Ulysses makes the right call going for consistency over polish

A small software development company made a difficult decision, abandoning work done by its own staff to embrace a centralized standard. It did the right thing.
iPad Split View

I do all of my writing, whether on iPad or the Mac, in Ulysses. It’s a fantastic, simple but powerful Markdown app that looks great and includes a built-in file system. It also has a very diligent development team that updates the app on a regular basis and ensures it embraces all of the new features of each successive release of iOS.

One of those features is called Split View. Up to now, it’s been impossible to open two windows of the same app side-by-side on the iPad. For instance, if you want to keep Safari open to check Gmail on the left while reading news in another window of Safari on the right, you’re out of luck. (Nobody should be doing this anyway, as the Gmail app is a much better experience!) Users can open two different apps on an iPad screen at the same time — and three if you have the larger, 12.9 inch iPad Pro — but two windows of the same app? Nada.

That’s why Ulysses’ announcement in May that it decided to implement the feature itself was a nice touch, and a shining example of app developers listening to their customers. The functionality works great, and I’ve already used it multiple times.

Everything was going along smoothly until Apple unveiled iOS 13 at the Worldwide Developers Conference in June: the iPhone maker baked the feature right into the operating system. Good news for users, maybe not so good for Ulysses which appears to have wasted a lot of resources building its own, custom version.

What would you do in this case? Keep the hard work of your staff or drop it and embrace Apple’s solution? This is from Ulysses’ official blog:

After a bit of debate, weighing our options and evaluating user expectation, we decided to… switch Ulysses to the native Split View. It‘s a tough call because we believe our implementation is a bit more polished. However, the native Split View will soon be available across all apps, and we want to fit right in. So we decided to rather support the system standard (and benefit from future updates) than to maintain our version till it inevitably breaks.

This does mean, however, that we are going to remove our own implementation, as soon as our iPadOS release ships. This also means that Split View in Ulysses will only be supported on iPadOS or newer — in order to implement the system Split View, we need to cut out our own version completely.

It must have been tough making this decision, knowing the team worked hard on something innovative, useful, and in-demand. It was even a differentiator from other similar writing apps, and something worth bragging about! But Ulysses did the right thing. Ultimately it’s about the customers, and as people got used to Apple’s implementation it would’ve seemed strange to manage Split View in a different way just for Ulysses.

Ulysses made a clear decision to put the needs of its customers and greater app ecosystem above its own interests, and for that it should be commended. It doesn’t happen often enough.

Cam Macmurchy

Hi! My name is Cam MacMurchy. I was born and raised in Canada and worked as a journalist before moving to China in 2004.

Today I work in Hong Kong as the Vice President of Corporate Communications of a listed company. I write about marketing, communications, and journalism, as well as technology and productivity, and anything else on my mind! I also occasionally contribute to 9to5Mac, one of the top Apple websites in the world, and run Executive Productivity. Contact me anytime.