Essays on Technology and Culture

Rethinking iOS Power User Apps

About a year and a half ago, I wrote two pieces on how I use Launch Center Pro, and how I use Drafts on my iPhone. A lot has changed in the iOS ecosystem since them, almost universally for the better, despite whatever nonsense is happening with App Review. Extensions in iOS have made it easier and faster to do tasks like save links to Pinboard and Instapaper, or share things on social media. New apps on iOS, like Workflow put easy automation in the hands of a less technical audience in a way that’s far easier to understand than URL Schemes. In fact, thanks to Workflow, I now have an easier way to generate code for Linked List posts. [1]

Though since iOS 8, if not some time before, I slipped out of using many of the cool automation shortcuts I’d built for myself. Much of what I’d set up to move data around were obliviated by the new features in iOS 8 and apps that took advantage thereof. Why copy a link from Safari, switch to Launch Center Pro, and tap an action to send it to my Pinboard client, when I could just do it from the Share Sheet. Launch Center Pro just became another home screen, Drafts just a place to collect notes. The release of Workflow left me thinking about the potential I was no longer tapping into, beginning with Drafts, and in no small thanks to Dr. Drang, as well.

Drafts is now the starting place for all things involving text on my iOS devices. Writing an essay? It goes into Drafts. Writing a note for later? Drafts. Writing a Tweet? Drafts. Capturing tasks? Drafts. Sending an email to my boss on the go? Drafts. Searching the web? Drafts. I have a whole section of searches that I can summon from a Drafts action screen, replacing a bulky Action Group in Launch Center Pro. It’s a natural place to do things with text, because it launches quick and lets you start typing right away. The only text-related thing I’m not using Drafts for is searching logins in 1Password. That is staying in Launch Center, for now.

The trick to making these powerful, and intimidating apps work, is to decide on the role they’ll play on your devices. For me, Drafts is where I type things to deal with later. Launch Center Pro is transitioning into a place for quick actions and deep jumps into apps. If I want to call my folks, I’ll do that with two tap in Launch Center Pro. Workflow is the glue that ties various features of my iOS devices together, and I can summon up its power from within Launch Center Pro, as an App Extension, or icons on my Home Screen, depending on the workflows I set up. The whole thing is still a work in progress, but if I’m going to get the most out of my investment in these apps, I need to spend time thinking about what problems they can solve for me. So far, that thinking’s paying off.

  1. This post was the first use of my Linked List post workflow, and it works really well. Due to some limitations of the app, it takes an extra tap to copy the text I want to use for the excerpt, but I’m promised that grabbing selected text in a web page, or the like, will come in a future update to Workflow. I’ve since updated the workflow to dump the Markdown text into Drafts so I can add commentary.  ↩