Moving Text Between Your iPhone and a Desktop Computer

Emailing notes to yourself is not the most efficient way to transfer information between your phone and your desktop computer. If I were to do this on my phone, I’d have to perform the following steps:

  1. Select text and copy it to the clipboard.
  2. Tap home screen button.
  3. Tap on Mail.
  4. Hit “compose” button.
  5. Enter my own email in the To: field.
  6. Paste the contents of the clipboard into the body.
  7. Hit “send,” and if I don’t include a Subject line, tap on a dialog box to confirm that I want to send it anyway.
  8. Go to gmail.com on my desktop.
  9. Open the email.
  10. Select the text and copy it to the clipboard.
  11. Do what I want with it.

Thanks to cloud- and WiFi-based solutions, there are more efficient ways to move text. I have outlined a number of solutions to this problem below.

At a Home-Based Mac Over Wifi

Pastebot is an awesome iOS app. Just copy text (or even an image) to the clipboard, launch the app, and the contents of the clipboard are automatically saved into Pastebot. The app includes many clipboard instances, so you can tap on an earlier clipboard “save” to activate it.

If you have Pastebot installed on your iOS device and you have a Mac at home that runs over a local WiFi network, then you can install Pastebot Sync onto your Mac. Setup is easy, you just have to enter a 4-digit code to connect the two devices.

From their website:

Pastebot Sync is a free Mac companion app that enhances Pastebot’s functionality. It runs in the background and magically sends text and images to your iPhone while Pastebot is running. Just copy something on your Mac and see it instantly appear on your iPhone. Getting content on your phone has never been easier or more fun!

But it doesn’t stop there. Pastebot Sync also allows you to paste items back to your Mac … from your phone! Have an image in your iPhone photo library that you want to send to your Mac? Just import it into Pastebot and then paste it to your Mac wirelessly over wifi.

This solution works so seamlessly, you should just stop here if you only have to exchange text between your phone and your Mac at home.

At a Home-Based Windows PC Over Wifi

GoodReader provides an IP address to allow you to transfer files via a local WiFi network on Mac, Windows and Linux. Just create a text file in this iOS app, enter your text or copy the clipboard contents, close, and tap on the WiFi symbol to get started.

From iPhone to Computer

The following solutions are more for taking an idea that you’ve quickly “captured” (or text that you’ve copied to the clipboard) and sending it to a web service (like Dropbox or iCloud) that you can access via any web browser on a desktop computer. (Note: for these purposes desktop and laptop are synonymous.)

iOS Text Editors

There are many iOS text editors that sync with Dropbox, a cloud-based service that installs a special folder on your desktop computer’s hard drive and then syncs any files within that folder with the “cloud.” For example, you can open Byword on your iPhone, hit + to create a new note, and paste the clipboard contents. Later, you can access Dropbox in a web browser (or if you’re home, just find the file in the Dropbox folder (/Apps/Byword) on your hard drive). Visit Brett Terpstra’s exhaustive iOS text editor comparison table and click on iPhone and Dropbox to view all the iPhone apps that sync with Dropbox.

I spend most of my day in front of an office computer that does not have Dropbox installed, and I pay for a subscription to Textdrop, which lets me view and edit any text file in my Dropbox account, as well as preview it in Markdown. However, if you don’t want to pay for a service, you can access Dropbox.com for free, or use any of the free online Dropbox editors listed here.

From Drafts to Dropbox

Drafts is an iOS app that lets you easily capture your thoughts by immediately inserting a cursor into a blank text field when you launch the app. It archives your previously-inputted text, and when you’re ready you can send it to a variety of services like Evernote, Dropbox, Twitter and so on. Before performing the following routine, you will need to give Drafts permission to access your Dropbox account in the settings.

  1. Select text and copy it to the clipboard.
  2. Tap home screen button.
  3. Open Drafts.
  4. Once cursor blinks in entry field, paste contents of clipboard.
  5. Hit the “perform action” button.
  6. Tap on “Save to Dropbox.”
  7. Go to textdropapp.com/dropbox/Apps/Drafts/ (or https://www.dropbox.com/home/Apps/Drafts) and find the file with today’s date. (For example, 2013-01-10-11-51-14.txt means I sent the note on January 10, 2013 at 11:51 am.)

As an alternative to creating a new file, you can tap “Append to Dropbox” which will add your text to the end of a file called Journal.txt.

You can also create an Email Action and just have Drafts send you an email in the background. (More on Email Actions here.)

From Launch Center Pro to Dropbox

Launch Center Pro is an app that launches apps and actions within apps. In the following steps, we’re simply sending an email to IFTTT, a web service that uses APIs to let two web services communicate with each other. IFTTT then tells Dropbox to create a text file containing the contents of the iOS clipboard. (In case you’re curious, the only automated emails Drafts sends are from agiletortoise.com, and IFTTT will only recognize emails sent from the address which you registered with your IFTTT account.)

