Not long ago, my buddy Seth walked me through a bit of his Drafts setup. He’s been creating a lot more workspaces as of late, but didn’t think the workspace switching actions I had created before were enough, and he wanted a better way to cycle through them.
My coding skills aren’t that great, and quite frankly, are rusty as hell because I haven’t really done a lot of it due to other commitments. At the time, I was preparing for some big reviews at work, so I didn’t even have time to look into it. Seth then reached out to the Drafts Community. It did take long before Jacob (jsamlarose) answered the call and created the action Seth requested. (Great work, Jacob!)
This is just something simple that’s really great and really effective. I think too often we can complicated the automation of different things and set our sights on creating complex actions (or shortcuts) to make our lives better. I’m finding that more and more, the simplest actions tend to be the right ones.
In the past few years, after a summer of running and testing beta software, I often find it difficult to sit down and think about what is new. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not because there isn’t anything, but rather that it’s become second nature to the way I’m working with my systems. This is probably why I don’t do massive reviews of iOS, iPadOS, watchOS, or macOS every year: having to keep all this straight in my brain – given everything else I have going on in my life – just isn’t going to happen. But every fall, I do enjoy writing about the latest version of Drafts and how it’s improving my daily life.
You’re going to notice something here: this isn’t going to be a big, extensive review: there’s no actions, no crazy automations. This isn’t for a lack of updates, but it’s rather a reflection of where my life is at the moment. I actually think that if I’m going to continue to share content – especially with Drafts, Shortcuts, productivity, journaling, etc. – I need to approach everything I do from this point on from a smaller perspective, rather than an all-encompassing viewpoint. I think that many of you would appreciate shorter, easier-to-digest posts that can give targeted use cases/actions/automations going forward. This is the way.
Drafts, of course, provides the compatibility you’ve come to expect with the new iOS, iPadOS, watchOS, and macOS updates that occur every fall. This year is no different, but one important thing is that some of what Drafts now provides is further extension of already existing functionality. Some of the new features have existed on one part of the platform and not the other due to OS limitations, but now they are synchronized in iOS/iPadOS 15 and macOS Monterey. It brings a sense of cohesiveness across your devices that previously wasn’t there, and I think will open the doors to a lot more possibilities for both iOS/iPadOS and macOS users alike.
For example, one of the biggest parts of this year’s fall update is the all-new watchOS app, completely rewritten in Swift. This isn’t a small undertaking, but it takes the already fantastic watch app and adds additional functionality. It retains everything that it had before, but adds the ability for multiple compilation types. If you really want, you can now have an all-Drafts watch face. Another nice feature, and one I’ve wanted for a while, is the inbox count reflecting the default workspace options; this means I no longer need to see 60+ drafts in my inbox, but rather only a handful that I want to keep in an inbox.
Another huge update is the incorporation of Shortcuts for the Mac. As I don’t use a Mac, I’m not the expert here, but you can use a lot with it. All of the same features you’ve come to love on iOS are available – even if Shortcuts is buggy – and the Mac adds a few specific items like AppleScript and shell scripts. Hopefully someone out there writes this up nicely: should they do, I will link it here.
While I do use the watch and not the Mac, those aren’t the big things for me this year, despite the massive efforts of the AgileTortoise himself to bring both of them forward. He’s not only been working hard on those, but many others across the other parts of the ecosystem. One of the big features in iOS/iPadOS is the implementation of Live Text. This feature is great, as you can select text from images and scanned documents. Drafts takes advantage of this feature in iOS by providing a menu option to scan a document directly and import the text right on the iPhone. This, like dictation before it, has been a game changer for me when I’ve needed it for work, personal, or legal things over the course of the beta. The fact that I don’t have to manually transfer something into Drafts is huge: from a small bit of text I want to use later to a large document, I can tap (from the widget!) and import the text right into my text editor of choice.
In iPadOS, the support for the latest implementation of the keyboard shortcut menu overlay is there, which mirrors the awesome Global keyboard shortcuts introduced this year. You already had something similar in previous releases when you pressed the command ⌘ key, but it was a jumbled mess of what the keyboard shortcuts where. Now, you get a tabulated overlay in easy-to-locate divisions. Given that I have a ton of actions and tried to set up the best keyboard combinations that I could, this is very helpful for me since I might forget them if they are infrequently used. There are 4 categories that are default – file, edit, editor, and view: the remaining sections are all of the actions which have your keyboard shortcuts assigned. Once you invoke the menu, you can either enter the keyboard combination or, my personal favorite, tap the keyboard shortcut in the menu overlay to run it. Saves me some clicks, and I love it. There’s also a search feature where you can search the menu overlay, which is nice for someone like me who has a lot of actions to search.
