A little over two years ago I moved to using markdown for the majority of my writing. For those who don't know, Markdown is a light-weight markup format which uses plain text for it's files – if you're interested in learning more about how to use this amazing tool, follow this link. For me, the brilliance of Markdown is two-fold:
- The markup us easily read even if it hasn't been converted to any other format.
- Writers can add the markup with extreme speed, using simple characters.
Markdown is usable with any plain text editor, but where it really shines is when it's paired with an editor which understands the markdown syntax and convert the markup to other formats such as HTML or PDF. I've used several such editors in my time with markdown, but for the last six months I've been using perhaps the most amazing editor I've ever had at my disposal. It's Editorial by OMZ software. Recently, OMZ released the universal iOS version of this app, and I thought it was an appropriate time to explore it's features.
At it's core, Editorial is a plain text editor which supports both plain text and markdown files. This is a bit of a strange distinction, as a markdown file is a plain text file – the only difference between them, according to Editorial, is whether or not files are created with a .txt or .md file extension1. The file extension seems to be the trigger for the markdown preview features of the editor window. These features change the look of editor window text to match the markup without having to preview a conversion to HTML. While markdown preview is not necessary given markdown's emphasis on human-readability, it's a nice feature to have.
Editorial's keyboard has an extended row which adds keys for common markdown characters. This saves writers from having to navigate different keyboard modes when typing on the virtual keyboard.
In older versions of Editorial users had to tap on the document title to get access to a word count. Starting with version 1.1, an unobtrusive persistent word count can be enabled in the settings. As I rely heavily on my word count who I'm writing, I really appreciate this feature.
Swiping from right to left brings out a panel which accesses preview, console, help, and browser modes. These modes are basically self-explanatory – browser mode is wonderful for doing research on the web and copying text into a document without leaving the app, help mode contains web-based documentation for the app, console mode opens a scratch pad which is useful for storing multiple bits of information, and preview mode shows what the markdown syntax looks like when converted to HTML.
Swiping from right to left opens up a file browser panel with modes to list both local storage and files synced through dropbox. From the bottom of this panel new documents can be created by tapping on the document icon found in the lower left corner. Tapping on the edit button in the upper right of the panel allows documents to be moved or deleted, and new folders to be created.
As was stated above, tapping on the title of an open document reveals the current word and character counts of the file. Additionally, a dropbox icon is present which can be tapped to access different document versions and to copy the dropbox link for sharing2. To the right of this panel an edit icon allows the file to be renamed. This includes the file extension – so .txt files can be renamed with the .md extension, activating the editor preview features. Finally, the headings currently used in the document are listed in this panel – though, sadly, they are not nested according to level. Tapping on these titles causes the document to jump to that location.
While Editorial has an incredible amount of basic features, it separates from the competition in the advanced feature arena.
Editorial's greatest power comes through it's incredible scripting features. The app allows the creation of “Workflows” which can automate the app to do all sorts of amazing feats. Workflows take some practice to get in the hang of how workouts are put together, but once the basics are mastered the possibilities are endless. Below are some workflows I've created so far.
This prompts the writer for basic header information and then inserts the answers, along with some pre-defined text. I use this when prepping sermons.
This workflow shows the HTML conversion with a style sheet I created.
A workflow which wraps any selected text with HTLM superscript tags. This overcomes the limitations of superscript in markdown.
This workflow inserts an bold “image tag” into my document, or which converts selected text into an image tag. This tag looks like this **[image: ]** . When my workflow is activated the text caret moves to the left of the right bracket, where I can type in an image description. I use these tags to create my presentations.
These two scripts move the text entry caret left and right one space, perfect for getting the cursor into the just the right spot.
If the standard workflow features don't offer enough power, Editorial also allows users or script the app using python. This opens up a whole new level of customization in Editorial, one which has me itching to learn python so I have access to it!
It's important to understand, though, that the workflow feature is extremely powerful without knowing even a single line of Python. This is very much a power user feature, and it says something that the ordinary workflow features are not for power users only.
Each workflow can be assigned a shortcut which allows it to be activated by a specific keystroke on an external keyboard. This works with markdown's philosophy of not having to remove hands from the keyboard to apply formatting. Workflows may also be added to the Bookmarks Bar. While this is a bit awkwardly named, the feature sets workflows in a toolbar at the top edge of the editor window – along with custom text and icons. This allows for single tap access to a user's most valued workflows, saving much time while writing.
Quite a few people were excited about Editorial 1.1 adding support for taskpaper, a plain text task managment markup system. I have yet to play much with this aspect of the application, especially since I rely heavily on reminders to keep me on task, but I can see it's appeal. The ability to create universally readable task lists with tags is a great accomplishment. When tossed in a shared dropbox folder, taskpaper formatting could allow teams to work collaboratively on a task list and while checking the progress of the entire project. I plan on experimenting more with this in the future.
I typically go for “it just works” apps on iOS as heavy customization is typically a obstacle to me getting work done. Editorial, however, is a wonderful exception to this rule. The customization it offers is as transparent an implementation of scripting I have ever seen. The app is fully featured without accessing workflows, but when utilized it frees a writer to make the editor an extension of their personal work flow. Prior to using Editorial I didn't really distinguish between writing markdown with my iOS, Android, and Mac editors. Since taking up Editorial, however, I find myself intentionally moving toward my iPad for writing. It is, without a doubt, the best markdown editor in the App Store, and perhaps anywhere. It is certainly worth it's $6.99 price. If you have ever been interested in plain text writing on your iPad, this is the app to get.
Editorial also recognizes other common markdown extensions, such as .mmd or .markdown, but not not these change the core truth, Markdown is plain text (and, yes, you can do footnotes using a version of Markdown). ↩
If the document is stored locally, this button offers to move the document to DropBox. ↩