Drafts for iPhone: My New Scribbling Notebook

I heard about Drafts, Agile Tortoise’s iPhone notes app, when it initially launched. I’ve been a fan of the company’s apps for some time. I am still blown away by Terminology’s deep integration with Instapaper, and Phraseology has turned out to be my go-to iPad text app for editing long for pieces. So it was only a matter of time before I got on this train…

Drafts is an app with a very simple premise: write stuff. The interface is extremely spare by design. Launch the app and you are brought immediately to a new, blank note with the keyboard ready for typing. The 1.1 update Agile Tortoise pushed out this week allows you to send your text to a slew of other apps, including OmniFocus, Tweetbot, Sparrow and any app that recognizes plain text via iOS’s stock “Open in…” function. On top of that (and this is what sold me) you can even send your text to Dropbox (more on this in a moment).

I refrained from purchasing Drafts until this week because I didn’t see where it fit into my life. Since the initial version had no form of document sync I thought it would just add clutter and cruft to my workflow. As it turns out, my workflow already was cluttered; Drafts actually alleviated some of that mess.

Here’s a word on Dropbox integration from the Drafts 1.1 release notes:

“Save to Dropbox” action. Note this is not sync, but an export feature. Once you link your Dropbox account, selecting this action exports a timestamped text file to the /Apps/Drafts folder in your Dropbox.

Sync, by its very nature, adds a layer of complexity to any app. When do my documents sync? Where do they go? What happens if the sync gets interrupted? Even at its best, sync can get sloppy fast. Apps that sync over Dropbox seem to interact with it differently. For example, if I’m working on a document in Byword on my Mac and save it to Dropbox, if I leave the Mac app open and then go edit the document elsewhere, say on my iPhone (or even in another app on my Mac), it will cause a conflict. So I have to remember to close all instances of the app, something I learned the hard way. By forgoing sync altogether, that complexity melts away in Drafts.

For years now I have considered true sync an absolute minimum for any plain text editing app that I use. Drafts’ implementation, however, forced me to reconsider why I thought sync was so vital. For the most part, I sync files that I either am currently or soon will be editing. It hadn’t occurred to me that I could, or even should, write something on an iOS device that wouldn’t eventually be finessed into a final piece, that I could just write.

Back before the days of polished iOS writing apps, I always rode the subway with a notebook and a pen, often scrawling whatever came to mind. I rarely even turned that writing into anything later, it was just my way of working through some ideas. While I still keep a Field Notes memo book with me most of the time, I rarely turn to it anymore; all of my mobile writing happens on iOS.

The victim of this change has been my aimless scribblings. Nearly every app I use on iOS utilizes the same basic “document” model. Whatever I write usually needs a name and/or tags so that it can be differentiated from the other documents. As such, I couldn’t open an app and start writing Without feeling like I was working on something. That isn’t the only kind of reading I should be limiting myself to.

Drafts fills this crucial, creative void for me. I have no compunction about launching it and typing, well, anything. What I see, what I feel, what I’m thinking about for a potential future project, anything at all. I didn’t even realize I hadn’t been writing like this anymore, but I’m glad I now have a simple, fast solution for doing so. For 99¢, how could I not have bought it sooner?