The share extension has been updated to include the recently used drafts for easy selection and re-use. While this isn’t the Quick Note feature we’d all love,1 it is going to be helpful for when I’m writing/researching a topic I want to investigate and/or write about. Another fantastic usability improvement is the new tag selection interface, which lets you select from your current tags as you type so you don’t duplicate them in weird ways (think: post, posts). In the last few years, I’ve actually pared down my usage of tags because I didn’t want them to proliferate too much; now that this feature is there, I might tag my drafts with more than a singular tag. I like this interface so much that I’m hoping Drafts adds this same functionality for creating [[wiki-style]] links, as it’s something I’m using a lot more for my own personal uses. I know that this would be a massive undertaking like folding headers would be, but I can’t help but want both in the future.
Speaking of wiki-style linking, there are a few new ways to interact with them. You can now right-click/long tap on them to give a quick look of the text as well and commands for wiki links: open the draft in the current or new window, preview in a new window, or a series of copy commands for the content, title, link, or UUID. I really like the new expandable/collapsible menus in iOS/iPadOS 15, which Drafts takes advantage of here; it’s a great way for Drafts and other apps to add a lot of functionality at your fingertips.
Folder bookmarks are a feature that have been included in apps like Scriptable for a long time. But they are now included in the File action and File Manager scripting. This will allow those that like to write in other apps – say Obsidian or iA Writer – to save to a specific location outside of the Drafts sandbox. You can also use the scripting to read as well as write to a location, making it possible to use Drafts with apps like Working Copy on iOS/iPadOS or Taskpaper on the Mac.2 I think this will open a door to those that love using Drafts on iOS/iPadOS and then might want other tools on the Mac. It’s not using the file manager to store the files, but it does give the option to use it through actions. I can see where someone might use this to run a single action on files with a specific tag, and have them saved to a specific location in Files; they might also run another action to import those files back into Drafts. It’s not something built in and requires manual syncing but it’s very possible to create now. I hope to see it taken that last step further to open up Drafts to more people who are searching for their ideal solution.
There’s a new “What’s New” screen where you can find all of the high-level features as well as a link to the full change log to see the small improvements to things like interface updates, automations, bug fixes, share extensions, and more. You can find this in the Settings (gear) menu in the bottom right of the screen, just under where you can manage your subscription.3 You can interact with this new what’s new screen and even jump to the Drafts website to check out specific features or the full change log. And I almost forgot the best part of this update by far: the two new icon choices. I really adore the color palette of both of them and think they are fantastic additions.
The biggest thing that strikes me with this release is the continued customization and usability enhancements update after update with Drafts. Going all the way back to the initial Drafts 5 launch, the customization was further refined from Drafts 4; workspaces created a customizable, modular interface to make that app yours. In Drafts 15, contextual menus and updated icons further extended the customization to pick just the right look for workspaces and actions; Multiwindow support brought more power to the user by navigating back and forth through their drafts. Drafts 22 brought us widgets to customize our home screens and quickly jump into the app or use an action directly. In Drafts 26, the ability to completely customize the interface and create your own syntaxes was introduced, spawning completely unique apps from user to user. And now with Drafts 28, we get more integrations in actions to make Drafts yours and be more extensible. This is yet another solid release in a long string of updates since April 2018. I’m looking forward to what’s coming next.
Yes, I’d like the option to use Drafts instead of notes, but I don’t think that will ever happen. ↩
Even though Seth and I no longer have a podcast, we still talk nearly daily about a lot of things. One of them is Drafts, and how we are using it for small life improvements here and there. Journaling is one of them, and it has become a part of standard practice for me. I don’t always have to put something in that’s poignant, but I do document quite a bit from time to time. I’m not perfect at it, but I try to do the best that I can. After all, it’s for me – so if I don’t do well at it, I’m only disappointing myself…
I journal using Drafts because I trust the system. Using Shortcuts, I run an automation in the morning to create the entry at 4:00am so I never miss a day; this entry is created in a specific format with the journal tag, date heading in yyyy-mm-dd format, and some weather and date information. I have another automation that runs just before midnight to save it as a nice-looking PDF at night and archive the draft. I still keep all the journal entries in Drafts: they live in my Journal workspace in the archive folder at the top of the drafts list. I keep them just in case I need to search for something later, even though I hardly do it. But there are times where I might want to go back and review them just to see what happened in the past. One of Seth’s problems was that he wanted a way to review things that happened on that day throughout the life of his digital journal. We used to use Shortcuts to do this, but that’s cumbersome at best. Why use another app when Drafts is perfectly suited for this? Seth ended up finding this forum tip on creating temporary workspaces, which admittedly was from a while ago (November 2018). Even though a lot of you think I’m an expert, there’s quite a bit of this stuff that I don’t know or use.
