Tag Archives: Text

Trying Drafts Again

(Note: I started this post back in February but never published. It’s now April and Drafts 5 has just recently been released!)

First, I’ll say that I make it a point to not clutter up my devices with apps I don’t use. There’s a balance to be found finding apps that work and sticking to them but also remaining open to discovering new apps. Early on with iPad then iPhone I tried lots of apps that I didn’t use for long and then I gradually settled to a fairly small subset that fill most of my needs. But being a nerd there is a constant pushback. Reading and listening to Federico Viticci makes this even more difficult. He’s constantly experimenting. So much so that I don’t know how he get’s any sleep given what he produces. He had a recent write-up on new automation in Things 3.4 which I sorta use and in it he also touched on the up-coming Drafts 5.

Drafts. This is one of those apps I bought but that I never use. It fits into the territory of Notes and Evernote. A few years back I tried Evernote for a few months but gave up on it. Why? Notes. I’ve always gravitated back to Apple Notes. And it’s even better now with scanning, searchable pdfs, images, etc. That said Drafts has a few advantages for just working with text, particularly Markdown. But then it crosses over into territory that is also occupied by iA Writer which is what I use for blogging and podcast transcription. So, it becomes a case of is there really a place for it or is it just clutter?

The key in determining if it will be useful for me will be the actions it is capable of. The primary purpose behind Drafts is that it is meant to be a place for quickly capturing text which can be built on or sent on to another app. Certainly, the quick capture is true. When I tried it in the past I looked at the automations and thought yes, they would be useful but most seemed to be basic feeds to other apps. Which is the point and which also had me questioning the usefulness. Why not just start and finish the email in Mail? Start and finish the post in Micro.Blog? The tweet in Twitterrific. The event in Fantastical. The to-do in Things. Again, that is the whole point of Drafts. It is for people who want to go to one place to start every action. Hence the name. You start a draft which you then send on to its final destination. Finally, the light goes off in my head. It took too long and it’s pretty dim. But there it is.

Okay, okay. So, now that I finally get this simple point and purpose, will I fit it in? I admit I’m curious. Over the past couple days I’ve made it a point to try. I added a couple of items to Things via Drafts. I added a couple of items to my calendar via the Drafts to Fantastical action. I even created a blog post which I saved to my iA Writer directory on iCloud. I hopped over to iA Writer and opened it and posted to WordPress. I’m going to make an effort for the next week or so to start with Drafts. That should be enough time to make it a part of the routine and better get to know the app and what it is like to use and whether it reduces friction or increases it. Some of these actions are the sort of things I increasingly accomplish with Siri. When I added the events to my calendar using Drafts I had to deliberately stop myself from using Siri. Fine for the purposes of evaluation but day-to-day I’d likely just use Siri.

April 19th update. Well, I wrote the above but never published it. Did I use Drafts much in the 50 days since writing the above post? Some but not much. The final version was just released yesterday so of course it’s all over my RSS and Twitter as the nerds go nuts for the latest text app. I spent some time reading the review by Tim Nahumck over at MacStories. I’ve read a few other things and watched a couple videos. I decided that to give it a fair shake I needed to move it into the Dock where it now sits by iA Writer which would be the app it would potentially replace.

Comparing iA Writer and Drafts Both apps have very pleasant writing environments. Both have features the other does not so there will be trade offs as is always the case when choosing between apps of any kind.

I use iA Writer to write and publish to my two WordPress blogs and for podcast transcripts which get exported to pdf and html. It works very well for those tasks. How does Drafts do? With Drafts I can print to pdf and export to html (both are actions downloaded from the action directory). There is no built in blog publishing other than sharing via the share sheet to the WordPress which is very limited. That said, there is an action to copy as rich text. From there it is a simple step to switch to Safari or the WordPress app, create a post and paste. When I use iA Writer I’m taken to Safari anyway for a final check before I post from within Safari. So, either way, it’s essentially the same.

Document storage is another consideration. Here I give the edge to iA Writer which autosaves and stores all of it’s files as text files in iCloud which is a huge plus. Also, iA Writer documents in the app can be stored in folders and those folders also exist in the Files app on iCloud. By comparison, Drafts keeps its documents in its own synched database and does not offer folders other than the default four which are Inbox, Flagged, Archive and Trash. Organization in Drafts can be accomplished via tags though and that’s potentially very useful and potentially even more powerful than folder-based organization. If I need to I can save my documents as txt to any location which is an added step by comparison to the native text files used by iA Writer but it’s a pretty simple step.

The greatest benefit to using Drafts would be the more customizable interface and the extensibility of actions. The whole point of the app (originally) was a place to start text so that it could then be used in a variety of ways via sharing. I’ll add that getting text into Drafts is much easier via other apps’ share sheets. I often want to share text from Safari for a blog post. With Drafts I can select text and the share sheet gives me that selection as well as the markdown link at the top. Very handy. With iA Writer this is not possible. I find it hard to believe that the developers of iA Writer have not enabled receiving text from other apps via share sheets! I can copy/paste or drag and drop but it’s extra work. A big plus for Drafts on this.

Of course, there is far more to both of these apps, I’m only touching on the most obvious features in regards to my typical usage. I really like the feel of both of them. Very pleasant to write in and easy to use. They both stay out of the way but provide enough interface to make formatting markdown easy.

