Drafts: How Merlin uses it and what Greg's doing next


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Rene Ritchie: I'm Rene Ritchie. This is "Vector."

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Joining me today, Greg Pierce, a lovely, lovely fellow who makes one of my favorite apps. He makes several apps. But one of my favorite apps is Drafts. How are you, Greg?

Greg Pierce: I'm great. Thanks for having me one.

Rene: Also, because it would be just too easy to talk to you alone, we have a power user of Drafts on, someone who the audience may not be familiar, podcasters in general may not be familiar with. But I know and love him. It's Merlin Mann. How are you, Merlin?

Merlin Mann: Hey Rene. Thanks for having me.

First Drafts

Rene: Thanks for being here. The contents of this show is to have someone who makes an app and someone who just uses the hell out of the app, and talk about it, and see where we can get with it, and see what pro-tips or hidden gems we can pull out of it. Greg, could you tell us a little bit about Drafts to get us started?

Greg: Sure. Drafts on the surface is just a quick capture note-taking app. The original purpose of it was to be the starting place for any text you do on your phone, or your iPad, or your watch. Just a place to jot down ideas, a post of notes for your phone that gives you one place to always start.

If you've got text you want to get out, you just start in Drafts and figure out what you want to do with it later. The main goal of it was to remove the artifice, and the burden that came with so many other notes apps, where you had to make decisions upfront about where you wanted to save it, put it in a folder, or create a new note.

All that stuff just goes away with Drafts. You launch it, you type, and then later you figure out what you want to do with it, whether that's message it somewhere or send it to social media, or save it to a file, etc. That's the basic concept.

Rene: For me, it was like TiVo for text back in a time when Apple didn't make...I think there was no share sheet back when you launched it.

Greg: Correct. Yeah. It goes back. It came out originally in 2012, I guess. but with much more limited capabilities of iOS at the time.

Rene: You got into those callback URL stuff that the kids loved. [laughs]

Greg: Correct. I had already been messing with that for my dictionary app terminology to kind of provide services with an app, because there wasn't a system dictionary at the time, and I started messing with URLs to give a convenient way to look up words from other apps, and it kind of grew with that.

I brought that to Drafts to kind of enhance the capabilities to pass off that text you captured to, you know, OmniFocus, or to Things, or to a calendar app, or wherever that supported URL schemes.

Rene: Merlin, how did you get started with Drafts?

Merlin: I was wracking my brain this morning trying to remember exactly when it started, but I do feel like there was -- and Greg can probably provide the history and context for this -- but I feel like there was a time when I became aware in the era like post Simple Notes, when we got to a point where there was stuff that we could do on our phone, and my gosh, it would actually synch to different places, it was magical.

I feel like I became aware of a handful of apps for the iPhone that specialized in some of a kind of quick entry. The other ones, I've completely forgotten about, but suffice it to say, I became aware and tried several of these, because it seemed like a very interesting idea.

I wasn't entirely sure what I would be using it for, and to be candid, the first time I opened it, I was like, "What is this? So, your app is a text area? Like that's kind of a weird thing."

Greg: [laughs]

Merlin: As it grew, and I became aware, basically while it has been a journey to go through lots of different usages, power usage, and dumb guy usage of this app, it has been something that I use many times every day, ever since...

Not to shine Greg's Apple, but it was one of my most-used iOS apps of all time, and it's not only where I begin practically everything I type on my phone, all the way down to iMessage, it is also, has led to a sort of peridynamic change in how I think about ephemeral writing, in general.

To be honest, to extend that to longer form writing, too - I'd be happy to talk about that -- but it's been a real brain bender for me to realize that, as he said, the first thing is just get this down. You don't need to know what this is.

Where does this go? How long do you keep this? What will this turn into? It doesn't matter. You just click on Drafts and start typing. I've never looked back.

Greg: It's a trusted capturing system. To use David Allen's "Getting Things Done" terminology, it's just a place to get it out of your head and figure out what you want to do with it later.

Rene: I like it because it's creation first. I don't have to worry about the endpoint. It's similar to...

Like, sometimes I want to contact Merlin. Do I have to go iMessage? Do I have to go Mail? What app do I have? Then by the time I get to the app, I have to remember who I was trying to contact to begin with.

Humans are not good at changing state. Then we change a room, much less an app, other things fill up our heads, and we forget them. I found, especially back when there was app silos, I would put text into something, and then I wouldn't know where it was, maybe I deleted the app off my phone, and it was gone.

I liked it almost the same way I liked Adam Lisagore's, what was it, Birdhouse?

