Drafts [App o' the Mornin']

I hope to write small reviews of my whole mobile productivity suite over the next few weeks (alternating with entertainment reviews), and concluding with a post on how it all ties together. I’ve tested a vast array of software over the past couple years, trying to rebuild my work system from scratch, first going wholly paperless, and then drifting back to some paper-based note-taking and lists.

Text highlighted in the Universalis app is turned into a document with one tap.

Whatever I do and whatever I’ve changed, however, Drafts (Agile Tortoise, iOS 7 only, iPad: $4, iPhone: $3, no universal app) has been a constant since I adopted it for both iPhone and iPad last year. Drafts is the funnel through which all my text flows, and its simplicity hides a power that allows to you create and use text anyway you like.

Drafts is a straight-up text utility. You type plain text, and that’s it.

But it’s not merely a text editor. I have several of those, some of which I prefer to use when I’m doing long-form writing on a mobile device. (iAwriter and Textilus both have their uses.) If you choose to use Drafts as your total text creation solution, it will work just fine. It has special characters in the bar above the keyboard, arrows that allow you to move by letter and word through the document, onscreen word and character counts, and some light character formatting features. 

But Drafts is special not because it’s a text editor, but because it’s a text manager. It allows for the fastest, easiest “text capture” on any mobile device. It opens quickly on a blank page every time (unless you set it to open on the last file), and allows you tap out text fast. All of your saved pages are readily accessible by tapping an icon to open a list of documents.

The power comes from it does text. You can “push” it anywhere you need. Let’s say you take a note and want to Tweet it, Facebook it, email it, turn it into a text file to save on Dropbox, make it a reminder, and drop it into Evernote. It does each of these actions with a tap.

Say you don’t want to create a new Dropbox file, but rather append a new piece of text, complete with a time and date stamp, to the end of a file. It can do that too. It’s the best way I’ve ever found to keep a continuous journal. It will start a new file each day, week, or month if you like. The list of actions is large and each can be customized for your needs. You can even chain actions together so that one tap will do all of the things listed above.

It’s like a little notebook and filing system in one. I use it for everything from jotting down quick notes to capturing story ideas or sentences that occur to me. Sometimes I dictate straight into it using the iOS voice recognition icon, and it works just fine at capturing voice-to-text. When you tap and hold the new document creation icon, you get a menu that allows you to create a new draft, new from clipboard, new from selection, or import from Dropbox. If you’re looking for a way to grab slices of text on an iOS screen and send it somewhere for future use, it doesn’t get any easier than this.

There are a lot of features buried in here–like the ability to use it as an app launcher–that I never use. It’s a powerful piece of software, and though some might be annoyed that it’s not a universal app (you’ll need to buy iPhone and iPad versions separately) $7 total is an absurdly small price to pay for something this useful. It has an elegant implementation of its features, masking serious flexibility and power with a deceptive simplicity. That’s a sign of good design. On any device I use, it has a permanent place on my dock.

About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • Will Duquette

    I’ve seen some issues with the iPad version when used with an external keyboard: some erratic display issues, and then, the up and down arrow keys on the external keyboard jump paragraphs, not lines.

  • http://www.parafool.com/ victor

    Well, I’m sold! I’ve tried using Daedalus and a few other word processing apps in the past but it never really gelled for me. Looking forward to giving this a go.

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com/ Thomas L. McDonald

    I still like some other docs for longer writing, and Textilus handles RTF files well, which gives you more flexibility.

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com/ Thomas L. McDonald

    Hmmm, I’ve never noticed it, but I don’t use the external keyboard for Drafts too much, It’s my quick-entry software, rather than my get-down-to-work software.

  • Will Duquette

    I was trying to use it to do a longer draft one day when the 3G on my iPad was non-functional. Usually I use EverNote for that, but since the ‘net wasn’t available I was going to use Drafts and send it off to myself when I got home. But as I say, it wasn’t quite right. Presumably that will get fixed in the long run.


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