Drafts 4: Using Notes on iOS Made Easier and More Powerful

Tomorrow, Apple’s fall iPad event starts at 1:00 pm EST. Since whatever they announce will overshadow other news this week, I want to tell you about the new release from Agile Tortoise today, while it is relevant to iOS productivity-minded users. If you write anything with your i-device, you will find this app useful.

What sort of app is Drafts?

Drafts is one of the apps all the smart geeks talk about. That said, the first few versions didn’t appeal to me. I appreciate an app with as many features as Drafts has, but I disliked the interface about as much as I could.1 The app’s design was in the right direction, but it seemed incomplete and unrefined. It was so unusual that I didn’t get the knack for it. It always took me longer than what felt right to write and process text.2

Yet Drafts has always been the notetaker that was known for features first and its novel design second. Over the years people have complimented the design because it accomidates so many features. So maybe I am in the minority of nerds that took a disliking to it? Maybe, but Drafts 4 can make us all happy, because I am impressed with its design overhaul. The layout hasn’t changed very much, but the navigation is infinitely improved over Drafts 3. So, cheers!

Here’s what the app is known for: You type some text — anything from two characters long to the length of a 600 word article (or longer) — then using various actions built into the app, send it to another app of your choosing, or perform some other action with your text. A few examples of the outputs, for the uninitiated:

  • Copy to clipboard
  • Email
  • Text message
  • Tweet
  • Post to Facebook
  • Create a Calendar event
  • Convert into a list in Reminders
  • Save to Dropbox

These are actions that when you tap them, Drafts will perform them. Yeah, Drafts excels where it counts.

These are not all of the possibilities either, but they should be enough to make my point: Drafts is a powerful app. What makes Drafts more than just a Notes.app alternative are these extensions. Write anything in one app and process it very quickly. All of these automators take a tap or two once you are ready to process your text, and then the deed is done. All from the comfort of one interface that, once you get used to it, accelerates notetaking and processing on your iPhone or iPad.

Should I get Drafts 4?

Well, I wouldn’t be writing about it if I didn’t think it was useful. I don’t take advantage of all the features, because some are made with programmers and the ultra tech savvy in mind. But there is plenty about Drafts that make the iPhone a better tool for everyday journalists, bloggers, and notetakers.

Yesterday, Agile Tortoise introduced Drafts 4.3 This new version introduces new features as well as a significant redesign. It is the redesign that makes all the difference.

Open the app and you are presented with a new empty note ready for quick capture of what you would like to type. For context, you are viewing a note in Drafts’ text editor on the startup screen. Since the app’s speciality is plain text with or without Markdown syntax, it is a sparse editor that focuses on the text you type. And since the design of Drafts 4 feels right at home on iOS 8, I have no trouble making my way around the app and getting things done.

Yeah, I say getting things done because I think it’s true. Drafts helps you accomplish things with your notes. Stop typing notes that you later forget about and collect in an app you have no intention of archiving. Make some good use of the notes. If you think this is a good idea, that you should add value to what you write, then Drafts is really the way to go.

Can’t I do these tricks with a combination of other apps that are already on my iPhone? You should ask this question. Yes, you can do all of these note-sharing tricks with other apps. What you don’t understand yet is that Drafts is one app that does everything you might want to do with a note. You don’t need to have multiple note apps to perform different tasks. If you need more than one, then you don’t need all of them handy (like, say, on the home screen). Tuck them away in a bin somewhere on your springboard, and keep Drafts available on the home screen to quickly manage all the notes that go to different apps.

For example, if you were to type out something in Evernote, you would have to find Evernote on your phone. Then, wait for Evernote to sync your account and data. Then, choose what sort of note you want (text, audio recording, photo…). Then, choose a notebook. Then, type the note. Then, tap Save. This all takes time, and before you know it, you experience fatigue writing that note that’s very similar to the monotony of writing an email message. It taxes the bandwidth of your mind. You’re spending some of the limited amount of brain cognition you have available today figuring out the format and organization of your Evernoted note.

But if you had processed this note in Drafts, it would undoubtedly take noticeably less time and brainpower. Open Drafts. Then, type your note. Then, look at where you can send the note. Choose Evernote. Boom.

Here’s another workflow that I like for Drafts. Lets say I want to update my social feed. Facebook and Twitter have noisy streams of communication, so if I visit those sites via an app,4 I’ll most likely be distracted. If I write my Tweet or post in Drafts, I then send them to my social feed without opening the social network’s app. This saves time when I’m on the go, and more importantly, it is easier to concentrate on whatever I’m doing next that has nothing to do with a social network.

With Drafts, you fill your mind with less distractions. You’ll just get the update posted and move on. That’s… almost unbelievably straightforward in a world that seems to make everything complicated.

Hence, Drafts is great. If you value a streamlined process, and you type on your iPhone daily, then this app is for you.