Merlin: Mm-hmm.

Rene: I got to finely craft tweets. I loved this because it gave me a unified starting point to really, not just jot down an idea, but continue to work on an idea over time.

Aha moments

Greg: Anecdotally, my aha moment for deciding to make Drafts was I opened up an email message on my phone, and started typing a message to my wife one day. I realized about halfway through my sentence, this needed to be a text message, that she needed to get it quicker.

That was really painful, especially back then. You had to stop. You had to select the text. You had to copy it. You had to quit the mail app. You had to go to messages. You had to find the conversation with the person you wanted to send it to. Open it up, paste it in, and by that time, you really didn't even care if you got it on message anyway.


Merlin: There's a lot of opportunities for aha moments using this app, I have found. You can tell it's a really good app because when you explain it to somebody, they just kind of stare at you blankly.

There's a lot of power and a lot of different levels to it. Obviously, first of all, if there's I know I need to jot down, pretty obviously, that's the place I'm going to start. Also, to Greg's point, what if I just know this needs to be something I need to capture, but I'm not sure what it needs to turn into?

As a side note, add to this the fact that as of this year now, I've been using a Mac for 30 years, any time a friend of mine tells me how they type something into a text area, like poor Dan Moren will type something, and type something, and type something with paragraphs into a text area [laughs] [inaudible 7:20] and I lost the window with the CMS crash, or something. [laughs]

I will never have that happen to me again. That will never happen to me again, because all text gets created in here. Then, I think, the level of sophistication is, it's difficult to describe. It's very cognitively different as an approach, either creatively, intellectually, however you think of it.

Most things I have in there, for probably obvious reasons, are fewer than 140 characters, some are a lot longer. All I know is whether it's a dream, a thought, or a to-do item, it goes into there. You can do this with your watch. You can do this with your phone, you iPad, whatever it is, and now the next device that you pick up, it's going to be synched on there, too, and you can pick up wherever you need to go.

Their beauty part is, it can be so ephemeral. I could go back in and delete probably hundreds of thousands of those little note files, but they take up so little space, and in return, I have the ultimate ubiquitous capture device, that simply doesn't and, arguably, maybe cannot fail me.

It's not even getting into what you can do after you've typed that text. I would make the case that, yeah, you need something like this, whether you know it or not. You need a place to go type.

That could be Vesper. It could be a million things you could choose to do. A little hard to get out of Vesper at this point, but Gruber still uses it.


Merlin: I just would want to make the case that for someone who does say, "I heard this podcast. This sounds like an interesting app," and you open it up and just see a white area and a keyboard, trust me there's a lot more to it. It's going to take you more than half a day to get your head around how you will use this, but it becomes very powerful.

Greg: The one thing for me, is that I find this kind of stuff good for the soul. I'm upset, actually, that Georgia Dowell's not here, because she can explain this way better than I can.

Like when you dream, you take all the cache from your brain and you write it to your neural hard drive. I find that, in life, there's so many things I'm trying to keep in mind, that I just perseverate over them, and I'm always anxious and nervous that I'll forget that thing that's really important.

Once I put it down, I can relax. [laughs] My entire neural system can just relax and know that it's safely stored somewhere.

There's other things I can use. There's notes.app and there's other products that you can use on...and if you want to, you can get on what's different, your best of breed solutions on different things that synch, but I like this because it's plain text.

I don't have to worry about formatting. I don't have to paste it in, and see the thing is like giant font because I copied a title, or the bulleting is all messed...

I can just put the text in there, and know that it's in there. To your point, Merlin, if I vaguely remember something from a year ago that is suddenly really important again, I can just go find it. I can store bits of information like travel numbers, that I need rarely, but I do really need them when I need them.

I think even my Lego VIP number is in there...

Rene: [laughs]

Greg: ...so I can get into to the store when I go there, once a year, to buy gifts. It saves me ever having to worry about where small snippets, and even longish streams of text data is stored.

Merlin: I think it's also neat that...Like I say, everything starts here. Not everything ends here. But as soon as I get to the point where I find I've got things like snippets of HTML, my brain has been retrained, reformed, to know that that's the point when I click on the dingus. I say, "Go create a Dropbox file."

In my case, that is the natural...If it's a tweet, if it's not just an ephemeral bit of text, a password I want to make sure I'm typing correctly, whatever that is, then the thing becomes I click on the I don't know what it's called. You click on the dingus. I say, "Make a Dropbox file."

