When we chose the second annual lifetime achievement award winner, there was no doubt in my mind that it should be Drafts. Developed and maintained by Greg Pierce of Agile Tortoise, Drafts has been the place where text starts on iOS for nearly a decade now. Times have certainly changed, but Drafts remains. Through the years, it has evolved into so much more than the simple text utility it once was.
While it has evolved, the most beautiful thing about Drafts has been the fervent dedication to its original mission statement. If you are about to type some text – any text — on your iPhone or iPad (and even, in modern times, your Mac), you should open Drafts. The app is so focused on text capture that it defaults to opening a new blank “draft” every time you open the app.
Writing text is only as useful as what you do with it, so the second pillar of the Drafts mission is its action menu; an infinitely customizable list of actions that allow you manipulate and send text from the app to essentially anywhere else you can think of. From random web services to other native apps on your devices, Drafts can almost certainly deliver your text. As your words get delivered throughout your entire digital life, you can take comfort in knowing that you can always search for and find anything you’ve written simply by looking up its record in Drafts.
Drafts in 2022. From left: the editing view, the action menu, and the filtering view.
It amazes me that after hearing that pitch (and even personally writing about it) again and again for over a decade, I still find it to be an alluring idea. Drafts’ longevity is a testament to the prescience of Pierce’s original vision. It pleases me immensely to see this app carrying on for so long, and it’s an honor to award it MacStories’ Lifetime Achievement award.
Drafts 20, the latest update to the powerful text editor and capture tool, introduces an excellent feature for creating in-line links to other drafts, workspaces, or even searches.
I’ve always appreciated the ability to link notes inside of other notes, like what’s available in Bear, and that’s exactly the behavior that Drafts 20 enables. By typing an existing draft’s title inside of double brackets (e.g. [[Draft Title Here]]), you can create a Wiki-style link to that draft that can be tapped or clicked for instant access. For research purpose especially, I’ve found this functionality useful in the past, and I’m glad to see it in Drafts.
One nice detail of Drafts’ implementation is that you can use the same syntax to create links to brand new drafts; if you type a title in brackets that doesn’t currently exist, the app will automatically create a new draft with that title. The system is smart enough, too, to work with only partial titles entered. For example, with an old draft titled “Apple Card Now Available for All US Customers,” all I had to type in brackets was ‘Apple Card’ for the link to be created. The only enhancement I hope to see in a future update is auto-complete suggestions when typing a draft’s title so you can ensure you’ve entered the correct one.
Linking to other drafts is certainly the primary appeal of the new bracketing syntax, but developer Greg Pierce has included a handful of advanced options too that make the feature even more valuable. As detailed in the update’s release notes, you can bracket not just other draft titles, but also links to your existing workspaces, a search term inside the app, or even a Bear note. My favorite options, however, enable creating one-tap links to Google or Wikipedia searches. By typing google: or wikipedia: then a search term, all inside double brackets, Drafts will create links to initiate those types of searches. The added flexibility afforded by these links, alongside the new links to other drafts, makes Drafts a strong research and database tool, alongside all the other things the app’s great at.
When Drafts for Mac first arrived, I knew there were great things to come – not that it wasn’t an excellent app already! But since that time, Drafts for Mac has evolved. What was previously a functional app is now functional, automatable, and more importantly a flexible tool that can mold to fit your workflow.
Since Drafts first released, there have been numerous new features. Notably, it now supports multiple windows. This means you can have as many Drafts windows open at once as you like. I’ve taken to assigning different Spaces to different projects, enabling me to have Drafts open with its relevant Workspace in the same area as other apps.
As well as this, Drafts for Mac added batch tagging (and untagging) drafts. This has improved my workflow dramatically, as I can process the items that land in my inbox and need filing much faster. Another excellent feature is the addition of dictation (for macOS Catalina users). Especially with the demise of Dragon Dictate for Mac, this feature is a great way to talk at your computer and let it do the typing.
The headline new feature, though, is something Drafts for iOS fans consider the heart of the app: actions.
One of my favorite things about Drafts is its quick adoption of the new OS features that come year-over-year. Not only are they quickly adopted, but they are well implemented, carefully considered, and provide increased capability for both existing and new users alike.
This year with the release of iOS 13, iPadOS 13, and macOS Catalina, Drafts gains an updated look, improvements to the interface and navigation, full iPadOS support, and greatly improved Shortcuts integration. While this may not seem like a big list, I can assure you that the new features of the app are fantastic, and have made a monumental improvement to my daily workflows.
The quest for the perfect text application – for some of us it has been a lifelong goal, or at least it feels like it. I realised very early on in my computing life that I did not enjoy playing with formatting in Word or Pages, and when I discovered that Markdown provides the ability to make items **bold** or _italic_ with just a few simple characters, I felt like I had finally found my text formatting holy grail.
Many years ago I discovered Drafts for iOS, and the idea appealed: you open the application and type. No creating a new file, or trying to decide what to do with the text before the thought is fully formed, just open, type, then decide. I frequently need to jot down notes, save links, and have found being able to write without thinking too much about where the words need to go, and how they’re going to get there, is extremely helpful in today’s world of constant interruptions.
Last year saw Drafts 5 released for iOS with even more capability than before, allowing you to truly customise it to be the text editor you’ve always dreamed of having. There was only one small but important snag – no Mac version.
Today there is a Mac app. It is what many of us have been waiting for, albeit with a few missing features at the moment. Drafts for Mac has landed.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: you’ve probably heard of Marzipan, the Apple project to enable iOS developers to bring their applications to the Mac. This is not one of those apps. It is an app written from the ground up for macOS, which works as expected with the system features.
One thing that is included with MultiMarkdown as an option is Critic Markup. Looking through the guide, there are several helpful elements that can be used for editing my writing utilizing Critic Markup. I can highlight some substitutions, additions, and deletions. I can highlight text to show something I might want to work on later. I can also add a basic comment somewhere that won’t be shown in a preview. And with this action, I can easily add any of them with a tap and a text entry, which inserts it in the proper format. This is helpful for creating and previewing the documents in Drafts, and gives users the flexibility to mark up files and save them back to a cloud service. I can see myself using this a lot for longer posts or large reviews. I’ve even modified my own site preview action to render the MultiMarkdown via scripting, as well as updating both my standard and linked post WordPress publishing actions to do the same.
I’ve always been a fan of CriticMarkup but have never been able to get into it as it wasn’t integrated with the text editors I used on iOS. Considering how Drafts is my favorite option when it comes to writing and editing certain annual long-form stories, and given how I came up with my own syntax in previous years to embed comments in Markdown documents, I’m going to give this a try.
Drafts 5 was recently updated to version 5.4, which brings a host of new features. While there is support for iOS 12’s Siri shortcuts and all that they have to offer, there are also other important features that have improved the app’s capabilities significantly.
Back in June, I wrote on MacStories that I was evaluating whether Drafts 5 could replace Editorial for my Markdown automation and become the app I use to write my annual iOS review. Putting together these longform pieces involves a lot of writing, editing, and navigating between different sections; the more I can automate these tasks, the more time I can spend doing what actually matters for the review – testing the new version of iOS and ensuring the review is up to my standards.
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.