Drafts 10-Year Anniversary

Ten years ago, I was in the middle of a trial, staying at a hotel in Los Angeles. My email was piling up, and I had a million things I needed to handle with my trial, other clients, personal life, and MacSparky. I saw this new app, “Drafts.” I thought, “Why the hell not?” Then I sat down and made about 30 text notes in 30 minutes. I handled all the cruft of my life at an unmatched speed, and I fell in love. Drafts remains, for me, the place “where text starts.” Drafts has evolved a lot over the last ten years and while I don’t use it to organize text notes (it can do that!), I still use it to create text notes that get sent to other places like the Mail app, Messages, and Obsidian, every day.

To celebrate ten years of Drafts and to help people see how it can help them, developer Agile Tortoise is offering the first year of Drafts Pro for just $4.99 — a notable saving on the normal $19.99 subscription. This offer is available to new customers and will run from today through April 30, 2022. To claim the offer, users should visit getdrafts.com/offers.

Finally, I want to give my congratulations to Greg Pierce, for defining a new app category and doing an excellent job of it for ten years.

More Drafts Videos

I recently recorded some additional screencasts on how to get the most from Drafts. It’s a series of three videos digging in on some of my favorite Drafts features:

  1. Automating Email with Drafts digs in deep on writing and sending email. Do you want to avoid the tyranny of your email inbox? Watch this video.

  2. Creating Lists in Drafts walks you through how to use the Drafts Action directory resources to auto-create lists. This is a great introduction to the Action directory. Using the the Drafts action directory is like strapping rocket boots to Drafts.

  3. Finally, Building a Journal System in Drafts goes even deeper into some of Drafts power tools to demonstrate how you can easily build your own digital journal system in tools. This is a 13+ minute video and can teach you about a lot of Drafts tools, even if you aren’t intending to build a journal system.

You can watch all of these now on the Drafts YouTube Channel. I’ve also added them to the free Drafts Field Guide. Enjoy.

The Latest Drafts Update

I’ve been using Drafts since the day it launched. The idea of easy text capture and action immediately resonated with me, and anything I write that isn’t part of a big research project starts life in Drafts. It’s clean, it supports TextExpander (even on iPhone and iPad), and it is so powerful under the hood.

In the past year, however, my relationship with Drafts has changed. I now use the app not only to write text but also to store it. Drafts has evolved over the years, and so has my usage of it. Many of the new features in Drafts 22 (yes, 22) released with iOS 14 reflect what Drafts has become.

The Drafts update adds widgets. There are two general formats: grids and lists. With a grid, you can get quick access to specific Drafts and workspaces. Lists give you lists of drafts. I’ve been using the grid formatted widget on my home screen. I stack it with my Shortcuts widget and jump between them throughout the day. There are inherent limits with widgets with their lack of interaction. Nevertheless, Drafts uses them as best as possible, given these limitations, and the ability to dive into specific areas of my Drafts is much appreciated.

Additionally, the new version incorporates Apple’s new Scribble features on the iPad. This gives you one more way to add text to your Drafts. I spend so much time writing in Drafts (and so little time in Apple Notes).

My favorite feature is the addition of Apple Finder tag support. Now, if you apply a tag in Drafts and then create an action to save the draft as a file, you can have it convert the Drafts tags into Apple Finder tags. This feature, which I am pretty sure exists because Greg Pierce wanted to get me off his back about it, lets you save a draft with a set of tags that Hazel can recognize and process. Do you see where I’m going with this? If not, stay tuned. I have a separate post and video in the works explaining how I use this to save client call notes from Drafts to the client file with zero work on my part.

Every time I write about subscription apps, I get a certain amount of email griping with the business model. Drafts is the poster child for the subscription model done right. Because the developer has regular income, he doesn’t have to move on to the next app every six months. Instead, he just keeps making drafts better and better and better. Check out Drafts.

The Coming Research App Revolution

In the last several months, I have been experimenting a lot with  Roam Research and Obsidian. There is a lot to like about these apps and their crazy-powerful internal links. With both Roam and Obsidian, cross-linking is ridiculously easy. In the case of Roam Research, this isn’t just true for note titles, but instead every word in your database. So you can be writing away about subject A, but then easily cross-link to the 37th paragraph of something else you wrote about subject B.

Not only can you cross-link, but you can also even embed that paragraph 37 in your subject A text in a way that lets your reference or modify it right in the middle of your word pile on subject A.

With both Roam and Obisian, any phrase (or word) in your database can become a separate page by merely putting two brackets around it. That newly minted page will include links to every other page in your database that consists of that phrase. It is powerful stuff, and I am not doing it justice, but the cross-linking and dynamic page/note creation is an entirely different way to research and take notes. I am using it now daily for legal research and Field Guide development. Throwing all of my ideas in one big bowl and letting them mix around pays immense dividends.

This, however, is not going unnoticed by the rest of the development community. The Archive has been using a similar linked text system for years.  Bear recently added a new feature that lets you cross-link not only titles but also note subheadings. It does not go as deep as Roam Research, but it is a start. Moreover, my beloved Drafts, which also supports cross-linking note titles, have an ecosystem of mobile apps, and there’s already an entire Drafts action library that lets you cross and backlink to Drafts notes.

This influx of cross-linking, dynamic referencing, and the linkable chaos that these apps create feel, to me, like something entirely new, and that bell is not going to get unrung. Not only do I expect these apps to push further ahead with these tools, but I also anticipate other apps to develop in the same direction. A year from now, we are going to have some fantastic options.

One of the best parts of being enthusiastic about technology is when I witness something fundamentally change. I can’t help but think that is happening right now in the research and notes space.

Drafts is Now a Wiki

We talk about Drafts a lot on the Mac Power Users because it just continues to innovate. Greg Pierce recently released version 20. (Version 20!) The new version adds a wiki-like feature where if you wrap the title of a draft in double brackets [[like this]], you can tap on that item to jump straight to a note in Drafts with the same name. (See the above screenshot.) Interestingly, if a note doesn’t already exist with that name, when you tap on it, Drafts will create a new note with that name.

Remember when Drafts was all about quick capture and action on text. There is so much more to it now. This app is most certainly one of those subscription model success stories. The free version gives the basic functions away and there are enough power users willing to pay (myself included) to let Greg pile on new features. Learn more about this new release in the Drafts Forum. Also, if you’d like to learn more about getting started with Drafts, I’ve got a free Field Guide for you.

Drafts, Version 15

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The new version of Drafts for iOS and iPad OS is really nice. It adds a lot of new features:

  • Rewritten main user interface and gesture interface.

  • Support for multiple windows (iPadOS 13 only).

  • Edit actions in separate window.

  • Live Markdown previews in a separate window.

  • Automatic dark and light mode switching (iOS 13 only).

  • Contextual menus where appropriate throughout the app (iOS 13 only).

  • New Quick Capture action extension.

  • Live Markdown previews (iPadOS 13 only).

  • Support for new iOS 13 font selection panels.

The Shortcuts support is extensive with many new actions. I’m sure there was a ton of work in all these changes. As a subscriber, I’m definitely getting a bang for my buck.

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.