For me, what that does is that takes whatever the first line is and adds a space and a date stamp, a Unix-ish date stamp, and then pops that into a folder that will now sync via Dropbox to nvALT and Editorial and everything that I use. I guess part of the trick also is to know when to stop using. But you've reduced that resistance.

My life changed when I started carrying around a stack of index cards and a pencil or a Space Pen at the time. I just never had to think about it. I never had to sweat it anymore. I knew there was a place.

That's what this is for me. But then, as I say, the other cognitive shift is then to know when to stop using it. It doesn't make it any diminished as an app. That's the whole job of this app is it's pneumatic tubes for your brain that just shoots stuff to wherever it needs to go.

Simple vs. sophisticated

Rene: Is it tough to figure the beginning and end points for that, Greg, when you're working on keeping it simple but giving it features?

Greg: It's difficult. It is something I feel like I haven't done a good enough job of, that the app is not approachable enough to some people because once they get past that text box part and they go to act on it, I've by default shown them a wall of actions, like, "Look at everything the app can do."

I did that originally because what's the visibility? Maybe they don't know it can integrate with Evernote. They use Evernote. If I don't put some sample actions in there, they don't know what to do with it.

By doing that, it's a little intimidating for a lot of users, too. I think it gives them the impression that they're not utilizing the app to its full potential, which maybe they aren't but maybe they don't need to. Maybe it doesn't matter.

I've always envisioned people would find a place for Drafts in their workflow and probably only do three or four different things with it. Maybe they'll text message with it, maybe they'll draft their tweets in it, and save some notes to Dropbox. Maybe that's all they need to do with it.

The fact that it integrates with so many things allows more people to find those handful of things that they need to do with the app. Does that make sense? If you use Evernote and Dropbox but this other guy uses Google Drive, you don't need to use all those things.

They're all there for you. But you probably as an individual user are going to use two, three, four of those services it integrates with that match up with what your needs are.

The problem is finding a balance to explain to users and expose the things they need without cluttering the interface with the things they don't and making them possibly feel guilty about not doing more with the app than they do when they shouldn't. They should just get what they need out of it.

Merlin: That's the trick with disclosure. You see Apple struggling with this, too. When do we prompt Apple Pay Cash is available to you and when do you think that's a hostile ad intrusion? It seems like a delicate Zelda versus Mario balancing act.

Greg: Right. There's no perfect answer. It's different for different people. I've erred at the side of not intervening, especially because of the quick capture nature of the app. You don't want to launch it one day and get this pop-up that's telling you about all these new features when you're just trying to get your idea down. It's intrusive. It's difficult to balance in that type of productivity app.

Merlin: As long as we're talking about nostalgia for Twitter apps, I feel like...Obviously I have a special affection for Birdhouse. But another one, I think it was Birdfeed. Was that the one that Nevin worked on? I think it was Birdfeed.

Greg: Maybe.

Merlin: It was one of the first apps I remember doing a really canny job. You see this now in things like Tweetbot or you see this in so many apps now where you're probably here to look at your friend's toots and to toot out yourself sometimes. That's all right there. You click on this thing to do your little draft, etc., etc.

There may have been many others before, but I remember Birdfeed being uniquely good at, "Hmm, I wonder what happens if I slide across this thing." You go, "Whoa!" There's a whole other room under this house. There's all this stuff to do under here.

That's neat because, first of all, as every Apple user knows, one of the most sublime joys of using Apple when it's at its best is you try something that you're pretty sure won't do anything. Then it does exactly what you expected. That's an instance of that. That's an instance where, "Oh, there's so much more stuff I can do underneath here. But if I don't need to see that..."

The developers can then say when somebody says, "Hey, why don't you add A, B, C, D, E?" They can say, "Well, you know actually just swipe right, and you'll be happy to see that that already exists in there." That's a nice disclosure feature is that...

Then I guess you take it to an extreme, that becomes 3D Touch. People just stop even trying to do it which is a shame because it's extremely powerful. That's the beauty of that.

Given that this app is so austere candidly, once you get past the fact that it's a text area that you do a thing in, it can be super overwhelming. This is true of things like Workflow. This is true of so many apps. Workflow in another age would be how I spent all day. All I would do is make Workflow things all day. But as it is right now, it's like download a YouTube video, and I walk away...


Merlin: ...because it's so overwhelming to me. I feel like it's a candy and porn store where I don't even want to cross the transom because I know if I go in, I will never leave.

That's the neat part of this is if you stick with these kinds of apps long enough and you make them part of your tool set, it becomes invisible. You get muscle memory. You hear me using words like dingus and thingy because I don't what it is. I don't know the key command for all the things on a Mac. But I can sure do it without thinking about it.

