Ulysses for iPad: The go-to text editor for long form writing

Ulysses has long been a staple on the Mac, especially when it comes to long form writing, and today Ulysses comes to the iPad. I've been using Ulysses exclusively on my iPad Air 2 for the past week in the place of my regular text editing app. Complete with iCloud sync, Markdown support, and a beautiful 3 pane interface, Ulysses feels right at home on the iPad.

The good

  • Lots of export options including ePub, HTML, PDF, and plain text
  • Supports iCloud Drive and iCloud sync
  • Great keyboard shortcut support (physical hardware keyboards)
  • Shortcut bar is functional and has everything you need
  • Markdown support is extensive
  • Three paned view lets you easily drill down and back out of files
  • Offers tons of versatility and organization options
  • Ulysses for Mac also updated with brand new look and Yosemite design

The bad

  • iCloud sync is a little finicky, hopefully that'll be addressed quickly

Ulysses for iPad: The text editor you've been waiting for!

Writing on iPads with the help of a good keyboard case is becoming more and more common. There's nothing better than carrying only an iPad under my arm to the coffee shop and hammering out a ton of writing. The iPad creates a distraction free writing environment that I can control. It's what I love about it.

Quite recently I started work on my first iBook. I quickly found myself realizing that my current go-to Markdown app for iPad — Byword for those curious — wasn't going to cut it. I couldn't sort and organize my thoughts in any logical way. This is the problem I kept running into with many Markdown apps that supported both Mac and iPad.

I had used Ulysses on my Mac in the past and found it to be the most logical solution for long form writing for many reasons, the main one being that the hierarchy and organizational structure was easy to use and just made sense. So I started my book there. And like an animal, I wrote chapters on my iPad in Byword and then pasted them in Ulysses, which is where my thought process lived.

Enter Ulysses for iPad.

The iPad version brings the same Markdown and formatting support its older Mac sibling offers. My favorite feature of Ulysses for Mac is the three paned layout because of how easy it makes finding and navigating through documents. I was happy to see this same functionality was brought to the iPad version. Just swipe left or right off the side of the screen to drill in and out of documents.

Ulysses for iPad also supports keyboard shortcuts if you're using a paired keyboard. I have yet to find one that I couldn't use. For example, you can hit command + n on your keyboard case in order to quickly start a brand new document in your current directory, just like you can on the Mac version. Obviously whatever keyboard case you're using has to support these functions. If it does, you'll be good to go with Ulysses.

Ulysses for iPad: The text editor you've been waiting for!

The shortcut bar in Ulysses for iPad either appears above the on-screen keyboard or along the bottom of the screen if you're using an external keyboard. You have access to all the most common shortcuts you may want to use, both regular text formatting and Markdown. In terms of Markdown support, Ulysses makes a quick job of inserting any kind of media you'd need, from links to videos and images. Tapping on the character count in the quick bar gives you even more details about what you've typed — word, character, sentence, etc. Tapping on any of them lets you toggle which statistic you see in the quick bar.

I want to talk for a second about iCloud sync as well. Prior to Ulysses for iPad, Ulysses for Mac worked fairly well with Daedalus Touch. You can continue to use that syncing ecosystem if you choose, or use both. I will note that iCloud sync with Ulysses is currently a little odd at times. For example, sometimes I create a file on iPad and it doesn't seem to want to sync without a hard restart of the app. I've experienced the same behavior on the Mac as well. Anyone who uses iCloud sync regularly may be made slightly nervous by this, and rightly so. Hopefully these things can easily and quickly be addressed with an update.

Good news for current Ulysses for Mac users too. The Mac version has also been updated to version 2.0 and brings with it an all new look for Yosemite, a beautiful new dark mode, and tons more. Ulysses on the Mac was a great writing experience before. Now it's an even better one.

The bottom line

Ulysses for iPad: The text editor you've been waiting for!

I've been on the hunt for a text editor that does it all for a long time. Elaborating further, these are the features I've long desired in a writing app:

  • Native support for both iPad and Mac
  • Good sync support (Dropbox or iCloud)
  • Markdown support
  • Support for external keyboard shortcuts for iPad
  • An organizational structure that lets me get and stay organized
  • Makes sense for short tasks and for long form writing

Ulysses as a whole checks off almost every box on my list. Ulysses for iPad and Mac let me write how I need to and both adapt to suit my needs, not the other way around. That's far more important to me than having every single feature possible jammed into a text editing app.

If you're looking for a text editor for iPad that can evolve as your writing needs do, give Ulysses for iPad a try. You'll be glad you did.

iMore senior editor from 2011 to 2015.

