Heartbreaking to read. I, like many others Im sure, have been dying to have a solid word processor on the iPad to craft my next book(s).

    And by solid word processor, I mean Ulysses. There is nothing else out there but half-baked Office clones – its a huge, empty market.

    Out of curiosity, youve talked about 3.2, but what about iOS 4?
    Have you had a look at the gold master SDK? Could any of the supposedly 1500 new APIs help when it comes to text support? Maybe make your life easier?

    I\m looking at the list of new APIs right now and they specifically mention:

    -Updates to Core Text for text layout and rendering
    -Custom Fonts

    And these are just the very obvious ones, Ill see if I can dig in a bit deeper and find something else. I mean yeah, you mentioned CoreText would require some heavy programming, but still, Im keeping my fingers crossed.


    • Ashworth says:

      And yeah, obviously so far iOS4 is only for the iPhone, but it might give some clues regarding some of the behind-the-scene changes that will come to the iPad in the fall.

  12. andyh says:

    Any results from the WWDC? I’m looking forward to hearing any good news!

    • max says:

      Well, there were no bad news. Actually as iOS is still under NDA, I cannot go into too much detail. But there is nothing that changed the position. I talked to a lot of Apple guys and made them very clear what and why we needed it. They will probably add the features we need is the next major version, but that’s just an educated guess.

      In the meantime, we read you all. And we are seriously considering doing an iPad version w/o highlighting. There is still a giant amount of work left for us, if we want to port at least the most important ulysses features, as well as syncing. My head is spinning, be assured of that!

      • Sven says:

        Sorry, for bumping in here.

        I’m looking for a decent writing software which is, or at least will be, available on all the plattforms that I’m using. Can I assume that an iPad version is on the way? That would make decision for a Ulysses a LOT easier ;-)

      • max says:

        Wait no longer than a few hours to see what we are working on else. However, there won’t be an iPad version of Ulysses in any foreseeable future — for the reasons mentioned above.

  13. jA says:

    I think there’s a benefit in having semantic text editing even if it doesn’t show styles while editing, only while viewing.

    MyWiki is an app that does exactly that.

  14. Sami says:

    Bummer: I just updated to iOS 4, and now Ulysses crashes as soon as I open a document (I can still browse the project list or export to Mail).

    • max says:

      Yep, that’s a private API that broke. Not tooo much of a big deal to fix it, or at least to make it no longer crash. But that’s why Apple banns usage of private API – they don’t want apps that break and won’t be fixed by the developer. (Apps may break anyways – but far less) Send me an email and I might have a fix for you…

    • Shane says:

      What? There IS a version of Ulysses running on an iPad, Touch, or something? What is Sami talking about? His desktop version of Ulysses is crashing because of an iOS update? If there IS a “portable” version, please, share, I’d love to try it.

  15. Sven says:

    i would like to Know what is the result of you discussion with Apple.

    i think that the iPad offers your a Big Chance. in the future i think we will more and more work with ipads or similar. i’m offten on Business Trip so i don’t like to take each Time my MacBook pro with me. due to weight and value That’s Why i switched to iPad. i have it any Time with me. and the ideas comes every Time . so it would Be Phantastin to have ulysses each Time with me. also for Students it is much easier to take the iPad arround As a MacBook . i don’t think that the ulysses mobil Must have really every Funktion of the Main program. the Most important is to catch the idea . typos can Be corrected later After Sync with the Mac.

    send from iphone

    • Marcus says:

      I’m afraid that any sort of “Ulysses on iPad” will not be happening in the near future. There are so many points to this… but especially with syncing. See, as long as there’s no feature parity between desktop and mobile, any sync operation would mean that you’d risk losing information (i.e. markers, RTF styles in the notes etc.).

      Then there’s the problem of committing to Apple and its AppStore.

      See, if we would create a sync between desktop and mobile, we would literally be stuck with what the iPad has to offer and what Apple allows for the future. We would always have to check if our next desktop feature could be made available on the iPad, and if not, we would either have to trash the idea or risk outdating the mobile app.

      And since the AppStore doesn’t allow the availability of different versions, we would have to ensure that every future mobile app would work with every (old) desktop version, starting back to when we first introduced syncing.

      Neither version could evolve drastically, or we would have to force our users into updating the desktop. It’s just not feasible.

      So the only option would be to import/export documents; just plain text on the iPad maybe, and then somehow transfer it back and forth. You couldn’t sync, but you could continue on the desktop and/or continue on the iPad, even if somewhat limited.

      But you wouldn’t need a dedicated “Ulysses mobile” for that. Any iPad text editor with import/export would do, even if it would just let you copy/paste to and from

      As a matter of fact, we have just announced Daedalus Touch. This will NOT sync to Ulysses, and right now there are no plans to offer any sort of automated import/export. But Daedalus’ files wil be plain text files, and as such can be imported to Ulysses just fine.

