Drafts for iOS

Drafts is a tinkerer’s DIY dream of a text editor. It nails the basics, and allows you to customize its editor and its tag and folder system to fit your specific needs—it just takes a little time (and, maybe, some JavaScript skills, for some things) to do so.

Drafts is where text begins

Drafts, by Agile Tortoise, isn’t exactly an unknown app. On the contrary, it is one of the crown jewels of the iOS platform. It is one of the few apps with an in-app purchase tip jar that I actually threw money in—a few times, actually. Drafts makes my life simpler, in little ways, every day. Like one of my other favorite writing apps, Ulysses, it is a pleasure to use.

Drafts is primarily meant for quick text entry, and then pushing that text to another app for processing or storage. For example, I type most calendar entries and Google searches in Drafts (which is in my home screen toolbar) and, in two taps, open them for processing in Fantastical or Safari (which are not in my toolbar). Drafts 4, which has been out quite a while now, expands on that basic idea, and delivers a very useful utility and a top-notch text editor.

Not just for automation—for writing!

Drafts is already well known for its automation capabilities. It is great for drafting a tweet and posting it to Twitter (either natively or via another app), or for writing out a calendar entry and pushing it to Fantastical or Calendars 5 for parsing. What it is not well known for—but should be—is that it is the most customizable text editor on iOS. Editorial has long held that crown, thanks to its its support of snippets and extensibility with Python scripts. Drafts, however, outdoes Editorial when it comes to customizing the editor itself, which has a profound effect on writing experience.

In Drafts, actions can change the text your are writing, send some or all of it to another app, turn on/off night mode within the app, and so on. You can download actions from the developer’s extensive library, of, if you are a bit of a programmer, you can them yourself in JavaScript, from within the app. You can assign these actions to the main menu, which is accessible from the top-right icon, or from a swipe to the left. That’s the basic stuff. You can also assign these actions to a custom toolbar that is displayed over the keyboard. Even better, for hardware keyboard users, you can assign your own hardware keyboard shortcuts to these actions, too. No other iOS app that I use does this!

I use Drafts on my iPad primarily for writing notes, such as when I get a phone call or am in a meeting. I use my custom toolbar buttons to input today’s date, paste text, format headings and lists in Markdown, send various lines (text selections) to my todo.txt file (via Dropbox), and so on. At the end of my writing session, I send the entire note to Dropbox for storage.

Notes don’t have to be exported, however. They can stay in Drafts and sync to all your other iOS devices via iCloud. You can also organize them there. There are three basic folders—Inbox, Archive, and Trash—to put notes into. You can flag notes for future retrieval, and filter them them by folder, flag status, and keywords (search terms within the note text) into custom “folders” or saved searches as well. I have not switched over to using Drafts as a full-fledged notes app (most of my drafts get automatically deleted after 30 days in the Trash folder), but I am thinking about it.

Drafts in the future

Drafts 4 has been around for a while now. Drafts 5 is coming, someday, with even more features: TaskPaper editing is a feature that I am looking forward to. I expect the pricing model to change from paid upfront to a subscription; I will be happy to pay for it, as a valuable companion to Ulysses for writing, and a valuable sidekick to practically every other app in the iOS ecosystem.