Drafts’ New Interface

At the top of Drafts 4, you are presented with the menu. To the far left, there is a paper document symbol. This takes you to the view of all the separate notes you have in the Drafts’ Inbox, Archive, Flagged and All categories, which are organized into a row of tabs.

Back in the top menu, next to the notes button there is a plus sign. Tap it and you are starting a new note no matter where you are in the app. The new note will be added to Drafts’ Inbox.

On the right of the plus sign, there is a new info icon. The familiar circle shape with the letter ‘i’ inside of it gives it away. Press the info button and see details like when the note was created, last modified, and the actions that were performed on the note in the past.

On the right in the top menu, there is a character and word counter. Lastly, but most importantly, on the far right is the Drafts app button that presents the output options. If you rather let your notes live in Drafts, you can. If you would like to send one somewhere else, go for it. The app doesn’t care, but it serves many potential workflows with flying colors.

Another added feature for Drafts 4, as described in the App Store description, is the “Fully customizable extended keyboard row, with support for simple text snippets and Javascript-based keys make everything from quick entry to powerful string manipulation with Regular Expression possible. Find and install ready to use keys in our directory!” If the added row weren’t good enough, the keys are customizable. There are undo/redo buttons, along with everything else we nerdy typists favor.

Yet another feature, one of my favorite, is the Web Capture share extension. Open Safari. Tap the Share menu button in the bottom menu of the browser. Swipe the row of apps to the left to get to the More button, then tap it. Once in the More Activities menu, turn on the Drafts share extension. Once you’ve activated the extension, you can save URLs, titles, and selections of text from webpages directly to a new note in Drafts.

What Others Say About Drafts App

You now know that I like it, but if you are still wondering if it is worth $5 to get the new version, you need to know that Drafts 4 bests every previous version. And here are what people have said about it.

At The Sweet Setup:

Greg Pierce, developer of Drafts, describes it as “where text on iOS starts,” and he’s right. Basically every email, note, article draft, or idea I (Jeff) want to write down starts in Drafts. From there, I can send the text to whatever app I want to continue with. The custom workflows and powerful sharing options provide so many useful ways to use your plain text. With a recent update to version 4, now is a great time to grab this app.

At MacStories:

With a refreshed UI that irons out many of the kinks that had manifested in earlier versions, a newer and more accessible interface for creating powerful chained workflows, an amazingly useful Share extension, and impressive advanced automation techniques such as JavaScript support, an enhanced URL scheme, and a custom extended keyboard, Drafts 4 is an amazing update to a classic app. Drafts 4 shows us all that it’s ready for the future, and I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.

At The Spark Journal:

Drafts 4 is a $5 paid upgrade for existing users, which I hope I never see a complaint about because Greg works hard to keep the app up-to-date and relevant. This is an app I use all the time, and I’m happy to support him again.

At the moment, Drafts 4 has 20 App Store reviews averaging a rating of 4.5 stars.

Upgrading from Drafts 3

If you want, you will have to migrate your notes and custom actions in Drafts 3 to Drafts 4 with a few manual steps. If you are experienced with Drafts and you like customizing the menus, actions, and managing your notes within Drafts, then you will unquestionably want to take the time to migrate, which is an altogether trouble-free process.

Everything but the kitchen sink.

Drafts 4 is technically efficient, user-friendly, and feature-rich. I can understand why some writers or notetakers would rather stick to other apps. I’m just now adopting Drafts into my workflows. It isn’t the easiest app to understand because it does so many things.

What’s important though — the reasons it is so smart — is that it does most things with excellence. The simplest actions of all, like typing notes and organizing them, are effortless. And then it is just as effortless to share the notes you create practically any way you might imagine.

If you want to learn more about the new features, read Alex Guyot’s review at MacStories.

  1. Here’s more about Drafts 3 in review at App Storm, if you care to learn more about the older version.
  2. There is a possibility that the problem was me, and Drafts was not at fault for my inability to appreciate and make good use of the app. I will admit that I have been slow to adopt workflows where I write much on the iPhone, because I found it difficult to type on with my large hands. So I’ve always held myself back; never gave into typing anything of great import on iOS. When I installed iOS 8, something just clicked, and since then I have typed a great deal more on my iPhone. And now, I find typing in Drafts to jive with my thought processes.
  3. Drafts 1.0 was released a few years ago. I first heard about it about a year and a half ago.
  4. My favorite Twitter app is Tweetbot 3. For as long as Twitter allows third party app support, I’m using Tweetbot.

Joe Darnell

Joe is a UI and graphic designer with prior experience as the creative director for three media-based businesses. Joe’s passionate about web design and graphic design with about 15 years of experience in the media industry. Additionally, Joe is the host of the Top Brew and Techtonic podasts, both featured on iTunes.