drafts

Big Update for Drafts 

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Drafts, one of my favorite utilities for the iPhone just got a big update to version 5. For some of you, that’s all you need to hear. Download the new version and subscribe. For the rest of you, let me explain a bit further.

Drafts is an iOS app that does two things remarkably well:

  1. It lets you capture text.
  2. It lets you process that text.

Capturing Fast

Unlike any other text app, Drafts doesn’t require you to open a new file, create a new email, or do any other process before you start writing. Instead, when you open the app, you get a blinking cursor and a blank screen. Just start writing. That makes Drafts the starting place for just about any text I write on iPhone or iPad, including these very words.

Drafts doesn’t just let you type, it also lets you dictate, and through some smart programming, it gets around the usual 45 second Siri Dictation timer. With Drafts, you can dictate as long as you want to Siri Dictation and it just keeps going.

One of the nice things about Drafts is that because you go straight into writing, you don’t even have to have a clear decision about where the text will end up when you start writing. Maybe these words will end up an email, or an OmniFocus task, or a Ulysses project, or something else entirely. It doesn’t matter; I just need to write.

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Processing Text

Once you’ve finished writing your precious words in Drafts, then you get to decide what to do with them. There’s a lot of options. If it’s possible to add an integration for words to Drafts, the Drafts developer has added it. (Not many people realize it but Draft’s developer, Greg Pierce, was instrumental in the original development of URL scheme-based automation on the iPhone.)

You can do simple things with your text, like send it along to another text editor, send it as a message or email. You can also go deep down the rabbit hole.

One thing I love about Drafts is using it to send an email. This way, I don’t have to go into my email application and get tempted away by the siren song of the inbox. Instead, I write and send the relevant email and then get back to work.

One of my favorite productivity hacks is to go into Drafts on the iPad and just dictate through 5-10 writing tasks on my plate every day. It lets me eliminate all the process steps while I'm doing the hard work of getting words out of my head and on the page. Then later I process all those words using Drafts’ automation tools. I get more work done this way, faster.

Drafts also has one of the best implementations of an Apple Watch app. I keep it on my Siri watch face, and if I'm walking down the street, I just press the button and dictate into my watch to capture the draft for later processing. (Here’s a Drafts power tip: enable the app badge to show for any unprocessed tasks.) Also, it uses iCloud to sync your text to all your iOS devices.

For me, Drafts was a game changer. It’s one of the few apps I vividly recall loading for the first time, realizing how useful it is, and audibly saying “yes!”. It’s the poster child for apps that uniquely grew out of the App Store for a touch-based interface. 

Drafts is in my dock.

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About Drafts 5

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With Drafts 5, Greg rewrote most of the code to make it faster, more efficient. He also added a bunch of features. Most of the features I discussed this far come with the free version of the app. If you want to go deeper, there is a pro version for $2 month or $20 a year that includes additional features including:

  • The ability to create an unlimited number of customizable actions. These are helpful. For instance, I have one called “Sparks Prime” that lets me send a text message to key members of my family very quickly. In my mind, that is there in case we ever have a significant earthquake an I want to get a message out before the networks get flooded and go down. These days, however, I just use it to send pictures of cute puppies.
  • Themes and Icons. There are a bunch of themes, and now you can set the icon color if that’s your thing.
  • You can add saved workspaces
  • Get even more powerful workstations.

These are all great features but for me, the best reason to pay Greg $20 a year is to ensure Drafts continues to exist and flourish. I use this app every day, and I don’t want to lose it.

If you’ve never used Drafts before, I encourage you to download the free version and try it out. If it grabs you the way it grabbed me, I'd further encourage you to subscribe.

I’ve made a few screencasts for Drafts 5. Enjoy.

Farewell Interact

This week Greg Pierce announced the end of life for Interact, my favorite Contact management app for iPhone. Reading Greg’s post, the reason isn’t primarily financial but instead difficulties and bugs with iOS contact management frameworks. I never had trouble with Interact and use it several times a week. However, I also keep all of my contact data in iCloud so I’m hardly an edge case.

I spent some time trying other third party contact apps following the announcement and none of them impressed me. If there is a silver lining, Greg concluded his post saying he’s putting all his time into Drafts 5. Since I happen to be writing these very words in Drafts, that makes me pretty happy.

