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.

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.

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!

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.

Farewell, TextTool

Sad news in the iOS Utilities category: Craig Pearlman has announced he will be ending development of his excellent iOS text utility, TextTool 2.

I’ve been a fan of TextTool since version one launched, and was excited to upgrade to version 2 fairly recently. Unfortunately, it didn’t bring in enough money to support development. This is a real shame. I’ve conversed with Craig a few times on Twitter and Slack and I can only imagine how much care he put into revamping TextTool for version 2 (though one doesn’t have to imagine if they’ve ever used the app; it shows).

TextTool was built out of love for iOS and the need to perform certain types of tasks. It started as a simple idea and grew. TextTool 2 was written to take this to the next level, to try to provide a desktop-class experience to a platform that needed it.

As he says in his post, he will be back; I don’t doubt that and I look forward to seeing what comes next from Blackfog Interactive. I’m the meantime, I hope somebody who can keep it true acquires TextTool 2.

Drafts and Interact on Sale in the Agile Tortoise Back to School Sale

It’s back to school time and Agile Tortoise is having a sale on two of their wonderful apps. For a limited time, you can grab Drafts (iOS) for $2.99, down from $4.99, and Interact (iOS | macOS) for $1.99 down from $3.99.

Interact is a great way to deal with contacts on iOS, but it’s biggest strength for me is the Scratchpad feature, which allows you to quickly and easily add new contacts, or update info for existing contacts, using plain text. The macOS version of Interact brings the scratchpad to your Mac as well. I definitely recommend it, even if you don’t deal with contacts on a daily basis (I don’t).

Drafts is where text starts on iOS. That tag line couldn’t be more true for me. I’ve been using Drafts since version 3 in 2013 and version 4, release back in 2014 and continually support since, has been and remains one of my go to, docked apps on all of my iOS devices. Drafts, and the pieces about it on MacStories are what got me into iOS automation – and eventually Workflow – in the first place. Luckily there are many actions available in the Drafts Action Directory so you can probably get started without any extensive knowledge of URL schemes. I highly recommend this app, and at $2.99 it’s a steal.

Using Workflow to get map images of locations

We just got back from vacation. By just I mean last weekend, but I may still be in denial that it’s over. I haven’t had a lot of time since, though, to write much, so I am working on that. In the meantime, I thought I’d just share a simple little workflow I sometimes find useful for saving locations.

There are plenty of ways to share your location with others these days, be it through the recently added features in Google Maps, the built-in options in Apple Messages, or some other service such as Glympse. There are also plenty of ways to save locations, using apps like Swarm (Foursquare) or, one of my favorites, Rego (more on that in the future, probably). Though not created specifically for saving locations, Day One is also a great app here, with its quick and easy Check-in feature, and ability to add location to a journal entry’s metadata. Usually, if I am saving a location, it is going to be by taking the location data from a photo using Rego, or creating a Day One journal entry. Sometimes, however, I want more than just a location’s coordinates, or a link to open it in Maps. Sometimes, I want to have a map image of the location.

While I could certainly take a screenshot in whatever map app I happen to be using, that requires cropping and potentially more. I want something I can access easily, tap, and get a map image of my current location, without having to tell it anything. Luckily Workflow provides a very simple way to get this, thanks to its ContentKit framework. When you pass input to an action in Workflow, that action will process the input based on the type of input it is expecting or capable of receiving. If you pass a photo into the Get Text from Input action, the output obviously wont be the photo. Workflow knows you want text, so it gets the only text associated with the input: the file name of the photo.

You might see where I’m going with this: Using this same concept, we can pass a location into the Get Images from Input action in a workflow. The only image that would be associated with location data, at least as far as Workflow is concerned, is a map image of that location, and so that is what it gives you. This means we can simply use the Get Current Location action, followed by Get Images from Input to get our map image for the current device location. You can use Workflow’s magic variables system to easily construct some more details, if you would like to share or save the image along with a location name, coordinates, or perhaps a Maps or Google Maps link.

Here is a simple version of the workflow that gets the map image and then lets you share it. Here is what the output looks like:

The workflow results in an image of a map of the current location.

If you have any questions about setting the workflow up for more specific scenarios or run into trouble with it, feel free to reach out to me.

Creating new TextExpander snippets with Workflow from (almost) any app

Using Workflow, you can create TextExpander snippets in nearly any app.

Snippets in TextExpander can save a lot of time typing

When you have a lot of repetitive typing to do, text expansion can be a real timesaver. iOS has built-in keyboard shortcuts, which can a big help for things you type often such as an email address or phone number however, these text shortcuts are rather basic. Though limited by Apple’s app sand boxing, a real text expansion app can typically go a lot further, and the best in this market is TextExpander by Smile Software. TextExpander can save you a lot of time, especially if you’re using apps that support it, and provides an SDK that has been adopted by several great writing apps, such as Drafts and Day One. There is a good number of apps that have added support for TextExpander, but they also provide a third-party keyboard to expand snippets. I do find I have some personal issues with the keyboard, and I’ve heard criticisms from others, but I still find it useful especially compared to the other options.

Though perhaps less known, TextExpander also provides a URL scheme. Sometimes, when I’m writing something for the x-teenth time, I think, I should really make that a snippet. I’ll do it when I’m finished here, and then I forget by the time I’m done. On the Mac, it’s really easy to create a snippet. On iOS you have to open the app and fill out the new snippet form. Luckily there is another way: the URL scheme.

TextExpander’s URL scheme offers a method for creating new snippets. All we need is a way to launch that URL while passing our intended snippet content to it as input, right from the very place we are typing. That’s where Workflow comes in. Though it has no support for TextExpander built-in, it does make it easy to take text input and run a URL scheme with it. However, I wanted a bit more control here. TextExpander provides a system of organization for snippets in the form of groups. I wanted to be able to select a destination group for the snippet when I create it, and set an abbreviation for it. That’s what the final workflow does.

This workflow creates a snippet from the selected text

To use the workflow, simply select the text you wish to save as a snippet. In the Copy/Paste pop up menu, there is also a Share option. Tapping Share from here will share the text only, which is what we want. Then select the Run Workflow action extension and choose the Create Snippet workflow. The workflow will first display the selected text so you can edit if needed and then confirm it. Next it will ask you to create an abbreviation for your snippet, and then show a list of groups from which you can select as a destination for the snippet. The workflow will then launch the Workflow app and prompt you to confirm you want to open TextExpander. Once it does, the new snippet is created and you are returned to Workflow. Unfortunately, due to Apple’s restrictions in iOS, the extension must first open Workflow to launch the URL scheme, and it is not capable of returning you to the original all you started in. For me, that’s a small annoyance but certainly not a deal breaker.

The workflow lets you select a group and apply an abbreviation

You should customize the workflow by changing the group names in the List action to reflect your actual snippet group names. Be sure to match spelling properly with how they appear in TextExpander. You can grab the workflow here. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions.