For the past week, I have been trying Scratch, a new quick note-taking app by Karbon. While the app still can’t replace Drafts in my workflow, it has some unique ideas that will be worth a second consideration in the future.
The idea behind Scratch is to offer a simple way to save plain text in Dropbox. Like Drafts, Scratch allows you to create notes that you can forward to a variety of services like Messages, Email, and the aforementioned Twitter and Dropbox. Unlike Drafts, Scratch is also capable of appending text to an existing file in Dropbox. A number of hacks to manually add appending capabilities to Drafts have surfaced in the past month.
I like the design of Scratch. The app sports custom toolbar and menu design, but it’s the kind of carefully thought-out custom that’s a great fit for the iOS platform, now mature enough to accept and foster an ecosystem of different-looking apps. The main point of interaction in Scratch is the compose area, where you’ll be jotting down your notes. As in most text editing apps these days, there is a formatting toolbar located above the virtual keyboard; in Scratch, the toolbar is fully customizable and offers quick access to other features of the app as well.
For instance, swiping to the left reveals a Markdown formatting bar containing shortcuts to commonly used characters like asterisks and bullets. If you, however, don’t like the keys being offered by default, you can tap & hold a key to pick another one from the system keyboard. This is not a functionality offered by many apps, and Scratch gets it right.
Swiping left again will open another toolbar for more Markdown characters and functions like headers and inline links. The buttons in this toolbar can’t be customized, but they provide a good overall level of automation that I’m sure the majority of Markdown writers on iOS will appreciate. The bold button automatically places the cursor between two asterisks, whilst hitting the button while a word is selected will auto wrap it. Same for italics, blockquotes, and headers. A nice touch is that, if you want to create H2 or H3 titles, you can keep hitting the header button and Scratch will add new # characters to the same line. The same kind of smart formatting is available for list continuation, which is supported by Scratch.
The Markdown toolbar also offers a link button. If you hit this with no word selected, it will create an inline link placing the cursor between square brackets. If you select a word and hit Link, the word will be wrapped and the link placed after http:// in the parenthesis. I don’t understand the choice of including “http://” by default, as most of the time I’m pasting a URL from the clipboard and the prefix is already there. This forces me to manually delete the http:// inserted by Scratch, which is painful on the small screen of the iPhone. I wish Karbon would consider some kind of macro customization, like Nebulous Notes does. I would like to choose where to put my cursor after hitting a shortcut, and decide whether the brackets should be pre-filled with the contents of my clipboard or not.
It’s not all about formatting though. The first toolbar of Scratch — the one that is displayed by default — features buttons to clear all text, view your drafts, and export. The clear button is associated to a delightful animation I tried to capture in the screenshot above. Hitting the drafts button will flip the screen to reveal a History section listing all your notes in reverse chronological order. Each note has a date, timestamp, and word count.
The export functionality is the core of Scratch, and the cause of my incompatibilities with the app. For Dropbox, the app can create a new file, or append text to an existing one. The problem with Scratch’s implementation is that, in a quick note-taking app, I demand a fast workflow. And instead of making export frictionless, Scratch forces me to select the file to append text to every single time.
Similarly, if you want to create a new file, Scratch will ask you to pick a folder. The app can’t automatically save to a pre-defined location with a single tap, which is exactly why I like Drafts a lot.
Scratch does have some nice touches I appreciate when it comes to exporting. For one, the app can export your selection, making it easy to save only the words you want. And in the settings, there are options to insert a newline character when appending and to clear contents after export.
Right now, I think Scratch is in a kind of strange place. It comes with a customizable toolbar made popular by the likes of Writing Kit and Nebulous Notes, but it won’t let you preview Markdown. It wants to be a quick note-taking app, but exporting files to Dropbox requires too many taps than its main competitor, Drafts. And unlike Agile Tortoise’s app, you won’t find any third-party app integration here.
Scratch sports some thoughtful design decisions, which is why I’m keeping it on my radar for future updates. I can’t fully recommend Scratch today, but I’m looking forward to a new version.
Scratch is available at $2.99 on the App Store.
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