That's when you know a tool has really succeeded for you is when you know that if you had to do something in there, you could. But you mostly just need to do...A hammer needs to make nails go into wood. You pick one you like. You just hammer the crap out of stuff.

Rene: It's a terrible analogy, but when they moved from iOS 6 which had its richness expressed in textures and to iOS 7 which had its richness expressed in the modeling of physical behaviors, that's sort of what Drafts was like to me. It's that it does look austere.

There's not a million buttons on the screen, but the richness is all in the actions that you do with what you put in that blank canvas.

Greg: Right. There's a lot of tools in there that advanced users have taken advantage of. They do share what they do. There are ways to get actions other people have used. I have a directory people put things in to share the stuff they've created with it. You don't need to be an advanced user to take advantage of people creating advanced things on it.

There's always that struggle. The saying is, "Why spend a minute doing something you can spend four hours automating?"

Discovering discoverability

Rene: Do you have the same experience as Marco? Because when I see the Overcast feed, someone's like, "He says you can swipe left to do that." They go, "Oh my god, when did you add that?" He's like, "Three years ago."

Merlin: We're talking, I guess, in sort of generalities about the app. I want to give an example of something that will be blindingly obvious and very, very old to people who already this app, but I want to give an example of something.

For a long time, for me, there was somebody who used to obsess, more than is healthy about email and what it does to our brain. There was a time when I got to where I was talking to people, and trying to come up with a way to be able to generate the equivalent of hitting C in Gmail.

I wanted to be able to write and send an email without seeing my inbox or anything else related to alerts, related to Gmail, and eventually I came up with one of those that was pretty good. People used it. It was fine. It was a bookmark, basically.

This may not be canonical, but the way I have this in Drafts is I type something that is the first line of the document. I add a couple of returns, and then I type some more stuff, and then I hit a button.

What happens is that turns the first line, to me this is such an elegant use of this app, and the way its simplicity can be so, as I say, sublime. Guess what, it knows that first line with the returns under it, anything that's on the first line, that's your subject line. Anything under that, is the body of the email.

You enter in the address of the person you want to send -- I think this is how it works, correct me if I'm wrong -- and basically you just shoot out an email from inside the app. I haven't used it in a while, but I don't even ever have to open mail.app. Mail.app, to me is in Microsoft Word...

Rene: [laughs]

Merlin: ...I only ever open it by accident. I don't want to see that. My job right now is not to be alerted about things I'm not doing. My job is to do this very atomic task, and then get back to whatever else I'm doing.

That's just one example of what is probably at least dozens, and probably hundreds of cases, shooting stuff to reminders, shooting stuff in natural language into a calendar, all the different kinds of things. I want to make sure we highlight how you actually use this magic, rather than just hand wave it, because once you have that thing installed, you just hit that button, and you're doing incredibly powerful stuff from that little text area.

How Drafts works

Rene: How does that work, Greg? How do you set all that up?

Greg: It depends on the service. I integrate with everything possible on iOS, so there are mail actions and, due to the nature of the APIs, it does actually pop open a mail window. You don't leave the app, but it's the same as if you use the share sheet, and select to mail something, or to message something.

Those APIs allow you to pre-fill for the message. That includes recipients as well as subjects, bodies, and stuff.

My probably most used actions in Drafts are a set of messaging actions I have set up to pre-address my wife, to my kids and stuff, so I can start from Drafts, type my little message and just click one button to send a text to my wife, without having to go into messages and find the conversation, etc.

Same thing for other services like a standard share, or printing, or stuff that OS provides. Then there's direct integration with a lot of services, stuff like Dropbox and Evernote, Google Drive, OneDrive. I've integrated the APIs they provide to do that same sort of functionality, and make it kind of invisible to the user so that with one click they can have a configured file put where they want it.

There's a lot of advance configuration in there. There's a template engine with tags that let you control what you want the file to be named, and what folder it's in, and do you want time stamps included or stuff in addition to the content of the draft.

Otherwise, it's grown over time. The first version didn't integrate with this many services, but that's been the obvious place to grow the app over time, and find new audiences, is just add more services it can integrate with.

[background music]

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The rule about rules

Rene: I remember a while ago, Merlin, you said something on "MacBreak Weekly." It was like, if you ever did something more than once, you just made it an X Expander action. Is that sort of what you with Drafts?


Rene: Like if you start doing things that are the same, you end up making a program for it?

Merlin: There was a time, I'll be dead honest with you. There's something almost like a bell-shaped curve with my Drafts usage. This also goes for Editorial, which is my...I hope I'm not talking out of school.