How to Set Up the Action in Launch Center Pro

  1. In the Action Composer under “Common” tap on “Mail”
  2. Tap on “Email with Body & Subject >”
  3. Name it “Clip to Dropbox”
  4. In the To: field, enter trigger@ifttt.com
  5. In the Subject filed, enter #clipboard
  6. In the body field, tap on Clipboard

LCP setup

If you don’t want to go through all these steps, just tap on “Custom URL” in the Action Composer and enter the following:

mailto:trigger%40ifttt.com?subject=%23clipboard&body=[clipboard]

You’ll get the exact same results.

How to Set Up the Recipe in IFTTT

If you haven’t created an IFTTT account already, do so now. Then you’ll have to activate the Email and Dropbox channels.

Once you’re ready, save this recipe to your IFTTT recipes.

The file name that IFTTT creates in Dropbox is just the date of the email, and the content of the text file is just the plain body of the email that you sent from LCP. If you use Textdropapp, you would find the text file at the following path:

https://www.textdropapp.com/dropbox/IFTTT/Email/

and the filename would be

january_10__2013_at_0249pm.txt

If you prefer to grab the text file on Dropbox.com just go to

https://www.dropbox.com/home/IFTTT/Email

How to Perform the Action

  1. Select and copy text on the iPhone.
  2. Tap on home button.
  3. Tap on Launch Center Pro.
  4. Tap on “Clip to Dropbox.”
  5. Once the pre-populated email pops up, hit “Send.”
  6. Go to Dropbox on the web (see above) to view.

This solution uses one step less than the Drafts solution, because you don’t have to tap the screen to paste the contents of the clipboard. In essence, after you tap on Drafts, you have to (1) paste; (2) tap on Action button; (3) tap on “Save to Dropbox.” After you tap on LCP, you have to (1) tap on “Clip to Dropbox” (2) Hit “Send” on the already-composed email.

If you would rather enter text into LCP than automatically send the contents of the clipboard, choose Input Prompt instead of Clipboard when you’re in Action Composer. If you choose Input Prompt, when you tap on the Action within LCP then a dialogue box will pop up. Enter your text and hit “Go.”

iCloud

If you set up an iCloud account and enable it for Notes in the iOS Settings, then any note you create on the phone can be viewed in the browser at iCloud Notes. Likewise, any note you create on iCloud.com will show up in the Notes app on your phone. I don’t particularly like the experience in Notes — it doesn’t support folders, for example — and some designers don’t like its skeuomorphism — but as Apple says, “It just works.”

From Your Work Computer (or Laptop Away From Home) to Your iPhone

Dropbox to iOS Text Editor

As I mentioned above, you can enter a note into Textdrop (or a free Dropbox text editor) or just upload a text file to Dropbox.com in the browser to the path associated with your iOS text editor of choice. For example, I could write a note in TextEdit, save it anywhere on my hard drive, then sign in to Dropbox.com and upload it to the /Apps/Byword/ directory. Then I can open up Byword on my iPhone and access the text file.

Via Push Notification

Pushover is a notifications app for iOS. It has a API to work with other web applications like IFTTT, but once you purchase the app on your iPhone and register an account, you can sign in directly to Pushover on the web. There is a “Send Notification” form there which allows you to enter some text and hit “Send.” Then you get a push notification to your phone. Just swipe, and tap on the notification in the app, select the text and copy to your clipboard.

Push Notifications + URL Schemes = TaskPusher

I have been dabbling in PHP, and I built a web application using the Pushover API to send information to apps on the iPhone using the same URL schemes employed by Launch Center Pro. Currently, Taskpusher supports Omnifocus, Things, Drafts and Due. Type a task and an optional note, hit Send, and you get a Pushover notification on your phone. Tap on the URL in the notification, and the iOS app opens with your entered text already submitted. Other apps like Nebulous, Agenda, Day One, and Fantastical are in the works. There are no usernames or passwords required, you just have to enter your Pushover user key and the site saves it as a cookie.

Here are some screenshots:

1. Enter task

2. Receive verification

3. Get push notification on phone

4. Open Pushover and tap on “Import into Omnifocus” (The screen below the notification is blank because I deleted all prior notifications for the purposes of this tutorial.)

5. Omnifocus opens with task already entered. Just hit Save.

Please note that this site is “in development.” The “success” pages still echo JSON status messages. (If you don’t understand that, well I barely get it, and I don’t know how to get rid of them.) However, it all works and is secure. I use Taskpusher all the time. My favorite is Due, because Taskpusher uses natural language to schedule an alert (much like Fantastical does natively), so that I don’t have to scroll various wheels to set a time in the iOS app.

If you regular use productivity apps like Omnifocus, Things, and Due but don’t have their Mac OS counterparts, then Taskpusher is an easy way to enter info into your iOS apps with the ease of typing in a desktop browser instead of tapping on the iOS keyboard. It can save you some hassle.

How Do You Do It?

If you have any hacks that I haven’t mentioned above, please send me a tweet.

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