A simple Drafts tip

Most of the tips for Drafts that you run across on the internet have to do with its extensive set of Actions that send your text to and from other apps. This is altogether fitting and proper, as Drafts’ developer, Greg Pierce, is the creator of the iOS x-callback-url spec that makes that interapp communication possible. But one of my favorite features of Drafts it perhaps its least heralded.

Tapping your finger on a field of text in iOS is a quick way to move the cursor, but it isn’t very accurate, even with the magnifying lens that shows up when you hold your finger down for a while. I find it pretty common for the cursor to move a character in one direction or the other as I lift my finger off the screen, negating all my careful sliding. This makes me as angry as Katie Floyd.

I’m obviously not the only one having this problem, as many iOS text editors have devised ways to move the cursor without doing the tap, hold, and slide routine. Some of these seem unnecessarily elaborate, but Drafts’ way is particularly easy to remember and to use. You just swipe in the text field—left to move the cursor one character to the left, right to move it one character to the right.

That’s not my tip, though. My tip is how to use this feature to save time when you aren’t trying to reposition the cursor. Say you’re typing along and you need to include a quotation or a parenthetical remark. Instead of

  1. Switching to the second keyboard.
  2. Typing the opening quote or parenthesis.
  3. Switching back to the regular keyboard.
  4. Typing text.
  5. Switching to the second keyboard.
  6. Typing the closing quote or parenthesis.
  7. Switching back to the regular keyboard.

you do the much faster

  1. Switching to the second keyboard.
  2. Typing both quotation marks or parentheses.
  3. Switching back to the regular keyboard.
  4. Swiping left to move the cursor between them.
  5. Typing text.
  6. Swiping right to move the cursor past the closing quote or parenthesis.

It’s only one step less, but it goes much faster because the swiping steps require no precision—a flick anywhere in the text field will do the job. See Fitts’s Law.

(And yes, I know you can generate single characters from the second keyboard by tapping the 123 key and sliding. That’s pretty quick for periods and commas, which are close to the 123 key, but not so quick for parentheses and quotation marks.)