Capture and Process with Drafts 5

Capture is arguably the most important part of a system. It gets a thought of an idea or task or project out of your head and into a safe trusted space so that your mind can be free to think about what is important at the moment and, with a powerful computer in your pocket at all times, capturing has never been easier than it is today. However, capturing alone does no good if you don’t process that information regularly, sorting tasks and projects that need doing so that proper action can be taken. This is my struggle.

I can capture quickly and easily thanks to Siri and share extensions, as well as apps like Workflow. The biggest boon to quick capture though is easily Drafts. Drafts had the tagline where text starts on iOS, and there couldn’t be a more fitting description of it for me. From my phone or my watch, I can easily capture thoughts as they come, and know that they’re safely stored until I can get around to processing them. Unfortunately, I’ve long struggled with committing to doing so regularly, and I often find myself having way more notes in my Drafts inbox than I need. With some of the new features launched in Drafts 5 recently, I am trying to change that.

What makes Drafts so brilliant is not only how easy and fast it is to add some text, but how quick and flexible it is at getting that text from your inbox to whatever app or service you need to get it to. Much of this is done through URL schemes, but even if you aren’t familiar with that concept, there are plenty of actions in the Action Directory, with more being added by users all the time. Creating tasks in Things or OmniFocus, or journal entries in Day One, or sending text to DEVONthink, Dropbox, or a number of other apps, these can all be done without writing your own actions, because other users have already done so.

With version 5, these core functionalities have been improved, but several new features have also been introduced, which I believe will help me improve my system and get better at processing and acting on what I capture. The first such feature is tagging. Notes in Drafts can now be tagged with multiple tags, and so I am testing a system of using a specific tag called process to denote what items need to be processed. This will help me get through the abundance of existing data I have in there already. Most of the stuff that I put into Drafts will need processing in some form, but those which are truly important — including those important enough for me to dictate capture from my watch — I will tag to be processed. I have other tags for less important ideas and notes that aren’t necessarily urgent.

I’ve also added the Drafts complication to my Apple Watch face, which will open directly to an active dictation when tapped. In the Watch app on iPhone, you can designate a specific tag for notes captured on your watch. This means you could have all watch-captured notes be tagged with a process tag. If I’m capturing it on my watch, it’s probably important.

Next up in version 5 is the addition of Workspaces. Workspaces are essentially saved searches, which can filter drafts by a combination of text content and/or tags. I have a few setup for those less urgent tags I mentioned before, such as notes on app betas I’m participating in, and I have also set up a workspace for my process tag, which allows me to easily view just those drafts which need immediate processing, so I can run through the list and get them where they need to go. This is a handy feature if you find yourself using tags for anything in Drafts 5. My use case here shows that workspaces can be useful even if you only use Drafts as a starting point and don’t keep much in the app long term. For those who use it for more in-depth purposes such as a text editor, I imagine it will be even more helpful. There’s also a new command in the Drafts URL scheme to launch the app to a specific workspace view. I’m utilizing this in a repeating OmniFocus task to launch Drafts directly to my To Process workspace:

drafts5://x-callback-url/workspace?name=To%20Process

I know some people have strong feelings about using badge notifications, but I am now giving it a try in Drafts. Why? Tags. The new badge notification settings for Drafts allow you to filter by tags. I have it setup to only count those drafts which are tagged as process, rather than counting the entire inbox. This lets me know at a glance how many need immediate attention.

While I’ve only scratched the surface here of what’s new in Drafts 5, these are the features I believe will help me as I work to improve my system. Tim Nahumck wrote an excellent review on MacStories that goes in depth on all the new features and design. Drafts has been in my dock since I discovered it in 2013, and the latest version further solidifies its place there. The design is beautiful and the new features make it even more powerful than before.

Drafts is available as a free download on the App Store, with monthly or annual subscription options available. Give it a try and decide if the features are right for you. For me, it’s absolutely worth an annual subscription.

Overcast 4.2

Marco Arment released an update to popular podcast player Overcast on iOS, with a focus on privacy:

Your personal data isn’t my business — it’s a liability. I want as little as possible. I don’t even log IP addresses anymore…

…If I don’t need your email address, I really don’t want it….

Overcast 4.2 provides a new way to sync podcasts without using an account, and Marco has made the option to not use an email address the new default. Users who already have an email address associated with Overcast will be promoted to choose whether or not they want to keep it, and this decision can be made or reversed at any time.