Using this example, I was able to create an action to show what happened On This Date. In simple terms, it searches for all drafts tagged journal, then searches for a string of the current date in mm-dd format; the action then has some code to let you filter the look of it, then load the workspace. I added a few things because I want to keep my Journal themes applied when creating this temporary workspace.
Let’s walk through the code a bit. First, you’ll find some configurable variables for your searching. This sets the name of the temporary workspace, the tags you want to include (or omit using !tag), and some strings to search.
//BEGIN config variables
//setup tags or searches you wish to load...
let name = "On This Date";
let tagFilter = "journal"
const now = new Date()
const date = now.toString("MM-dd")
let queryString = date;
let group = ActionGroup.find("Journal");
let lTheme = Theme.find("custom", "Journal Light");
let dTheme = Theme.find("custom", "Journal Dark");
//END config variables
I also added the action groups I use for journaling as well as my journaling themes as variables, since I want to make sure I use them later in the action. Now that all that is configured, we can set up the workspace:
There’s a surprising amount of customization. I did find out that there was an undocumented .showDate customization that I could take advantage of. The only thing I would like to see added here is .lightTheme and .darkTheme so that I can set the themes directly with the temporary workspace which would eliminate the need for me to call them using the other methods; maybe those will get added in the future. The last part applies the workspace, shows the draft list, and applies my themes. I appreciated the callout in the original action, so I kept it in there: the workspace is temporary unless you use the .update() function, very much akin to a temporary draft to store information.
//unless you call `ws.update()`, this ws is temporary
//load this workspace, and display draft list
//set the Journal themes
app.lightTheme = lTheme;
app.darkTheme = dTheme;
Actions like this can seem like a lot at first, but they are fairly simple enough to manage. This action can bring a lot of awareness and possibly even some joy to your day, looking back on the things you’ve done in the past. I’ve also included this in my widgets: I’ve found that I use it more often this way, and it’s a great use of a widget action for Drafts.
I have to admit, this is the first time in a while that I’ve done something like this to change some of my workflows. Not because I don’t adore Drafts, but because of how life has been going for me (all good things, thankfully). But it makes me wonder: what else am I missing? Seems like a great time to go exploring…
With WWDC this past week, I’ve spent some time sitting – stewing, somewhat – about the iPadOS 15 announcements and the subsequent sessions that have highlighted everything coming in the fall. As I watched the Keynote, I couldn’t help but be slightly disappointed in what we didn’t get.1 At the time of writing this, and for at least until the public betas, I don’t have anything installed. I’ll let everyone else fall on that sword. But I’m still monitoring and saving bits of information that I see which are relevant to me, noting the things that will change for me once I get it loaded on my devices, and what it possibly means for the future of this device.
For a long time, I had the 11″ iPad Pro in a Smart Keyboard Folio (when it wasn’t paired with my monitor, external keyboard, and the Magic Trackpad). I wanted to move up in size, but I had been burned by not upgrading at the right time before all the way back to the 10.5″ iPad Pro and was determined not to make that same mistake again. But I’m sitting here on the other side of WWDC wondering if buying the 12.9″ M1 iPad Pro with 1TB of storage and the Magic Keyboard was the right decision: Apple gave us nothing with iPadOS 15 which requires it and there is no differentiation (yet) to warrant that much power. It’s a device that is so capable from a hardware standpoint yet is missing so much in the software. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have thoughts of what the hell Apple is thinking with the iPad and how it’s not going the way many of us want. Ultimately, I do believe it was the right decision based on how long I keep my devices, and I’ll do my best not to complain further.
When people start to complain about computing devices, they often turn to their favorite car analogy. But most of them get the wrong vehicle type when it comes to the iPad Pro. It’s not a V8 sports car. It’s not a motorcycle. It’s not a bike. It’s a modular computer which can do a lot of things well, makes trade-offs in certain areas to maintain flexibility and portability anywhere you want to go. So if you are going to target the iPad in this way, use an apt vehicle analogy:
The iPad is a Wrangler.
