Sunday, August 07, 2011

Text macros in iOS - insert a date on the iPad

I have written before about how to insert dates into various windows applications and how this was solved instantly and globally and magically with Autohotkey. Today I worked out how to solve this - and so much more - on the iPad and iPhone.

The answer is TextExpander Touch - which gives you text based macros (called "snippets"), combined with the hopefully growing list of apps that support TextExpander. So far, I am regularly using BlogPress for writing blog posts (such as this one) and WriteRoom for text notes sync'd with DropBox.

J. Kevin Wolfe (that's Wolfe with an e) wrote the most useful review I have found for TextExpander: Review: iPad's TextExpander leaves you shorthanded (he is being ironic). He lists two of the most important snippet expansions, which I have copied below.

  • Paste contents of the clipboard: %clipboard
  • Place the cursor: %|

Here are the mappings I have made for dates.

  • Abbreviation: dd1; content: %date:EEEE d MMMM YYYY, hh:mm:ss a%; sample output: Sunday 7 August 2011, 01:18:36 AM
  • Abbreviation: dd2; content: %date:YYYYMMdd-HHmmss%; sample output: 20110807-012007

In this Smile blog post: More TextExpander Date and Time Formatting Options the creators of TextExpander write that it uses the Unicode Date Format Patterns, so go nuts and create your own!

My biggest gripe with this arrangement is that although TextExpander is uber-cool, it will only work with apps that come pre-baked with TextExpander support. This means it won't work in any of the "standard" iOS apps like Safari, Notes, Pages, SMS or Email. I personally doubt that Apple built apps will ever support TextExpander unless Apple buys the company (but I'm not starting any rumors). It means that you can only use TextExpander in one or more of the apps that support TextExpander, c&p'ing your content to an unsupported app as required. Personally, BlogPress suddenly became 100% cooler than I thought it was, and I will become very attached to WriteRoom from here on in.

One further note, don't forget to tap the + icon within Snippet Groups and tap Add Predefined - you can get predefined snippets for CSS, HTML and some good auto-corrections for common mis-spellings.