Version 4.2 also now blocks tracking pixels, which some publishers use via remote images to gather more data:

Big data ruined the web, and I’m not going to help bring it to podcasts. Publishers already get enough from Apple to inform ad rates and make content decisions — they don’t need more data from my customers. Podcasting has thrived, grown, and made tons of money for tons of people under the current model for over a decade. We already have all the data we need.

It’s great to see this focus on privacy and security, even in something like a podcast app where some users may not even think about these issues. Overcast has long been one of my favorite podcast players, and indeed one of my favorite apps in general, with a consistent focus on user experience and a well-thought out design. It will be interesting to see if any other players in this sector will take a cue from Marco in future updates.

Overcast 4.2 is available for free on the iOS App Store with an in-app subscription of $9.99, and is available for both iPad and iPhone. There is a web player as well.

Apple Acknowledges Workflow’s Existence in App Store Article

Okay, so it’s not exactly breaking news, but it’s been awhile since Workflow has been in a headline, and I felt it was due. It’s good to see that Apple is doing something with Workflow, at least.

The article, part of Apple’s push to provide daily editorial content in the App Store, shows users how they can use Workflow to stream any of their playlists quickly. It’s actually a good use for Workflow if you’re also an Apple Music subscriber, and something I’ve used it for in the past myself. I joke, but I am happy to see them acknowledge it and promote use of the app. There’s been a lot of doubt in the community since Workflow was acquired by Apple nearly a year ago, but I have continued to be optimistic about its future: be it as its own thing, or a more integrated part of the operating system.

I’m curious as to why they’ve chosen to feature it now. Perhaps this will lead to more stories in the future, until we see a definitive direction for Workflow. Or, perhaps one of the App Store editors is just a fan of the app and wanted to share how she uses it in a way that isn’t too niche.

Whatever the case, I’ll continue using Workflow until it’s absolutely impossible. If we’re lucky, 2018 will see some improvements or system integration. In the meantime, it’s free and also a good way to launch those playlists, so you may as well check it out. Also, it’s good for productivity stuff.

Link: Safari Tab Search on the Mac

This neat little trick comes by way of Gabe Weatherhead (Macdrifter):

Here’s a little Safari trick that is just gold. Hit Shift-⌘-\ to enter the Safari “Show all tabs” mode. From there it’s just a simple ⌘-F to search the open tabs.

I didn’t know about this, but I’ll be putting it to use now. Gabe also points out that this search will show results in the open tabs list for your other devices as well. I don’t know if this works on the iPad and I’m not around mine to test it at the moment but, if not, I’d like to see it added.

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Workflow Updated for iOS 11 and the iPhone X

Anybody who knows me knows that I love Workflow for iOS. I followed its development prior to its initial launch and, about a week after it launched, I began helping them with customer support. A few months later I would be hired on full time and have the privilege of working with the wonderful Workflow team for two years. Since being acquired by Apple in March 2017, Workflow updates seem less frequent. I’m still optimistic that this is for a good reason, yet to be revealed. Fortunately, the recent 1.7.7 update may help those whose faith had become shaky in recent months.

With 1.7.7, Workflow is updated to support the iPhone X, as well as drag and drop on iOS 11. I mentioned on Twitter a few weeks ago that I would love an app similar to the shelf app concept, except rather than just storing data and providing it in multiple available data types, it would intelligently run actions on the data you drop into it, based on which action you drop it on. Well, there are plenty of shelf apps — including my favorite so far, Gladys — but with the latest update, Workflow meets the needs I was discussing before. Now you can drag content and drop it into a workflow in the Workflow app, and it will run that workflow using the dropped content as input.

This is something I’ve been hoping to see since iOS 11 launched and it makes sense that Workflow would be the app for this. Now you can drop an image into a workflow and have it uploaded to Dropbox, or drag a link from Safari into a workflow to share it with predefined recipients and text.

To drag and drop content as input, simply drop the item on the Run Workflow button (the one that looks like a play button) — that entire rectangular section is a drop zone and will become highlighted to indicate this when content is dragged over it. From the main workflow view, you can hover over a workflow with dragged content for a second and the workflow will open, allowing you to drop the item(s) inside the workflow to run it.

I made a quick test workflow after updating, which accepts a URL for an article and generates markdown formatted text in the format:

# Title
By: Author on Publish Date
> Excerpt
**From:** URL

I can drag a link from the address bar in Safari, and drop it on the Run button at the top of the workflow. This will take that URL as input and run it through the Get Article from Webpage action, and then extract all the desired details into a single Text action using Workflow’s powerful and efficient magic variables system.