      So, the scenario you describe — catch ideas on the go, finish them in Ulysses –, yeah, we’ll offer something for that.

      Just don’t expect Daedalus to be anything like Ulysses. For the most part, it will be a plain, simple text editor.

      • Sami says:

        Sigh – so I can kick the (since iOS4 crashing-on-launch) beta from the iPhone.
        To make the Deadalus files available for import to Ulysses requires at least some sort of sync between iPad and Mac. Will you do this via web like Simplenote, or will there be some sort of companion app on the Mac?

      • max says:

        There will be a web- and a desktop sync. But not our own. It’ll be some widely spread sync provided by a big company ;)

      • Marcus says:

        No companion app. It will be a web service, like Dropbox, and of course you can email your texts, etc.

  16. P says:

    I have a reverse request – when will Daedalus be available for Mac OS?

    • Max Seelemann says:

      All I can say is that … It might happen that we have to announce something in the nearer future… ;)

      • P says:

        That’s great! How soon can we expect it? I love your idea of paper stacks! Will it be available for Snow Leopard users too?

      • Max Seelemann says:

        No Snow Leopard, unfortunately. Everything new we do will be fine-tuned for Lion. And no time plan yet…

  17. P says:

    That’s a pity. I’ve decided to opt out of Lion for the moment. From a writer’s point of view, I’m told that Lion is problematic. (Scrollbars disappear, etc.)

  18. Eric says:

    Yes, that makes complete sense, and yes, that isn’t the answer most of us were looking for. In the spirit of realistic discussion, then, here’s a response that you’re probably not going to like either:

    Semantic text editing can go, or be severely compromised. I’m an academic and short-form creative writer who puts out ~8,000 words a month, and constantly has far larger projects simmering in the back. Ulysses is indispensable to my process, to the point that I continue to carry around my laptop (even when the ipad with a bt keyboard is a far better tool) solely because of it. What matters most about it, however, what keeps me tethered, is primarily:
    – [relatively] Format-free composition, freeing the perfectionist in me to make words, not agonize over presentation.
    – Tabbing within a single project, allowing ideas to explode, free-associate, and re-condense, all without giving my eyes the impression of an endless scrolling list of fragments.
    – Basic comment functionality on the side, in order to manage my meandering, looping trains of thought.

    Yes, Semantic editing is key in turning this process finally into a product, but perhaps there’s a half measure here. Just as desktops (or laptops) replaced my desk, the Ipad fills a beefed-up notepad spot. It might not be called Ulysses, but I would pay gladly for an ipad tool for rangy and freeform short-piece composition. “Dubliners,” perhaps?

  19. Henning Larsen says:

    I was hoping to find some good news here at the end of this comment tread, but can’t really say that I did …

    I use Ulysses for writing articles and really like the tabbing/project approach. Like everybody else, I really miss the ability to open my projects on my iPad. I understand that there are very good reasons for this never to happen, which is sad.

    Having read most of this discussion, i can’t find any mention of the following idea, but, of course, I might have overlooked it.

    OK – syncing is crucial, but not possible today. So – why not make a dropbox, sort of, a pane in Ulysses where you can cut and paste your text and sync this directly with iCloud or something else. This could then be opened in a text editor, directly from iCloud, when you are on the iPad, and then, when you are back at your computer, automagically have your edited text from the iPad back in the same pane. Then it’s cut and paste time, again, and formating, for those who use that, it’s not important to me. Maybe the Notes pane could be used?

    Of course, this could be done by cut&paste between apps. But it would be much easier to have it directly available inside Ulysses. And, of course, in the same pane I should be able to open any text directly from iCloud, text that I wrote somewhere else, on the iPad, iPhone, at my work computer, anywhere, and then use it in Ulysses.

    What I am suggesting is a direct, simplified connection to the cloud, but no syncing of the whole project, just an easy way to send unformated text between devices.

    The point is, it’s the text that’s the most important thing!

  20. Matt says:

    The good news is right here:

    It syncs via iCloud with Ulysses 3, which should be available from the app store in the next few days. It’s the OSX/iOS combination many of us have been waiting for.

  21. Henning Larsen says:

    Really? In the next few days? I know the Soulmen are hard at work, or so it’s claimed to be in their Ulysses 3 devblog at
    But there’s no mention there, as far as I can see, of an imminent release of Ulysses 3?
    That would be great news!

    Anyway, yes, I know about Daedalus, but I want something that syncs directly between all my devices, so I’ve been waiting for Ulysses and not even tested Daedalus. Maybe I should!
    Noen of the writing apps that I’ve testet on the iPad does the trick, anyway. I’m using Evernote for everything mobile these days, or iA Writer, which syncs beautifully, but it’s a bit too stripped down on the desktop. So there’s a bit of cut and paste going on.

  22. Henning Larsen says:

    Oooo …
    Guess you’ll start bragging soon, then. :D