drafts

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

Screenshot 2014-01-02 22.10.03.png

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.

IMG_1424-5.jpg

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.