I hope to see continued development and, as I’ve mentioned multiple times here and elsewhere, I remain optimistic about the future of Workflow. I’d like to see better drag and drop support for reordering workflows in the main view (something that is and always has been very buggy for me) as well as in the Settings for Watch and Today Widget workflows. The custom drag and drop implementation used for building workflows and moving actions has always been good to me, and I don’t know if it could be improved by adopting the new standard from Apple (or perhaps they have in this version?). There’s always room for improvement and I am confident we will see more from them over the next year but, for now at least, I’m happy to see the development continue.

In addition to drag and drop and iPhone X support, 1.7.7 also brings support for the new image formats of iOS 11, some new health data types, new iOS 11 files support such as multiple files with the Get Files action, and some other improvements — much welcome in its first iOS 11 update. You can view the entire list of features and fixes here.

If you’re not using Workflow already, check it out. The app is free since it was acquired so you have nothing to lose but time (which you just might gain back with Workflow). Be sure to check out the official documentation, r/workflow on Reddit, and the in-app gallery for help, examples, and inspiration.

The MacStories iOS 11 Review Audiobook

I’ve been reading MacStories since 2013. In that time, Federico has grown the site and its reach substantially, bringing on more writers, publishing more content, redesigning the site a couple of years ago, and all the while delivering excellent content consistently. Needless to say, I’m a fan.

I’m also a big fan of the annual MacStories iOS review, published with the public release of iOS each September. This year, the gang at MacStories did something different: an audiobook version of the iOS 11 review. This review is long and detailed though, from what I read of it, a good read (as to be expected). However, some folks don’t have a lot of time to read through it all, while listening to the review on one’s commute can be easier and quicker. Even better, the review is read by Myke Hurley (of the RelayFM podcast network). If you’re a fan of RelayFM’s excellent shows like Upgrade and Connected, then you’ll likely enjoy listening to this. The review comes in at around 5 hours, and I’m about halfway through it, but it’s a great listen and loaded with interesting information and explanations. For example, I didn’t know I could tap a Safari link with two fingers to open it in a new tab.

The audiobook can be purchased here for $9.99 but if you’re a Club MacStories member, you can get it for $3.99. (Hint: you can join Club MacStories for just $5 monthly) and get lots of great extras, in addition the monthly newsletter!

Ulysses Gains Drag and Drop Support and More

Yesterday Ulysses, the best writing app on iOS, released an update adding some UI changes to bring it inline with the iOS 11 interface (big headers over lists), as well as support for one of the most important iOS 11 features: Drag and drop. With drag and drop support in Ulysses, you can now drag sheets to arrange or move them, drag text and other elements within a sheet, and even drag text out of a sheet to create a new sheet with that text. This works on both iPhone and iPad. On iPad only, you can also use drag and drop between applications. Now you can drag text, links, or images and drop them into a sheet! Hopefully the future will see dragging out of Ulysses updated to include export options as well.

In addition to drag and drop, this release also adds the ability to preview images inline with your words. This doesn’t work if you’re using image links, but if you add images directly to your sheet, you’ll get a subtle, low-distraction preview inline. You can also now edit with multiple panes open. Previously, when you would start editing a sheet, the library and sheet list panes would be closed. Now, on iPad, you can edit with these open. I think that’s a good change for the screen real estate available on the larger iPad Pro. Finally, they also made some changes to how the library is viewed.

Of course, drag and drop is the highlight of this release. Ulysses is a powerful tool for writers, whether you use it for notes, papers, personal writing, fiction, or blogging. I write all of my posts in Ulysses and am happy to support them through an annual subscription. It’s great to see them continue development and bring excellent new features to one of my favorite apps.

If you aren’t already using it, Ulysses is free to try, and has an in-app purchase for monthly or annual subscription plans, which give you access to the app on iPhone, iPad, and macOS. An educational discount is available for the subscription as well. Check it out!

On Personalizing “Hey Siri”

From Apple’s Machine Learning Journal, in a piece about what goes on behind the scenes on your devices when you say “Hey Siri”:

We designed the always-on “Hey Siri” detector to respond whenever anyone in the vicinity says the trigger phrase. To reduce the annoyance of false triggers, we invite the user to go through a short enrollment session. During enrollment, the user says five phrases that each begin with “Hey Siri.” We save these examples on the device.