Subscriptions Done Right

Pricing on Drafts 5 has definitely gone up regardless of the subscription. Version 4 has been on sale for 3 to 4 years at $5. Cost now is $20 a year which is still more affordable than Ulysses but 4 times the cost of the previous version. Given that it is per year, it would be $60 for 3 years compared to $15 at the previous rate (assuming $5/per year). I think a part of the negative reaction to subscriptions is that they seem to be price increases at the same time. Every user will have their own line based on usefulness and budget. For my I purposes of blogging and transcripts I could just as easily rely on Pages or Notes. This kind of app is optional for me and I wouldn’t want to pay more than $10/year. The previous price of $5 was too little especially given it was a one time purchase. I think this time he’s jumped just a little too far the other direction. But that’s my judgment from my perspective.

All that said, while Drafts 5 is a subscription I actually like the way it’s being done. I can use the nearly full functionality of the app without a subscription. All the essential stuff works and some of the “extras” too. The pro subscription is for the advanced feature set that I may never use. For those that use those pro features the subscription is a great way to support continued development. If I find myself using the app, even just the basic functionality, I’ll likely subscribe for at least a few months to contribute to the development. I like that I have the option to drop out of the subscription and continue creating with the app. With Ulysses’ subs I felt locked in, restricted to viewing and exporting only, and so I stopped using it the day they switched to subscriptions. Yes, I know I could have continued using the version I had till it stopped working with a future iOS update. But I didn’t see the point of it given my eventual departure. Why lock-in all my writing when the end result would be the same thing: moving to a different app.

A Good Problem to Have

It’s great that there are so many fantastic apps being developed for iOS. I’d much rather have too many to choose from than not enough. I’m looking forward to spending more time with Drafts. I’m curious to see if it becomes a habit. I’m used to going to apps and I suspect I’ll continue to do so. That said, I see the merit of having one place to start all text which then get’s pushed out to other apps. Time will tell.

iPad Journal: Getting the most out of Apple Notes

I'm on a new quest in how I use the iPad and it can be best expressed with one word: Simplicity. I've always considered myself a "power" user of Apple tech. Of course this is a relative term but I'll just describe it, in this context, as this: I've always used my Macs with a goal as doing as much as possible with them. I used a seemingly limitless variety of apps and utilities. I tinkered. I installed betas. It was practically a goal to break things so that I could fix them. I enjoyed troubleshooting. But I was also concerned with getting things done.

My early use of the iPad was similar. I jailbroke my first two iPads primarily so I could share the cellular connection to my Mac. I immediately installed any app that might allow me to do my "work" on the iPad. From finance tracking to website updating to blogging to graphic creation to database apps. Of course I'm still curious about the possible solutions apps can provide for the tasks I need to do but I've recently realized that I often have the most success with a more straightforward approach. Just as Spotlight gradually replaced Quicksilver and LaunchBar on my Macs, I'm finding that Apple stock apps such as Notes are often be my best option.

I've used Notes quite a bit over the past few years and no doubt, it began as a fairly simple app. But Apple has nurtured it into an app that is, in its current iteration, really very capable. Interestingly, during the same period, I also tried using Evernote more than a couple times but I never quite settled into it. I could understand why so many people used it given its extensive feature list but it never quite clicked for me. My typical use with Apple Notes was saving text notes and the occasional link. I generally did not need to add attachments (on a Mac I preferred to just put any files such as pdfs or images in the Finder) and didn't need to share or collaborate with anyone. I bumped into it's limitations on occasion but it was never enough to stop me from using it.

The best way I can describe my use of Notes is that it is my catch-all for text and links, often as a sort of shared clipboard between devices with an easy way to share out via Messages, Mail or any number of other apps. One unfortunate limitation, links saved in a note seem to export with any method. Any effort to copy/paste or to use a share sheet to send a saved link and any text in a note, removes the link and only results in the plain text of the article title. Not very helpful and a bummer because this could be useful in a lot of different ways. Almost every other attachment can be shared out along with any text I've added to a note. One limitation of attaching documents such as pdfs, Pages or any other document that might have editable text is that they are not indexed. Not a deal breaker but it would be nice. In my personal use I don't tend to accumulate lots of notes with attachments because I tend to use them for projects rather than long-term storage.

More often than not when I create a new note it is a text capture via a share sheet from another app. Quite a few notes are for projects or clients and they might be something that I just scribble in and delete a couple days later or they might be longer term. In the past I've tried different apps for tracking time on client projects but several months ago I realized I wasn't all that happy with the apps I'd been using for such tracking. I decided it might be easier and simpler to do this tracking with a note and I was right. It's worked out great. I have a "Timecards" note and every project gets tracked there. Each project gets a section and anytime I work I log it with a simple line item: Date Time Description in that section. Simple and efficient. Eventually those line items get entered into an a FileMaker Pro invoice.

I've only had a need to share notes via the collaboration feature on a couple of occasions but it has worked well in those instances. It's a nice feature to have when I need it.

A lot of Apple nerds have been raving lately about Bear. I gave it a try and it is a nice app but it's not for me. Between Apple Notes and Ulysses much of what I do with text is covered. In the past I've also tinkered with Drafts and for awhile I used Byword and Editorial as a part of my gathering and writing process but not lately. While I've not yet deleted those three apps I likely will. I've not used any of them in quite some time and doubt I'll have any need of them in the future. They are superfluous. As I whittle down my folders of apps I am enjoying a certain confidence in the fewer tools that I choose to keep.