TextExpander touch 2.0 from Smile Software arrived in the iOS App Store this week, with an enhanced feature set that brings many of the niceties from its Mac sibling to iOS users. Compatible with the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch, the $4.99 product also offers improved syncing with the desktop product. Upgrades from the previous version are free.
If you are unfamiliar with TextExpander, the concept is simple: it enables you to compose chunks of text, called “snippets,” and assign shorter bits of text, called “abbreviations,” to them. TextExpander then monitors the keyboard as you type, and, whenever you type an abbreviation, the software expands the abbreviation into the larger chunk of text assigned to it. For example, every time I type “ttx” as I write this article, TextExpander expands it into the name of the product, “TextExpander.” For a full discussion of what TextExpander can do, see my book, “Take Control of TextExpander.”
For a while now, TextExpander touch could perform this basic, but incredibly useful, expansion trick just like its Mac sibling could (within the limitations of iOS — more on that later), but was unable to perform some of the more complex snippet expansions available on the Mac. Now, with version 2.0, a number of these, ahem, expanded features have come to the mobile version. They include:
- Fill-in snippets: You can now make a snippet with blanks, pop-up menus, and optional sections. When the snippet expands, you fill in the blanks, choose alternate bits of text from pop-up menus within the expanded text, and choose whether or not to include passages of optional text.
Date and time macros: Include these short macros in a snippet and they expand to the specified date or time. (By the way, you don’t have to type arcane macro text — you can choose the macros you want from a menu.) There are even macros that do date and time math so you can have a snippet calculate, say, the date of the day after tomorrow and have it appear in the expanded snippet.
Selections in snippets: You can specify which, if any, of the text in a snippet should be selected when the snippet expands.
Clipboard contents: An expanded snippet can now include the current contents of the clipboard.
Rich text in snippets: In previous versions of TextExpander touch, the text of a snippet could not include styling, but version 2.0 allows snippets to include not only bold, italic, and underlined text, but also colored text and text that uses any of the device’s built-in typefaces — and display them in different sizes, too.
Most TextExpander touch users will also likely be using TextExpander on the Mac, where it’s faster and easier to create and modify snippets. So it’s worth knowing that TextExpander touch can synchronize its various sets of snippets, which you can organize into groups, using Dropbox, so that you can have the same sets of snippets on your mobile device that you do on your Mac. Or you can skip Dropbox and synchronize the snippets between your Mac and device directly over your Wi-Fi network.
All is not skittles and beer, unfortunately, when it comes to using TextExpander touch on your iOS device: because of Apple’s strict sandboxing rules when it comes to apps in iOS, only those apps that integrate support for TextExpander explicitly can make use of TextExpander’s expansion capabilities. (On the Mac, TextExpander works in almost any app.) Furthermore, iOS apps that already support TextExpander touch won’t support the new capabilities in version 2.0 until they themselves are updated. Only a few apps have been updated to exploit TextExpander touch 2.0 so far, such as Drafts (a personal favorite of our managing editor, Josh Centers), although others
will still work with the previous TextExpander feature set until they are updated.
The number of apps that support TextExpander touch is growing: currently 157 apps include snippet expansion capabilities courtesy of TextExpander touch. And if you use an app that doesn’t, you can still compose text in TextExpander touch’s Notes editor, expanding snippets to your heart’s content, and then copy the note and paste it into the app of your choosing. You can also compose and send email directly from within TextExpander touch, taking advantage of all of its snippet-expanding capabilities as you write.
To get a sense of what using TextExpander touch is like, check out this 6-minute screencast created by David Sparks for his MacSparky blog.
If you don’t use an external keyboard, typing on an iOS device can be slow and awkward, but TextExpander touch, especially with its newly expanded capabilities, can help you streamline the process. TextExpander, whether on Mac or iOS, is one app I can’t live without.