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Source: Will Tablets Kill Off e-Readers?
Drafts is a new starting point for typing anything on an iPhone. Every time you launch the app, there’s a blank note ready. You can jot down a tweet, an email or a note immediately, and then send it to the right place. There’s no need to worry about file names or folders. It’s just the fastest way to capture text. It might solve problems you don’t even know you have.
Here’s the problem with apps: They create too many different ways to do the same thing. When you want to do something basic like write a short note, you have to take another step. “I want to write a note. Okay, which app should I use?” That step takes up time and brainpower, distracting you from what you’re trying to do.
And what if the app you want is on another page or buried in a folder? What if you launch one app and then change your mind and decide to use another? The iOS home screen looks like a physical thing, a board with big buttons on it. That makes it intuitive, but it can also be limiting. The “badges-on-a-table” metaphor of iOS can waste a few seconds at a time on these decisions, and those add up.
Fortunately, it’s possible for app developers to work around this problem using URLs to create links integrating each other’s apps. Greg Pierce, president of the independent iOS app shop Agile Tortoise, loves this challenge. When developing his first app, the popular dictionary Terminology, he worked with Marco Arment to develop the
x-callback-url specification. This allowed Instapaper users to look up words in Terminology, and it standardized a way for developers to build all kinds of integrations.
The latest Agile Tortoise app, Drafts for iPhone, solves the badges-on-a-table problem for text, one of the most fundamental ways we use our phones.
Write, Then Act
For an action the length of a note (or a tweet), there’s no faster way to get it out than through this app. It launches to a new, blank note each time. Drafts saves your notes in a list, and they can be found quickly with full-text search. As you’re writing, you can also check definitions through integration with the iPhone version of Terminology.
“I wanted it to be text-centric, not file-centric,” Pierce said. “No filenames or titles, no folders to think about… and also no lists to start with. If I’ve got something to say, I don’t want to have to think about where to put it first.”
If you write in Markdown, Drafts has even more goodies. You can preview your formatted notes and copy or email your Markdown as HTML straight from the action menu. And whether you like a monospaced font, serif or sans, or you want different color options, there are a few themes to choose from for Drafts’ basic interface to make sure your writing environment is just right.
Now that your note is out of your head, you can relax and decide what to do with it. That’s where the action menu comes in. In version 1.0, you can tweet a note with one tap from any of your Twitter accounts. If you don’t want to use the built-in iOS 5 Twitter function, you can send it to Tweetbot or the Twitter app. You can email a note or copy it to the clipboard.
Version 1.0.1, which is already under review by Apple, will add sending to the popular task managers OmniFocus and Things. In a few weeks, for version 1.0.2, Drafts will get ‘Send to Dropbox,’ and that addresses one of the most prominent concerns.
Sending vs. Syncing
There’s a crowded world of text editors available for iOS, and syncing has become a requirement. The whole advantage of writing with thumbs on a connected device is that you can sync effortlessly with your computer and pick up from there later. Some apps have incorporated iCloud sync, which saves your work inside the app you used and syncs between, iPhone, iPad and Mac versions.
But Dropbox is the real workhorse: It’s cross-platform, it appears in your computer’s regular file system and any app can access it. For plain text in particular, Dropbox is key to working flexibly.
I admit, I panicked when I saw that Drafts didn’t have Dropbox sync. I would have to keep two text apps on my home screen, so I could paste Drafts notes into Byword and sync them. That seemed inconvenient until I started using it.
I found that I didn’t need to sync most of these notes. They were just thoughts I wanted to capture quickly. I could decide what to do with them – if anything – later. It’s easy enough to copy and paste them into a more permanent place. But when the ‘Send to Dropbox’ action arrives in Drafts 1.0.2, it will be even easier. I don’t actually want to sync some of my notes, but I’ll soon be able to sync the ones I need with one tap.
It Scratches An Itch
“It really was an app I built to scratch an itch,” Pierce said. “There were a few of those things, most particularly having a quick and easy way to tweet and/or email without getting bogged down in a timeline or inbox, that drove me to do it. I wanted it to be quick, in-and-out for jotting things down, and give me a decent set of ways to output that text elsewhere.”
Pierce was not the only one with that itch. It took him by surprise. “I thought it might be a little too niche to interest a broad audience,” he said. “I honestly am somewhat overwhelmed by the attention Drafts has gotten.” That’s a good problem for an independent developer to have.
Evernote is a tool for keeping track of, well, everything. At least everything as far as digital information goes, or information that can be digitized. Evernote comprises a Web-based service and clients for Windows, Mac OS X, mobile devices, and extensions for Web browsers. It’s a service I’ve been using for years, and over that time I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks for getting the most out of the tool.
Learn the Shortcuts
If you’re using Evernote on the desktop, you’ll want to start by learning the keyboard shortcuts. With Evernote, you can assign a couple of shortcuts to create a new note without leaving whatever application you happen to be using. For example, on Mac OS X, the Cmd-Ctrl-N shortcut (Ctrl-Alt-N on Windows) will create a new note from any application.
If you have something in the clipboard you want to create a note from, you can use Cmd-Ctrl-V to start a new note with whatever’s in the system clipboard. That’s Ctrl-Alt-V if you’re using Windows.
Want to search for something that’s in Evernote? A quick Cmd-Ctrl-E will bring Evernote to the foreground and let you search immediately. If you’re on Windows, that’s Shift-Win-F.
Use Evernote as an Address Book and Contact Manager
I’ve yet to find a contact manager/address book that I actually like, whether it’s Web-based or native desktop software.
For people I keep in close touch with (co-workers, family, friends) I use my phone’s address book and sync with my computer. But there’s a lot of people I touch base with less frequently (sources, PR people, potential clients) that I’d rather not clutter my address book with.
To fill the gap, I’ve managed to use Evernote pretty successfully for keeping track of contact information and conversations. I use a Contacts folder and tag messages with keywords that will help me remember context later on. For example, in booking interviews for the upcoming Strata conference I tag correspondence and notes with “stata” and “big data” plus company names or general product categories (like “Hadoop”).
You can also use Evernote to keep track of business cards. Scan in business cards and save them to Evernote, and once they’re synced Evernote will use character recognition on the cards. This means you’ll usually be able to find someone’s contact information via their business card without needing to re-type it.
I have hopes that Evernote will become even better suited for contact management once they’ve refined the Hello App that was introduced in December of last year.
Put Notes in the Favorites Bar
If you’re using the desktop client on Windows or Mac, you should have a Favorites Bar that’s sort of like the bookmark bar in Chrome or Firefox. It comes pre-populated with several defaults, like all files that are created from Web clips or all notes that have file attachments.
You can create new favorites by dragging a note, folder or tag to the Favorites Bar. Simple, no? One caveat, though – this feature is only in Windows or Mac OS X 10.7 or later. For some reason, the Favorites Bar doesn’t appear in earlier versions of Mac OS X.
In some cases you may want to use Evernote, without uploading your data to Evernote. This might be because you have huge files that would put you over quota, or because you have sensitive files that shouldn’t be stored elsewhere. Whatever the reason, you can create a local folder for Evernote that won’t be synced.
When creating a new folder, the default is for a synced folder. But if you choose “Local Notebook” instead of “Synchronized Notebook,” your new folder won’t be counted against your quota. Of course, it also won’t be available via Evernote’s Web service or synced with your other clients if you’re using Evernote on mobile devices or other computers.
Note that you can’t change the notebook type after you’ve created it, but you can easily copy notes between folders. So there’s not much lost in creating a notebook as a local one instead of synced if you have any doubts about wanting to sync it with Evernote’s servers.
Next page: Shared Folders and More