Those are apps that I pair together quite nicely, is to be able to start anything in Drafts. Anything where I got to do a lot of stuff, I'm gonna pull it out on my iPad and use Editorial, or nvALT, or TextMate, or whatever that is.

Essentially, I feel like it's a little bit of a dark art to know the hack inside of hack. My daughter now uses the words "life hacks," and I can't even tell her how bizarre...

Rene: [laughs]

Merlin: I brushed her hair this morning and she was "Life Hacks" videos, and I just turned to my wife and I said, "Could you ever..." The word "imagine" didn't even come out of my mouth. She turned and was like, "No, I could never have imagined."

Rene: [laughs]

Merlin: [jokingly] This horrible monster I helped create. A hack inside a hack is awareness. It is the presence of mind to notice there's more friction here than you would like, more friction than is necessary.

The next step is to realize that whether that's something that is a necessary annoyance of what you are doing, or is it essential to what you're doing, like is that important annoyance in your jobs and that's why you get the big bucks.

Becoming aware of that, yeah. In my bell curve of this, I started out going doy, type, type, type, and then at a certain point, [laughs] like with everything, because of my dumb ADD-addled brain, I tried all of them, and I'm organizing them into tabs, and I'm doing all the things.

There's so many things in there that I've never used more than once. Ditto Editorial, there's so much stuff. There was that fat part of the curve. When I realized I could get stuff into reminders, and if memory serves - I haven't done it in a while - there's all this natural language stuff that actually works. It's crazy, fantastic how...

Now today, really, it is down to...This is not to diminish this app in any way, it's to show its power, is that, yes, everything starts in there.

Most things either become something like a tweet. It becomes something that will then get saved to a Dropbox file.

I'm trying to think of other stuff I do a lot. I'll do basic mark down in there, but to answer your question, I think that's true. I think it also takes restraint, though, to realize, when you're shaving a yak...

Rene: [laughs]

Merlin: ...and when you're actually going in and doing more.

We joke about this, but if you're answer is everything is e.max, to paraphrase the man, you got two problem, now. You have to also be aware when you are allowing your mind to drift away from what it is you actually need to be doing.

Here's another tip. You ready for this? Ready for a tip inside the tip, a hack inside the hack? Start a text file, where you write down stuff you'd like to automate.

I used to call these mosquito tasks, like little things that I'm not going to do right now, but Thursday afternoon, I'm going to go in, and I'm going to look at my list of stuff, see what I can delete, see what I can do, and that's a great way to...

You don't have to stop and do it right now, but go put that in your Thursday afternoon pile, then go to the Drafts directory and see if there's something for that that already exists. Look at Workflow. Is there something for that that already exists. Editorial, there's so much powerful stuff in there.

Don't let your head get out of the game when you're being productive, because then you're not really being productive.

Rene: Don't let the...


Merlin: I should do this for a job. I'd be good at this.

Rene: You should. You should...


Merlin: Instead of making poop jokes on podcast, I should be writing to help people.

Greg: Start a blog or something.

Merlin: I should get a blog. [laughs]

The gym memberships of the App Store

Rene: I like the text space to-dos, because I love my OmniFocus. I love my Things, but I often feel like to-do apps are like the gym memberships of the app store, where you have them...

Merlin: [laughs]

Rene: ...and they're so aspirational, but then managing the to-do app becomes the to-do, itself.

It sounds primitive, but when you have just a bunch of stuff in a text file, there's no real excuse making. It's either on the line or you deleted it, and you can sort of go on with your day.

Greg: For me, I found the best way to get all your to-dos done is to move to a new to-do management system.

Rene: [laughs]

Merlin: Mm-hmm.

Greg: Which I do about every year. It really takes care of that backlog.

Rene: I was joking with Culture Code, I said, "I wish they'd make an app called Thing, where you're only allowed to have one at a time, and you can't get an extra slot until you've completed it, because I feel like that would give me [inaudible 26:32] . [laughs]

Merlin: Oh, god, that's such a good idea. I can't even tell you how much stuff. I'm still an Arden fan. I don't know why I feel so defensive about needing to say this. Yes, I still use OmniFocus.

My go-to right now is TaskPaper. The TaskPaper format, the TaskPaper app. I do a lot of my task management in Editorial, as a .task paper file. It makes little buttons you can tick off. It is very nearly fiddle-proof, in a way that I find very satisfying.

I'm looking at mine right now on my Mac version of TaskPaper, made by Jessie...What is it? What's the name of his company?