We compare any possible new “Hey Siri” utterance with the stored examples as follows. The (second-pass) detector produces timing information that is used to convert the acoustic pattern into a fixed-length vector, by taking the average over the frames aligned to each state. A separate, specially trained DNN transforms this vector into a “speaker space” where, by design, patterns from the same speaker tend to be close, whereas patterns from different speakers tend to be further apart. We compare the distances to the reference patterns created during enrollment with another threshold to decide whether the sound that triggered the detector is likely to be “Hey Siri” spoken by the enrolled user.

This process not only reduces the probability that “Hey Siri” spoken by another person will trigger the iPhone, but also reduces the rate at which other, similar-sounding phrases trigger Siri.

I found this whole thing very interesting, even as I am not experienced in the ways of machine learning. I found it particularly interesting because of something that happened last week: My wife and I were sitting on the couch and I used “Hey Siri” for something. Out of curiosity, I checked to see if it triggered hers, and indeed it did not. With my iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch at the ready, I had her try to trigger my devices multiple times, with no success.

It’s neat to see what goes into helping Siri reduce the chances of these false activations. Granted, my wife is a female with a slight Mexican accent (only very slightly). The chance of false activation would be higher with another male speaker, I imagine, but the fact that it is able to store and use the enrollment examples to cut down on this is still really cool.

Bear Adds New Drop Bar for Taking Action on Multiple Notes Quickly

Bear’s latest update takes advantage of a core iOS 11 feature in an interesting new way

Bear’s new Drop Bar lets you take quick action on multiple notes

In the latest release today – version 1.3 – notes app Bear added Apple Watch support, as well an interesting new feature called the Drop Bar. The Drop Bar takes advantage of the new drag and drop support in iOS 11 and works on both iPad and iPhone. Start dragging a note, and the Drop Bar will appear along the bottom of the screen. You can add other notes to your drag selection and, when you’re ready, drop them onto the Drop Bar to reveal a list of actions.

The action selected will be applied across all of the notes dropped onto it. The available actions include pinning the notes, moving them to trash, duplicating, sharing, copying the note links, copying the note identifiers, completing all tasks within selected notes, removing specific tags, and exporting or copying as one combined note, in various formats. The Export action provides several formats, including txt, markdown, Textbundle, PDF, Taskpaper, DOCX, and a couple of others.

While I still have been using Ulysses more frequently for notes and writing, I do have some notes in Bear, particularly some personal documentation (because of Bear’s support for easy inter-note linking). I’m a fan of Bear, and would like to get more use out of it. With this latest update, they continue to take advantage of iOS features in a smart way that fits with their overall design, of which I am a fan. I may give them a try for more general notes again and see how useful the Drop Bar can be for me.

If you’ve not already checked it out, Bear is available for free on the App Store, with a $1.49/month subscription available as an in-app purchase to unlock Bear Pro.

Learn Ulysses: Here It Is (The Sweet Setup)

You deserve to be free to focus on your ideas, your writing, your notes, and your research. That’s why I use Ulysses, and that’s why I want to help you learn Ulysses and discover everything it’s capable of doing.

The Sweet Setup has launched a new course for learning Ulysses, the powerful dual-platform (iOS and macOS) text editor from developers The Soulmen. I haven’t had a chance to check out the course yet but it sounds good and has some good reviews from those who have. Learn Ulysses consists of 7 videos, which seem to cover everything there is to know about using Ulysses.

Ulysses has been the subject of some discussion lately, since their recent switch to a subscription pricing model. Some folks might not be able to justify the cost given how they use Ulysses, while others will know that they use it too much not to purchase a subscription. Personally, I took advantage of the annual subscription’s discount for existing users. I don’t hold any issue with their decision to switch, as long as it enables them to continue to provide the excellent quality Ulysses customers have come to know and expect in their favorite writing app.

If you recently decided to purchase a subscription for Ulysses, or you’re considering whether it will be worth it for you, personally, Learn Ulysses might be able to help you make that decision or figure out if it was the right decision for you to have made, by showing you everything you can do with it and maybe even giving you some ideas on ways you can take your use further. Like I said, I haven’t seen it, and this isn’t a review. However I like and trust the work of Shawn Blanc and the others at The Sweet Setup.

If you’re interested in this course, it’s usually $29 but you can get a launch week special of 20% and grab it for $23 now.