Learn Drafts this Weekend

Got an hour this weekend? Why don't you master the Drafts app? I did an entire series of screencasts on Drafts and it is a really handy app. Drafts let's you quickly capture text on your iPhone and iPad and then perform actions on that text with just a tap. There is nothing else like it and Drafts replaced the paper and pencil I used to always carry in my pocket. Anyway, below is the introductory video and you'll find the rest of the series (15 videos!) at the Drafts website. It's like getting a MacSparky Video Field Guide for free.

Drafts App Sale Plus Screencasts

Over the last month I've been busy creating screencasts on how to use Drafts on my iPhone and iPad. There is a whole slew of them. This is, essentially, a full MacSparky Video Field Guide and if you've ever wondered about Drafts, here's your chance to master it. Drafts is going to release the screencasts over time and you can read all about it right here.

There is also a 30% off sale on the app from now through May 2 so if you've been on the fence, you've really got no excuse now. Below is the Overview screencast that gives you a good idea what you can do with this essential app.

Drafts Gets Friendly with Workflow

A few weeks ago, Agile Tortoise released Drafts 4.1.2. My favorite new feature is the “Run Workflow” action. That's right. Drafts and Workflow are now like peanut butter and chocolate. Now I can fire off a Workflow from Drafts with a single tap. The action step can be configured with the name of a workflow and you can even specify the text sent to the workflow. There is a sample Drafts action that lets you round-trip convert markdown to rich text that I've already found handy.

Not to be outdone, the gang at Workflow added their own option in app to add a Workflow to Drafts, which opens Drafts and automatically creates the action. I love it when smart software developers gang up to make their apps even more awesome for us nerds.

Drafts 4

Watching WWDC earlier this year and witnessing so much progress towards iOS automation, part of me wondered what that meant for the early iOS automation pioneers. In particular what would happen to those apps that were able to use the few automation breadcrumbs on the floor of iOS 7 to bake some pretty delicious cake? The first app to come to my mind in this category was Drafts.

Drafts was the first app that I used that took advantage of URL schemes to make my iPhone dance. And boy did it dance. The concept was simple. Tap the icon, start typing (or dictating), and then tap a few buttons to make your text do stuff. Drafts then used scotch tape, chewing gum, and URL schemes to do amazing things with that text.

So my thought after WWDC was whether or not an iOS that was much more sharing and automation-friendly would somehow make apps like Drafts less useful. Drafts 4 is out and it delivers.

New Features

One of the key new features is the ability to customize the keyboard. This isn’t just customization of a limited set of functions. Drafts is wide open letting you create commands, labels, text, and scripts. There is also an online directory of custom functions that can range from application specific functions, like sending text to a new Dispatch email or sorting a list alphabetically. Users are already uploading their own custom-created scripts and in just a few days, we already have a rich menu of interesting things we can now do with our words in Drafts that wasn’t possible in prior versions. This is going to get very interesting in the coming months. Using the “label” key type, you can even create directories of additional commands.

The other banner feature (for me) is the Action Builder. URL schemes were helpful but also always a bit cryptic. Drafts now lets you create actions with much more of a LEGO approach, like seen in Editorial. These are much more accessible to me and make creating custom actions for even small projects much more feasible. Also, you can go to the website from inside the app and download developer and user-created actions. Of course, the application also has access to the more vanilla style iOS 8 sharing features.

There is more. The application now has modes to highlight Markdown or social syntax. So thinks like Markdown syntax or social hashtags display in highlight. There are versions so you can move back in time if your draft text takes a left turn.

There is also an Arrange tool that lets you re-arrange individual paragraphs. This is a feature I’ve long used in Greg’s other app, Phraseology. I’m going to use it even more in my precious Drafts.

Drafts can also now keep track of where you started a note and where you finished it. If you are looking at a note that makes no sense to you but then can see you wrote it at a bowling alley, that may help you sort things out. 

Drafts has always been a place to just start writing. This easy onramp to getting text out of my brain and into my iPhone and iPad is the application’s fundamental innovation and the reason it is in my dock. This new version, however, adds an extension to grab text from other locations and perform actions upon it and send it to Drafts. I haven’t found myself using this feature as much. I’m using Clips to capture text these days but the customization options of captured tasks via the Drafts extension make it ideal for web researchers and bloggers.

UI Love

With these new features and functions, the user interface (that was already getting crowded in version 3), could have become downright ugly in version 4. It did not. 

