Peter Davison-Reiber created something pretty amazing in Drafts 5 – a natural language parser to create events in the system calendar natively, without launching other apps:
What I’ve ended up creating has almost all of the same functionality as Fantastical, but since it does not rely on launching an external URL scheme, is considerably faster. You can enter multiple events, each on a different line, and have them all instantly added to your calendar without even launching another app.
When writing my review, I needed a way to navigate between the different sections, and all of the subheadings I had created. I had developed an action to navigate to each of the markdown headers, which I was happy with at the time. It was nice to have that functionality to switch around where I was in my review.
Well, I’m happy to say that I have been Sherlocked.
Drafts 5.2 came out while I was in San Jose for WWDC, and I've been meaning to check out the new features since I started getting back into a normal routine. Tim Nahumck, of course, has a great overview of the changes in this version of Drafts, along with some useful examples you can download.
As Tim points out, the ability to navigate headers of a Markdown document through a dedicated "section popup" is a terrific addition to Drafts. Few text editors designed for people who write in Markdown get this right; one of the reasons I still keep Editorial on my iOS devices is because it lets me navigate longer pieces with a header navigation tool. However, the implementation in Drafts 5 is more powerful, modern, and can be controlled with the keyboard (you can invoke the switcher with
⌘\ and, just like Things, dismiss it with
⌘. without ever leaving the keyboard).
There are few apps I've ever used which made a lasting impact on my daily workflow. But for years now, the singular app that's been the foundation of my iOS use has been Drafts. The app has lived in my dock since I first picked it up, it's the single most important app I use on the platform, and it's the only paid app I mandate to anyone looking for must-have apps on iOS.
Drafts is the bedrock app from which I build all my productivity. It’s the single point of text entry that shares to any app, whether through the share sheet, a simple action, or a custom and complex action. Any time I have an idea, I put it in Drafts. Tasks to add to my task manager? I do that from Drafts. Something I want to write about on my blog? That idea starts in Drafts too. It's the focal point for everything I do.
But times change. Apps age. New features are added in the OS that need to be integrated, which cause some developers to pull the plug. So today, I'm saying goodbye to Drafts 4. And it's getting replaced by the only app that could possibly replace it: Drafts 5.
Agile Tortoise has teamed up with David Sparks of MacSparky.com to produce a series of screencasts introducing Drafts 4 to new users and highlighting some of its features. The first two screencasts were released today. The first video is an overview of how Drafts works, and some of the things you can accomplish with it. The second video focuses on using Drafts with Dropbox to save text as a separate file in Dropbox or append text to an existing text file.
David Sparks, who has made screencasts for companies like The Omni Group and Smile Software, does a great job of showing how easy it is to get started with Drafts, but also exposing some of the powerful ways Drafts can interact with other apps like Dropbox.
You can watch the first two Drafts videos below.
A great update to Drafts was released earlier this week, and it's got some interesting changes for users who manage a lot of notes or save bits of text in the same notes on a regular basis.
The Drafts extension can now offer to append/prepend whatever it receives (some text, a URL, etc.) to existing notes – useful to keep a running list of items without ending with multiple notes or having to merge them manually every time. This is useful for me when I want to assemble lists of links I can use for MacStories or Relay.
The Drafts Share extension (used from the Share sheet in other apps) now supports appending and prepending to inbox drafts as well as capture of new drafts. To use these options in the share sheet, tap the “Append” or “Prepend” buttons at the bottom of the window and select the draft to add the text to.
You can also run an action on multiple notes at once now:
When using the “Select” and “Operations” options below the drafts list, there is now a “Select All” option to quickly select all drafts in the current tab, and a “Run Action” operation to apply an action to multiple drafts. “Select All” is particularly useful to quickly archive all drafts in the inbox, for example. The “Run Action” operation lets you quickly select multiple drafts and run an action on them. When selecting this operation, the action list will be shown to select the action to run. Some actions (such as ones that leave Drafts) are not supported for multiple selections and will be grayed out in the list.
The most impressive aspect of Drafts is how Greg Pierce manages to keep the app simple and powerful at the same time with features that are there but not in the way. That's an exercise of restraint and good design that can't be appreciated in other apps. Drafts is $9.99 on the App Store.
I missed this last week, but Drafts has been updated with a useful Workflow integration to easily create actions that can trigger workflows with text. From the Agile Tortoise blog:
Drafts 4.1.2 has added a new “Run Workflow” action step to provide integration with Workflow app from Desk Connect. This step makes it easy to fire an workflow in Workflow app with a single tap. The action step can be configured with the name of a workflow, has a template to construct the text sent to the workflow and optional flag for whether to return to Drafts after execution. Under the hood, Drafts is constructing x-callback-url URLs to trigger the workflow, but this makes it much easier for the novice user than constructing them yourself in Open URL action steps.
Similarly, the latest version of Workflow has added a shortcut to create a Drafts action:
As an added bonus, the latest update of Workflow has added an option, when viewing settings on a workflow, to “Add to Drafts”, which will open Drafts and automatically create an action, setup with a “Run Workflow” action step, ready to go. This feature will be rolling out over the course of the next couple of days, so if you do not see it immediately in Workflow, try again later. For more details, read the Run Workflow action step documentation.
I'm using this to quickly send links copied from Twitter (which still doesn't support the iOS 8 share sheet) to Workflow via Drafts, and it works well.
Speaking of Drafts, the app is coming to Apple Watch.
A few months ago, I wrote about trying to capture pieces of text via extensions and merging them in a single note. Given the lack of an iOS 8 extension capable of directly appending text to an existing note, I ended up using NoteBox, which worked well.
Today's 4.1 update to Drafts contains, among a plethora of fixes and improvements, operations for drafts, which include a Merge mode. This enables me to go back to a single note-taking app on my devices as Drafts can now handle capturing text through the extension and merging of notes.
From the changelog of Drafts 4.0.6, released today on the App Store:
New: Today widget. Now back with the addition of recent drafts summary. Thanks to the help of some fine folks inside Apple for sorting this out.
The original Drafts widget was removed from the app after an Apple rejection two weeks ago. As with PCalc and Transmit before, Apple reversed their decision and the widget is back – and it's even better than before.
The widget shows the total number of drafts in the app and it has buttons to create a new empty draft, a draft from the clipboard, and to open recent drafts, which is new. I wish Agile Tortoise didn't have to go through this process, but I'm glad the widget is back in Drafts before the holidays.
Drafts is one of my all-time favorite apps on iOS, not only for its amazing utility, but also because it was the app that got me started writing about technology, so it has a special place in my heart. However, surveying what the app has looked like since its last big update over a year ago, it’s been clear to me that an unchanged Drafts would stagnate in the post-iOS 8 world. In the face of new methods of inter-app communication such as extensions, documents pickers, and widgets, surviving on URL scheme-based utilities alone would likely not be enough to keep Drafts relevant.