I’ve been using voice dictation for a long time to get work done on my Mac, and also iPhone. iOS 17 brings with it a lot of voice-to-text improvements, and I’m loving it. … This is a post for MacSparky Labs Members only. Care to join? Or perhaps do you need to sign in?
This week MacSparky is sponsored by Drafts, the one text app to rule them all. I’m a fan of Drafts. So much so that we recorded an entire MPU episode about it. But if I had to summarize why I dig this app so much, there are a few points to make:
I can get into Drafts and start typing or dictating faster than any other app. Sometimes it feels like an idea is a fish I’m trying to land. The sooner I get it in the boat, the less likely it gets off the hook. Drafts helps you land bigger fish.
Once your precious words are in Drafts, you can do just about anything to them. You can send them to others, format them, send them to your favorite app, and add automation. As Drafts has matured, you can even keep them all right there in Drafts.
The Big Picture
Drafts is the only text app I know that constantly evolves and grows. There is polish everywhere. Not surprisingly, I wrote this post in Drafts. If you haven’t tried Drafts, you really should.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last week AgileTortoise released the latest in my ongoing screencast series on Drafts. This one is all about managing actions.