Greg: Uh.

Merlin: He has a funny company name, too...


Merlin: Yes, but I've got an area called Inbox, an area called House, an area called Office, an area called Waiting on, and then a big bunch of space at the bottom, and I just put stuff in there. I occasionally move stuff around. I have, literally, four tags. That's all that I use.

Every day, I go in there and say, "How much of this stuff can I delete?"


It's so freeing to not feel like part of my job is attending a rabbit hutch full of context and projects. It's like this is the stuff that needs to get done. If it doesn't, there's going to be problems. You get this, you got a calendar. You got Drafts. Move on with your life.

Rene: I saw Ken at WWDC, Ken Case from the Omni Group, right after they announced Core ML. I just went up to him and I said, "Can you please use this to just remove stuff from OmniFocus that you know I'm never gonna do." [laughs]

Merlin: Figure out the stuff I know I'm not willing to admit I'm never going to do.


Rene: [jokingly] Just make a new network model and handle that for, me.

Merlin: Do my reviews for me. [laughs]

Drafts 5.0

Rene: I'll feel more accomplished. I'll just look at the list going down. Wow. It's amazing.

Greg, you're working towards version 5.0 now, is that right?

Greg: That's correct, and I've been working on it for almost close to two years. Time constraints, obviously. I'm not working on it full time, but it was time to rebuild the app. It's been around long enough to take it to the next level and to really make it ready for the future, it was time to reconstruct, and re-envision the app.

It's coming early next year, hopefully, and it's a really big update.

Rene: Do you have a guiding theme or principal that you have behind it?

Greg: In all cases, I wanted to maintain the simplicity, but for people who want to do more with it, I wanted the power to be there.

We've added a lot of stuff, like tagging that has been very much requested, just to allow you to have sort of different context in the app. If you dump a lot of stuff into it, it's nice to be able to have some level of organization to them before you get around to sending them off to Things.

We've rebuilt the whole scripting flow in it to be a lot more powerful. The automation stuff that is in Drafts now, is mostly focused about what you want to do with this current draft.

There's tools to manipulate the text and the script, before you send it off somewhere. The app is now going to have tools that let you do much broader, more powerful things to integrate with almost any Web service, even if we don't directly support it, there's tools to integrate with any service.

There's the ability to integrate with multiple accounts from any service, so people who have business or home Dropboxes will be able to work with both of them simultaneously. There's ways to manipulate, create, and use multiple drafts and actions all at once.

You can take something you wrote down, a series of events you wrote into one Drafts box, and break them up line by line, and create calendar events, or reminders from each of them, things like that, that are going to add a lot more power to the app.

I hope, with the somewhat unsure future of Workflow, and where Apple's going to go with that, I think there's a lot of voids that people are going to be looking to fill over the next year in productivity, and I think Drafts is going to be ready to fill those niches.

Fire bad, tree pretty

Rene: I feel like such a caveperson because our whole CMS for Mobile Nation for iMore follow that is based on a really custom Drupal. But what I end up using Drafts for is it is a nightmare.

I use my phone a lot. I'm out a lot. I need to be able to do everything that I can do on my phone. But editing inside Drupal is just a nightmare, especially on a phone. I routinely select all, copy, paste into Drafts. Do everything I need to do there. Copy, paste back. It is horribly antiquated and manual. But it works.

Or with Libsyn, trying to get show notes in, I'll copy them out, paste them into Drafts, copy them back.

Merlin: Libsyn, that is so brutal.

Rene: It totally is! But Drafts gives me a place where I can work with...Yes, it is some pain to get it in and out. But it's way better than trying to do it where it lives.

Merlin: They don't have a save button. They have a publish button.

Rene: I spent so long trying to use Marzen. But It just...I can't do it on...

Merlin: You go to Libsyn. You put your stuff in. I want to change the episode canonical title for "Reconcilable Differences." I've already...It's published. But it's published to download only. But then to save it, I click publish again. My brain just aches.

Rene: God help you if you make it a draft. Not your Drafts but if you make it a draft instead of publishing it, trying to figure out how to actually publish it from the drafts requires Cirque de Soleil contortions.

Merlin: You accidentally posted it to that beautiful Libsyn podcast download page.

Greg: The editor is something we spent a lot of time on, too. I've really tried to make everything about editing in Drafts a better experience as while and built an extensible thing.

My goal, and this is not a goal I'm going to hit per se but the model I'm working towards is having a BBEdit of iOS, just your go-to text editing tool as well as just the capture for those sorts of situations where you don't want to use the editor and something else.