The interface now splits buttons between the bottom and top of the screen. By splitting the user interface buttons, density is reduced but you may have to reach on your big new iPhone for some of the more important buttons at the top of the screen. The Action menu also has better internal organization breaking up services between social, services, basic, and Markdown. The new design is a win.

My WWDC worries for Drafts were ill-founded. Not only does Drafts take advantage of the new sharing pathways found in iOS, it blazes even more new trails with custom scripts, making it even better at taking my words and making them dance. This new version is better, stronger, faster. There are already some great new resources explaining these new tricks from some smart folks including Alex GuyotBrett TerpstraGabe Weatherhead, and Dr. Drang.

Drafts 4 is published by Agile Tortoise, specifically Greg Pierce. It is a universal app and available in the iOS App Store now.

The Drafts Badge

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I generally have a lot of animosity toward iOS app badges. I don't like apps screaming for my attention. It diverts me from important things, like Strategery. However I was recently bemoaning my frequent problem in the Drafts app where I'll dictate notes and forget to later process them. MPU listener Conrad pointed out there is a setting that gives the app a big red needy badge with the number of unprocessed notes in my Drafts App. This is an excellent use of a badge in my opinion and was exactly what I needed to make sure I didn't leave unprocessed notes in Drafts.

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Put Your Mac to Sleep with iOS Drafts

Occasionally, I have sensitive things on my Mac's screen and occasionally I leave an office, or conference room, or courtroom and forget to shut the lid on that Mac. While I've got my Mac set to lock itself down after a few minutes, I thought it would be nice to have a way to force the issue. Mac Power User listener Mariusz wrote me about Polish Mac Geek Milosz Bolechowski who pulls this off with Drafts, a Dropbox File, and Hazel. I thought it was pretty clever so I duplicated it tonight.

This is how it works:

  1. I type "MB sleep" in Drafts and save it to the standard Drafts folder on Dropbox. (In my case it is located at Dropbox/Apps/Drafts.) I use "MB sleep" because I'm going to add a second one for putting the iMac to sleep.

  2. Point Hazel at the Drafts folder and tell it to look for a file that contains the terms "MB sleep"

  3. When Hazel sees the file, it deletes it and runs an AppleScript to put the Mac to sleep.

This is a really simple script.

tell application "Finder"

sleep

end tell

Once you set this up, open Drafts and type "MB sleep" and save it to Dropbox. Within a few seconds, your Mac goes safely to sleep.

Extra Credit

Milosz had another great idea of using a URL scheme to further automate this. If you want to take it a step further, set up a URL scheme in Launch Center Pro as follows:

drafts://x-callback-url/create?text=MB%20sleep

Then when you tap the button in Launch Center Pro, it opens Drafts and fills in the text "MB sleep" for you. You just need to send it to Dropbox for the Magic to happen. The below screenshot gallery gives you the details.

Update

Extra Extra Credit

On Twitter, @Eiscik points out the following Launch Center Pro action performs the Dropbox upload for you with no further taps.

drafts://x-callback-url/create?text=MB%20sleep&action=Save%20to%20Dropbox

Drafts 3.0, Better and Better

Drafts 3.0 (iPhone) (iPad) is out and this app just keeps getting better and better. I know there are some other applications claiming to do the same thing as Drafts (quick text capture and processing on iOS) but I'm so in love with Drafts. First, in creating Drafts, Greg Pierce filled a huge void in the iOS market that I didn't even realize existed. Second, he just keeps raising it to new levels.

At version 2.5 he added some really useful Dropbox workflows. This new version 3.0 gives the same treatment to Evernote. There is more though. Libraries of tasks are easier to manage, there are URL schemes, and other bits of trickery to pull off automation on iOS that makes my nerd-heart go pitter patter.

For a really good review, go check out Federico Viticci's write-up at MacStories. For OmniFocus geeks, go check out this trick from Sid O'Neill that lets you add multiple OmniFocus tasks from Drafts. If you're still not sold on Drafts, listen to Merlin Mann and I wax poetic on it in MPU 132.

Drafts 2.5. Whoa.

There is a reason Drafts is in my iPhone dock.

The newest version of drafts just got really nerdy:

  • unlimited URL actions
  • Dropbox actions
  • action sharing
  • URL callbacks and workflow automation

So what does this pile of words mean? You can now add a level of automation to the iPhone that almost seems dirty. Go here and watch the video. If I wasn't so busy right now, I'd drop everything and fiddle with this for hours.