  • Which keyboard case are you using currently?
  • Clam Case Pro
  • For anyone that is using Ulysses on the Mac- they just pushed out an update. Part of the update changed the name from Ulysses III (v 1.2) to Ulysses (v 2.0).
  • Yep I mentioned the update in my review. A separate review is coming tomorrow. Sent from the iMore App
  • It was more a comment on the confusing numbering scheme changes.
  • Nice article but I disagree completely with the assertion that this is "good for long form writing." In fact it's good for long-form, web-based, technology writing only. It's focus is on things like HTML export and markdown support, none of which are needed by any "serious writer" that doesn't write for the web exclusively or isn't involved in the technology field. Long form writers of ACADEMIC documents would be far better served by Mellel for instance. Long form NOVEL writers would be far better served by Apple's Pages (if they ever put the features back) or Word. Long form SCREEN-WRITERS would be better served by Final Draft, etc. etc. It's just semantics in a way, but you guys should be more careful with your wording IMO. This is far from the only article I've read here that takes "writing" to mean only, "the kind of writing that we do here." Get out of that bubble and think about your audience more! :-)
  • And I completely disagree with you. Ulysses exports in ePub, PDF, and other formats as well. I can also extract plain text, scrub out markdown, etc and easily get it to Pages. And I would NEVER recommend pages for ANY long form writing on the iPad to be honest.
    I'm not "in a bubble" as you say. Sent from the iMore App
  • The OP mentioned "academic writers". Ulysses is great, but iBook and PDF are not acceptable formats for academic writers.
  • In our university, PDF is the most frequently used format in academic life. Whenever we send any articles, notes, handouts, theses, books etc. to anyone incl. students, colleagues etc. – PDF is the usual format to do so. Surely ePub is not commonly used; but anyone can have the idea to publish an article also in this format. I have just imported my dissertation draft from MS Word to Ulysses and finalize my thesis on an iPad with Ulysses. And I love it, except that it cannot handle tables. Apart from this, in my opinion, it is a very good software for academic writing.
  • And I'm not sure you even read my review given your comment. I'm writing an iBook as well, so I'm far from talking about simple article writing. Sent from the iMore App
  • I do agree that there are different forms of writing. And some do indeed require more sophisticated tools, even more sophisticated than Mellel or (to some degree) MS Word. Some academic or technical writing will require FrameMaker, Tex/Latex, or some (customer, eventually) XML- or SGML-based authoring tool. Need tons of formulas, reliable and flexible running headers, multi-format citations, multiple content-tables (like table of figures, chapter tocs etc.), full control about index generation, conditional output and so on... some 100% of OS X and 100% plus of iOS writing tools are out. On iOS that is not really a problem, as the devices are not meant or suitable for such tasks anyhow. The absence of truly professional editors on the Mac is a bigger problem. Unless you want to dive into Latex, running FrameMaker or some XML editor in Windows or Solaris is about the only choice. But then, we talk about a tiny fraction of long form documents here. Most fiction, and even most more casual non-fiction writing does not require tools like that at all. As a matter of fact, most writing does not require much formatting at all. Most publishers demand plain text files, or minimum markup only. Markdown or HTML are plenty sufficient for that, and so are tools like Ulysses or Scrivener. Actually, I wrote my last project report (some 1,400 pages) exclusively in Byword on the iPad and just added some graphics and tables in InDesign at the very end. Having Ulysses available on both platforms now is a huge step forward. As much as I love Byword, its lack of organizational functionality makes it more suitable for shorter stuff.
  • Correction. Of course 'customer, eventually' should read 'custom, eventually'... Having auto-complete issues I guess.
  • Thanks for the review. I was waiting for that for a long time. I did try the Ulysses III demo from their website quite some time ago, liked it a lot, but never bought it because of the lack of an iPad version. (I did try Daedalus and hated it.) I stood with Byword on both platforms, hoping for this day to come. Of course, I immediately bought the OS X and iPad versions when the notification about your article popped up on my iPhone earlier today. Fully agree with your findings. Worth every penny and the new gold standard for writing on the iPad.
  • How does it compare to / differ from Editorial?
  • Editorial's standout features are sophisticated workflows, including the creation of custom GUIs for them and, assuming one wants that, support for the TaskPaper checklist format. Ulysses does not have either. Editorial does not have any means to manage and publish collections of documents, which is one of Ulysses' core strength. It, of course, does not have an OS X application. As long as you are only dealing with notes and other brief stuff, that should not be too much of a problem, as there are plenty of Markdown and plain text editors that handle the very same formats and access the same cloud services. If you need organization and management functionality across devices, you will not find any (beyond using folder structures and remembering where your stuff is). IMHO, they both have their purpose, Editorial is more the swiss-army knife and Ulysses is more the classical authoring environment. Some people might even find it valuable to use both.
  • Editorial syncs with Dropbox, Ulysses only syncs with iCloud.