Just paste it in Drafts, make it what it needs to be, use the tools to clean up the text or whatever, and then put it back where it needs to belong.

Merlin: You'll have to buy a lot of parrots to catch up with Rich Siegel, sir.

Greg: No doubt.

Looping actions

Rene: Are there anything that you've seen in terms of what customers ask you for or just the cool things they share with you that were more popular than you expected or things that surprised you? People were using it in ways you didn't expect.

Greg: There's been a lot of that over the years. Certainly, one of the big revelations with the big URL scheme and x-callback process is that was never really envisioned for some of the things people use it for and obviously what Workflow would eventually become.

In the early days when people came up with looping actions that would use these URL schemes to send one line of a draft off to Fantastic Cow, create the event, come back to Drafts, use the next line, back and forth, back and forth, and do these things that I never envisioned anyone trying to do with the app...

When it comes down to uses I didn't envision, I have trouble coming up with great examples. A lot of people have hooked it into Workflows outside of Drafts so that you write that file to Dropbox. Then they have some engine running on their Mac that watches that folder and uploads those things to some other service somewhere.

Those kind of things are just amazing that people have spent the time and found my tool fits into that workflow somewhere is exciting always.

Rene: What about you, Merlin? Have you come up with anything that surprised you, anything that you were just really excited to share?

Merlin: From a tech standpoint, no, not really. It's funny to be in that very small one-digit percentage of people who use nerdy apps like this, but I'm not nearly at the full far end, at the .001 percent who are doing things like multiple callbacks.

It's real boring. It's real, real boring in the best possible way. It's so satisfying to me to be able...I'm not made of stone. I get excited about new hardware. Sometimes software can be good. It's a peculiar joy of my middle age years to be able to settle on a handful of things that work really well for now.

A la the great John Stuart Kewso, I'll change when I have to. I'll change my scroll direction when they make me, all that kind of stuff. That's what John says anyway. I tend to agree with that.

There was a time in my life where my vocation and my hobby was very much testing and trying every single one of these and then writing about it and thinking about it and talking about it. I'm not against that. There's also something really satisfying about coming up with a set of tools that almost perfectly fits your needs.

I've talked to many places about what those tools are for me. Drafts is definitely one of those. I don't want to make this into an ad. That cognitive shift has been a really big thing for me. It's really nice to know this is hooked up with my text expander, this can go to Dropbox.

Then When I think about what I look for in an app like this, the quick capture starts the whole flow. If it doesn't have that, it's not going to happen. Yes, I want the options for what to do next.

Something that surprises me sometimes is how often I go back and search for stuff that was in there before. I like to do things like say, "Oh, here were the runner up titles for this week's episode of 'Due by Friday.'" I'll go. I'll just copy. It saves me five second. But I'll go and copy the text from before, change the episode numbers, etc., etc.

That fast finding, when I think about, god bless it, what Simple Notes was like back in the day, trying to find stuff in Simple Notes. Now today, everything is just lightning fast, but then I guess it's that ubiquity. It's knowing that if I have the presence of mind to just jot something down, I'll be able to get to it later from my other devices or I'll be able to set it to where it needs to go.

While that may not be the thing that sells it to somebody who hasn't started using, I hope it's something that users can nod along with, that it is the rare app that so fits what you need to do but then helps you understand what you could be doing better. That's what Drafts has really done for me.

Easy yes and no

Rene: The one thing that I thought is fascinating, just to bring it back to the core level, is there are some things that are easy yeses and easy nos, at least when I look at it. Some things I would never do that or I absolutely have to do that.

There's some things that seem much more subtle. For example, a long time ago, Greg, we had a conversation about whether new note...When you launch drafts, it should come up with a blank screen so you can immediately start your new note or the last note you worked on so you could immediately continue your thought.

I know of apps have wrestled with that. Some will just do the settings, that you can choose your preference. A lot of people never go into or look at or change settings. It's those things where you could make a case on either side that I think is the most interesting story about which ones get chosen is the most interesting story about an app and its developer.

Greg: Right. The solution to that in Drafts was to create a time out that if there's a situation where you're working on a note and you want it to stay there, you're flipping back and forth and adding to it from Safari and whatever and then there's a situation where you come to the app and you don't always want the same behavior. What Drafts does is there's a time out. It defaults to 60 seconds. You can change...

Merlin: I'm a five-minute man, title.

Greg: What it says is if you come back to Drafts within that period of time, within that window, we're going to leave you on the last draft you were working on. If you come back and it's been longer than that, if it's been more than five minutes since you've used Drafts, we can make the assumption that you probably want to start on something new and give you that new draft.

