Essays on Technology and Culture

How I use Drafts

There are no standard iOS apps in my phone’s dock. It’s dedicated, instead, to apps I need to access no matter what home screen I causally left myself on when I last locked my phone. This includes GV Mobile+, which replaces the built in iOS phone and messages apps, my task manager Things, Launch Center Pro which I wrote about yesterday, and Drafts. Drafts seems to confuse people—it certainly confused me when I first heard about it. It came out alongside another app, Pop. The idea behind the apps was to provide a scratchpad for iOS, an app you can quickly launch and type some stuff into to forget about/deal with later, typically via iOS copy and paste. [1]

Later versions of Drafts added URL scheme support, allowing text to be sent from Drafts into any app that supported it. That’s when things got interesting. Nearly every piece of text I write on iOS begin life in Drafts. If I write on the subway where there’s no cell signal, it goes in Drafts. If I’m on my iPad at home, and want to work on a blog post, I start it in Drafts. When I’m on the go and need to send an email, I write it up in Drafts. Someone tells me something cool to check out online, I type it in Drafts. It’s the fastest, most painless, and—now that it includes Source Code Pro as a font choice—prettiest scratchpad app on iOS, bar none.

In January, Drafts 2.5 for iPhone and Drafts 1.5 for iPad dropped with a new feature that made it nigh indispensable for me: custom Dropbox actions. Previous versions of Drafts supported Dropbox, but only in a limited way. It could only write to files in an Apps/Drafts/ folder in Dropbox, which limited the interaction you could do with a Dropbox enabled text editor on Mac or iOS. To get around this limitation, I would type text in Drafts, and export it to Byword where I would save it to the Notational Data folder in my Dropbox—a cumbersome extra step. Now, anything I want to save from Drafts into Notational Data takes two taps, creating a file named with the date, time, and “snipx”—a file naming convention I got from Merlin Mann.

Drafts also includes actions that allow you to append and prepend to selected file in Dropbox. I recently started to keep a spark file for ideas and things to think about when I write. All I have to do when something hits me is launch Drafts, start typing, hit the “send to” button and tape “Append to Sparks File”. That’s all. The next time I look at my spark file, I’ll see what I added, complete with a date and time stamp. I’m planning to set up similar actions for other running lists I keep, like stuff to buy, books to read, music to listen to…

What makes Drafts so useful is that it’s fast. Drafts doesn’t have to synchronize a huge folder of notes before I can do anything. Launching it just puts me in front of a blank screen with a blinking cursor and a keyboard. From there, what I type can go anywhere I want, be it my boss’s email inbox, or this very website, in just a couple of taps. If you spend any time handling text on your iOS device, Drafts is for you. Just set up a couple of actions that suit your workflow, and get typing. It’s not for managing a folder of notes, [2] there’s other apps for that. It’s just for getting text down fast, and putting it somewhere else faster.

Like Launch Center Pro, I know I’m only scratching the surface of what I can do with Drafts. Drafts 3.0 now supports expanding TextExpander snippets when launching actions, which opens up all sorts of possibilities. Also as with Launch Center Pro, Federico Viticci has come up with integrations that blow my mind. This includes a redonkulous bit of JavaScript that tales stuff from Safari, to Drafts, to Dropbox, to Due, and back to Safari. It’s mind-blowing, and an app that will change your game.

  1. Another app, Scratch has emerged to fill that niche as well. I’ve never used it.  ↩

  2. I’m still auditioning iOS text editors to connect with my Dropbox folder. I’m back on Byword, but sync is so slow… all suggestions welcome except Simplenote, WriteRoom and Elements, all of which have messed up my files in one way or another.  ↩