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.
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.
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.
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.