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Bear: An Elegant Combination of Design, Whimsy, and Voice.

Without fail, when you tell me about a new productivity system, editor, or typeface, I will drop everything I am doing and give your new productivity system, editor, or typeface a whirl.

This happens weekly. It’s a problem.

The majority of these excursions are brief and can be summarized thusly:

  • Install the thing.
  • Use the thing.
  • Meh.

I usually find a deal breaker in the first few minutes of entering and managing tasks, writing a thing, or staring at a new typeface. Typical meh-ness can be attributed to the productivity system frustrating amount of opinion, the editor missing an essential feature or keyboard shortcut, or a typeface having juUuUUUUst a bit too much personality. Infrequently, an app or a typeface makes the cut. Bear made the cut.

Bear is a thin text editor. It’s not attempting to be every editor to every person. Bear is designed for the tech-savvy, multiple device, and design-minded humans. Starting with the name – Bear – the application is an elegant combination of design, whimsy, and voice.

Here are a few of my favorite feature and design choices:

  • Bear uses iCloud for storage in the Pro version and makes it non-trivial to get files in and out of the system. Yes, you can import and export notes, but Bear dispenses with the concept of a file object and suggests that Bear is an eco-system of notes, documents, and thoughts that follow you around on your various devices. I can hear your optionality rage about this paragraph, and I understand your optionality rage, but my question to you is: do you want to worry about where your files are or what you’re writing? Me too.
  • Bear appears to be designed iOS first. This is a guess and is perhaps biased by the fact that I am in the third week of actively using an iPad Pro as a primary desktop. Bear feels at home in iOS. Yes, the keyboard support is very good on both iOS and macOS. Yes, there appear to be no obvious feature gaps between the platforms, but where is the Save command? How do I duplicate a file? You can’t. This is a product design for the mobile world where, again, you aren’t concerned with the file system.1
  • Avenir New is the default typeface in Bear and I’m in love. As a Futura enthusiast, I am a little sad that Futura isn’t great as a body text font. It’s a presentation and heading typeface. Avenir New combines the modern sans serif whimsy of Futura and makes it readable. Also, check out the Q!
  • I’ve been an on/off user of IA Writer over the years. The primary reason it hasn’t stuck for me is restrictions to my editing space. IA Writer is very opinionated about what is a correct writing space and restricts optionality appropriately, but there are times where I want to change the typeface. There are times where the background must be navy blue. There are times where I want to tighten line width because it just feels right. Bear does not give you ultimate Sublime Text-like control over your writing environment, but it gives you enough control to design your writing space to your mood.2
  • The default theme, Red Graphite, is a good introduction to the design sensibilities of the application. Along with the dulcet tones of Avenir Next, Bear gently, consistently, and usefully splashes the accent color (in this case red) throughout the user experience. In the pro version, the accent color changes depending on the theme, but the experience of color highlighting the thing you current care about is thoughtfully and tastefully implemented.
  • Bear attempts to make thoughtful leaps for me. I tend to capture links in a Markdown style with brackets/parenthesis pairs. Rather than leaving the eyesore of a URL in my text, Bear maps the URL to a human readable link. I didn’t know how much visual noise was created by those links until they were gone.
  • And there is a bear. Throughout the UI. And I love bears.

Other than a currently mysterious relationship with Markdown3, my biggest gripe with Bear is that you can’t purchase it outright, you need to purchase a subscription. While I was fully prepared to lay down cash money for Bear, I paused for many weeks because subscription models feel like credit cards. Like credit cards, subscription models are more profitable because humans are lazy. While I have no issue with dollars going to the developers, I do have an issue with myself forgetting to manage my subscriptions. I would much rather pay as I go as new and better releases of a product are released.

But I did get a subscription. Bear is that good. No meh.

  1. Important to note: I lost my shit with iWork when they nuked file related commands on Mac OS X many years back. The file commands promptly returned in subsequent releases. This courageous cloud-minded abstract-away-the-file-system move was certainly the way of the future, but for me, it was too soon, Apple, too soon. 
  2. Bear has themes in their Pro subscription. One theme is called Gotham. I recommend it. 
  3. There is a Markdown compatibility mode, but I don’t know what that means, yet. 

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7 Responses

  1. Brandon Cosby 7 years ago

    I really like Bear and I exported all my Day One notes into it because I didn’t really use Day One like a diary anyway. There are three annoyances I have with Bear that I hope they correct. The line spacing after a header is awkwardly large in all the output formats. It’s like they are using the line height of the header instead of the body text. I also wish that the color of headers adjusted as you descend the outline tree. Right now it is hard to visually differentiate between an H1 and H3. This was something Day One did well. Lastly, tags would be far more useful if it showed you existing tags for selection as you type. I find myself frequently double checking that I’m not creating duplicate tags with slight variations.

    I love how easy links are to use. I never used links in other markdown apps because I didn’t care to learn the format. Bear made it incredibly simple. I also found that I could mix bullets and numbering easily and without it trying to correct my intended list.

  2. Steven HarrisSteven Harris 7 years ago

    I tried Bear, but was frustrated by its tagging model. I want the tags to be metadata, to sit outside of the text content itself, but instead it makes you bury its primary organization system into your documents, leaving you to figure out either how to push them out of sight or how to make it seem like you meant to mention a tag deliberately.

    The other gap: There’s no way to refer to a tag (as a hyperlink) without making the current document “belong to” that tag you mention. You can’t “point at” another tag, to express, “See tag XXX for more on that subject.”

    Were Bear to fix those two problems—and I concede that calling the problems as opposed to firm design choices is an opinion—I would consider using it.

  3. Bear’s markdown compatibility mode makes the app actually render Markdown. *This* isn’t italicized unless you enable the compatibility mode (Bear renders it as bold); for example, italics are handled with /slashes/.

  4. Rob S. 7 years ago

    Very cool! I’m in a similar situation and have tried everything from dedicated tools (e.g. OmniFocus) to repurposed prioritization tools (e.g. Trello, Pivotal Tracker). I’ve been using Evernote in a “least worst” mode for years now, the primary reason being that they have sync and clients for all platforms. The features added (like recommended/similar notes, shortcut bar, maps(???), chat, etc.) just end up weighing it down and distracting from the focus. Will check out Bear today!

  5. I look forward to checking this out. I’ve long toggled between Day One and WriteRoom as my main journaling apps. Unfortunately, Day One’s upgrade path forces folks to use its homemade cloud service instead of iCloud, and that makes me a little uncomfortable.

    Sort of off-topic, but you mention that you’ve been using an iPad Pro as your primary machine. How do you deal with iOS’s relative lack of support for typographically-correct punctuation? I notice that your writing—and even this textarea I’m writing in—uses appropriate apostrophes. I tried out an iPad Pro with a keyboard, and could not figure out how to type one (or an em dash, or quotation marks) without leaving the keyboard, long-touching the screen, and sliding over to the desired mark.

  6. There is no productivity tool worth a subscription. I will “survive” with “substitutes” of certain costs.

  7. Javier JJ 7 years ago

    Quick question – And I’m yet to test Bear “for real” so maybe it’s because I don’t “get” it, but wondering what’s your take on Ulysses ( on one end of the spectrum, and Drafts ( on the other.