It is a setting you can adjust. The 60 second behavior seems to be what I settled on as the best default and what works best for most people.

Rene: Are there a lot of cases like that where you've had to figure out multiple usage cases?

Greg: Absolutely. It's the great thing about a mature app is over time with a dedicated user base, you hear from them. Sometimes you get the off the wall suggestions that are only applicable to one person's workflow. You got to filter those out. They're not going to be better for everyone or it's not worth adding a setting for that particular need.

As these apps mature, you add those things that there's justifiable cases for different behaviors or you tweak things like the time outs and stuff so that they work best for the most people.

Rene: Because you can't take a feature away afterwards. People get super upset. It's better not to add it.

Greg: I have taken features away. I will take features away.


Greg: Sometimes it makes sense.

Rene: Any prominent examples? Or you don't want to refresh those old wounds?

Merlin: [laughs]

Greg: I'm working on Drafts 5. I don't think I'm going to support posting to Google+ right now. I just don't think the demand's there for me to reimplement that.

Rene: We had that discussion on our website because one of our websites is Android Central. They're huge Google users. They still have a lot of interaction. Nobody else did. We eliminated it everywhere else. But on that one part of it, we just couldn't touch it. It was fascinating. Rest in peace, Google+.

Merlin, any final hacks you'd like to share?

Merlin: Geez, let me look.

Rene: Put you on the spot.

Merlin: Boy, I am so freaking boring with how I use this. I have all these tabs. "Post this to Tumblr as a link. Post this to Tumblr as a quote." I haven't used that in two years. It's so stupid.

Rene: [laughs]

Greg: The only other big use case that I have a big number of users doing that we didn't talk about is diaries or logging. A lot of people use it for things like they set up a thing that appends to a file somewhere, either in Evernote or in Dropbox or whatever, so that they have several of these set up for keeping lists.

They hear about a movie they want to see or something like that. They have an action that they can just type the name of the movie, hit the action, and it appends it to that list so that when they go to look it up later, they've got one file that here's all the movies I want to go see.

Merlin: So elegant.

Greg: Or people do daily diary type of stuff that appends to files in Dropbox. You can set up the naming so that it automatically rolls over to a new file every week or every day or whatever. You just have an action that you type a little something about what you were doing that day or you log events.

People use it for stuff like medical needs. I've heard from diabetics who track their sugar measurements in it and just have an action that logs their measurement to the file. They can just bring up Drafts and punch it in when they do it and be done and be able to bring that file to their doctor at the end of the month or whatever.

Merlin: Sounds so much more elegant which what I would do is just go to file, tediously go all the way down to the next insertion point, and then continue from there.

Greg: It's just a little time saver. That's one of those things. If you're diabetic and you're doing that X number of times a day, that's when automating it becomes a valuable proposition.

Rene: I want to thank both of you for spending this time together. I always love this because there's so much more I want to do with apps. But I'm sort of limited by time but also by my own creativity. I want to hear how other people use them. It's really inspirational. I appreciate it.

Greg: Thanks for having us on. It was fun...

Merlin: Thanks, man.

Greg: ...different format.

Rene: Merlin, if people want to find you on the interwebs or they want to listen to some of the other podcasts that you do, where can they go?

Merlin: You can go to merlinmann.com. I do a bunch of different podcasts, but just go get Drafts. Go look me up, but go buy Drafts. Am I on your page, Greg?

Greg: I think I do have a pull quote from you.

Merlin: I should probably give you a new and even more exaggerated pull quote about how much I love this app, just a meltdown on the Internet. Can you make an action where you type it into Drafts, press a button, and it updates your quote? [laughs] Wait a minute. Clear my calendar.

Greg: I don't know. I might catch him on a really grumpy day. I don't know if I want to give him that power.

Rene: [laughs] What about you, Greg? Where can people find out more about you and Drafts?

Greg: Agiletortoise.com is my website and also my Twitter handle, without the dot com on Twitter.

Rene: That's a limitation on Twitter's end, sir. Thank you both so much. I really appreciate it.

Merlin: Thanks, man.

Greg: Thanks.

Rene: You can find me @reneritchie on Twitter, Instagram, all the socials. You can email me at rene@imore.com. Let me know what you think about the show and more shows like this or other things you'd like to see on the show.

If you haven't subscribed already, you can do so at Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Downcast, Pocket Cast, Caster, all the casters. The links are in the note shows. I want to thank you so much for listening. That's it. I'm out.


Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.