It does a lot of things well. It has different configurations to give you different experiences. It’s not the smoothest on-road vehicle, but it’s unmatched in the places you can take it anywhere in the world. The iPad Pro is not a powerful laptop, but it’s a powerful, capable modular computer. It can be more than a laptop, but there are also trade-offs that Apple is currently making to keep it modular. A great example on a Wrangler is that they don’t have power seats. There’s an assessment of trade-offs as to why this isn’t done, but I’m sure it’s something assessed for future incorporation. It’s not as easy as people would think: the Wrangler has other requirements to keep, and every change made requires an assessment of what it takes to implement the change. The engineers are forced to think differently when approaching these problems.
You can buy a ton of accessories for the Wrangler to change what you want it to do: you can lift it, put different tires on it, get really wild and put a tent on it, and more. And just like the Wrangler, you can buy different keyboards, input, and output devices which transform the use case. You can order a more powerful chip with more RAM (engine) and cellular connections (NAV system) directly from the factory to allow you to travel anywhere with ease. You can lift it on a stand and use it with an external monitor and keyboard to go more places, just like a lift kit. You can also use it in tablet mode, which feels like taking the top off and feeling the open air when you shed the confinement of the surrounding case. It’s precisely this modularity that makes both the iPad and the Wrangler great. There are people out there that have lived out of a Wrangler, which to some seems like it’s crazy – but just like a power user of the iPad Pro using extra accessories to get the job done, this is their preferred way to live. These types of people are pioneers of a new experience, and can open new ways of living which you never thought possible before.
At the end of the day, you have to choose the right vehicle/device to get what you want done in the way you want to work and what trade-offs you’re willing to live with to get your work done. I wish they would add more. And I think they will start to do that. After listening to Upgrade2, Jason had some great points about the groundwork that’s been laid for the future (some of this is quotes, some paraphrasing, but you get the idea):
When I look at what they did in multitasking, I start to think that they’re on to something, and that they’re headed in a direction that could do more. But that the first thing they did in this release was get it functional and give them room to advance it later.
They put a multitasking menu at the top of a window, which is similar to the traffic light dots on the Mac. Also, not mentioned in the Keynote, if you build [universal] apps with the menu bar for Mac, the iPad app has an icon in the toolbar containing your entire menu structure. And the Quick Note feature is literally a floating window. They also added a window that opens up that floats above other windows that you can also add to the Shelf.
I look at all of this and I am disappointed that there isn’t proper external display support, but literally every piece to do that is there. What that makes me believe is that Apple wanted to walk before it ran. When iPadOS 15 ships, they could literally turn this on at any point.
Am I disappointed that this isn’t available now? Of course I am. But I do think that it will be here sooner rather than later. Apple added the external pointer support and released the Magic Keyboard, knowing that users would take this one step further. My own personal setup includes a 27″ monitor, which looks comical right now with the pillarboxing and letterboxing. Yet, if I play a movie on just a 1/3 split-screen app, it plays in full 4K on my monitor like it’s a native screen. The pieces are all there and Apple needed to fix their mistakes before they can really make it possible. Even with the faults, it can become a completely different experience to what a traditional laptop or computer experience can be if you’re willing to put in some effort or follow the guide of those before you. The experience of using an iPad Pro is one that I appreciate and I feel that, despite the limitations of iPadOS, I can do more for the way that I work.
Like many, I’m disappointed in this moment that I effectively have a Hemi in my Jeep but the roads I’m forced to travel are limited in speed, have twists and turns creating indirect paths to my destination, and might even contain speed bumps so that I can’t really open it up to its full potential.3 But when it gets there, when Apple adds those pieces to the iPad Pro – hopefully in a point release – it’s going to afford me a different computing experience which I can make my own and really open this up. There are a LOT of people that don’t understand the Wrangler experience. It’s not something that most people understand how to use in the full capacity unless you’ve taken trips and put it through its paces, especially when rocks, sand, and water are involved. But when you do understand the capability, it can open up a whole new horizon of exploration for you. And the iPad Pro is just like the Wrangler. It’s no surprise that I love both of them.
Hey, look. COVID happened. It likely influenced a ton of what happened this past year in the development of the new features. The fact that anything shipped is good, and what we got is really good. But I think the M1 suggested that more was coming. But I digress… ↩
Time Stamp: 1:46:16 into the show, or the chapter on iPadOS 15. ↩
Yes, I do know that the Wrangler 392 exists. I’ve driven one. It’s a monster, and it’s fantastic. But that’s not my point here. ↩