Daedalus is no Ulysses

but he wasn’t in the original version either

Spoiler alert! Fans of Ulysses on the Mac have been waiting more than a year for a iPad version of of one of the best text editors ever. Daedalus isn’t Ulysses (which developers feel compelled to remind buyers) but it’s about as good as you can get on an iPad. Some readers will never prefer it to their current editor, but others will never want to switch back and they will think it was a best buy.

I know the spoiler sounds wishy washy, but I can’t think of another way to describe The Soulmen’s new text editor Daedalus. It’s Mac predecessor was one of the best text editors, if not the best editor, I’ve ever used. You could keep thousands of pages in a single location, the ability to look at multiple documents at once, and quite a few organizing and indexing features. You could then export the notes to a word processor, PDF or even publishing files, complete with styles.

All for about fifty dollars (okay, thirty euros).

I composed entire unpublished novels with it and hundreds of articles for web sites and clients on Ulysses. I upgraded to 2.o even though I hardly ever use my Mac for word processing anymore. I wrote about how much I wanted to see it on the iPad in the early days of my column. So it shouldn’t surprise you that as soon as it was released I rearranged my entire blog posting schedule to jump this ahead of the queue.

To be honest, Daedalus probably should have been named Icarus, who was never quite as dazzling as his brainy dad. But then Icarus crashed and burned, so maybe the Soulmen would have been smarter to choose another name entirely. Telemachas, Ulysses’s less exciting son, perhaps, or Menalaus or someone really minor like Halitherses.

Is Daedalus the best text editor on the iPad? No, but by the same measure there aren’t any better. And Daedalus is quite different in at least one key respect. No files or folders; just stacks and stacks of papers. Think of it as the disorganized desktop where you keep track of everything even if everyone else thinks it’s a mess.

In this respect Daedalus follows the Ulysses tradition. Each Ulysses project contained as many looseleaf pages as you needed. You didn’t have to leave the program to reorganize them and you could export them in any order you wanted. Graphically, the two interfaces couldn’t be farther apart, but the basic metaphor seems to be the same.

Daedalus doesn’t keep track of files and folders. Instead, you organize your projects as stacks of pages. Each page can be a single paragraph or 20,000 words. This stack is actually a folder imported directly from Dropbox.

Instead of files, Daedalus uses paper stacks, and you can navigate through several sample stacks as soon as you launch the app. The four sample stacks take you through the basics of the app to get you up and running immediately. Pages can contain nothing more than a three item list or articles that run as long as 20,000 words.

You pinch and slide to navigate the stacks, and in editing mode there is nothing to distract you; only the empty page. If this reminds you of iA Writer, it should. The idea is to get the app out of the way of your writing. You can even juggle multiple threads of thought on multiple pages without having to leave the stack. This means you don’t even have to think about file management when you’re deep in thought on a complex project.

Switching from browsing to edit mode is as easy as touching a line of text. You can also choose from three different reading fonts for the text display. Remember, these are still text files, so text display is irrelevant to final output. The key is to find a font that is readable to you, and Daedalus has selected three from the most readable font styles. I could work all day with any of them.

Daedalus also provides a search field, which is still missing from text editors such as Plain Text. The search function is primitive, you can’t replace and the search only highlights the instances of text on project pages. Where it really shines is that the search is global, and will tell you which stacks contain the phrase. I find this really useful when working with multiple stacks with several pages. Even Pages and the Office Suite knockoffs don’t offer global searches.

The global search field looks for your phrase in every page of every stack, making it easier to find that important page you lost in the jumble of stacks.

Other options include the ability to turn off auto-correction (which can be distracting to some writers) and toggle Text Expander, which allows you to insert entire phrases with two or three keystrokes. You can also keep constant track of word and character count, although the display is almost too small to read. Shuffling a stack’s page order is as simple as simple drag and drop.

You can also export the files directly into several apps, including Pages, Omni Outliner, iA Writer and Plain Text. The export even opens the app with the page as the active file. You can’t control which folder the file saves to (although in Pages this hardly matters), but you are saved a few steps in the transfer.

You can open any Daedalus page directly into several of the major iPad text apps, including Pages and Omni Outliner (which will be reviewed soon).

You may also like the sync and transfer feature. Daedalus allows you to back up stacks to Mobile Me and Dropbox as folders and files. When you import a folder into Daedalus, it arrives as a stack.

I hate to say it, but this is the interface Moleskine’s iPad adaptation should emulate. But they should keep the ability to add pictures.

The Soulmen took their time to release Daedalus because they wanted it to work well with the first release. They did this even though they may have to work extra hard to catch up with their competitors. I still noticed a couple of features I would like them to add.

Daedalus could use smoother Text Expander integration. Currently, when you insert a snippet in the middle of a document, the app jumps to the bottom line. It gets tiring scrolling back to the point of insertion.

I would really like to be able to move or copy pages from one stack to another. Currently, the only way to do this is to export the stacks to Dropbox and shuffle the files on your PC or Mac. You have to use the desktop, because even iPad iDisk and iPad Dropbox don’t seem to allow files to move from one folder to another.

I’m tempted to say this is an iPad problem, but Quick Office makes file management pretty easy, so I would hope the others would catch up. If the Soulmen can beat the other developers to this feature, especially with their stacks metaphor, this could move them to the top of the heap.

Will I switch from Plain Text to Daedalus? Probably not, at least not for writing the blog. Plain Text files are still much easier for my wife to find, proofread and return with Dropbox. But I might for other writing projects.

Jenny Manytoes rates Daedalus

Jenny Manytoes would make biscuits all over Daedalus. First releases don’t get much more solid than this. I won’t say everyone who tries it will love it, but I’m pretty sure it will develop as loyal a fan base as Ulysses.

That being said, the $3 initial release price makes it worth checking out even if you don’t ultimately adopt it. So I have to give it a Best Buy as well.

The Jenny Manytoes Rating System

Jenny Manytoes, our polydactyl cat

  • When Jenny makes biscuits on a product she thinks she’s in heaven.
  • When Jenny purrs over a product she’s very happy.
  • When Jenny naps next to a product it’s okay with her.
  • When Jenny bunches her tail she can live with a product, but she has higher expectations.
  • When Jenny leaves it in the litter box….I don’t think I need to explain this one.


About Phillip T Stephens

Phillip T. Stephens disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle twenty years before he was born, creating a time travel paradox so confusing it remains unspoken between physicists and sci-fi writers to this day. Follow @stephens_pt
This entry was posted in 5 Stars + Best Buy, Text Editors, Text Expander Compatible and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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