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  1. Computer Skills
  2. TextExpander
Computers

TextExpander IV—Syncing and TextExpander Touch

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Difficulty:IntermediateLength:ShortLanguages:

TextExpander is a Mac productivity app that takes an abbreviation and expands it out into a longer snippet of text. For people who regularly type the same sort of information, TextExpander can save a significant amount of time.

In the previous tutorials in this series, I introduced TextExpander, looked and some of it’s features like fill ins, and time and date macros, and considered how to use scripting languages, like JavaScript or AppleScript, to add logic to your snippets.

In this tutorial I’ll step back and look at syncing TextExpander snippets between Macs, and using them on iOS devices.

Prerequisites

To follow along with this tutorial you need to be familiar with TextExpander. It will certainly help if you’ve read the previous three tutorials in this series:

You’ll also need the latest version of TextExpander running on a Mac and the latest version of TextExpander Touch running on an iOS device. You can install TextExpander from the developer’s website—it costs $44.95 after a 30-day free trial—and TextExpander Touch from the iOS App Store for $4.99.

Syncing Snippets Between Macs

TextExpander supports two methods for syncing snippets between Macs: iCloud and Dropbox. Dropbox works with older versions of TextExpander but outside of that, neither syncing method has a major advantage over the other, it is purely a matter of personal preference.

To set up syncing, open TextExpander on one Mac and head to the Preferences pane. In the Sync tab select Save Snippets As. In the window that opens, navigate to either iCloud Drive or Dropbox and save the TextExpander snippets file.

textexpander syncing
TextExpander's syncing preferences.

On the second Mac, open TextExpander’s Preferences pane and head to the Sync tab. Select Link to Snippets and navigate to where you saved the snippets file on the the first Mac. Press Return and allow the snippets to sync.

Now they'll remain up to date between the two Macs.

Tip: Allow time for your snippets to sync. It may take a few minutes for them to be available on all linked devices.

Introducing TextExpander Touch

TextExpander isn’t just a Mac app. The companion app, TextExpander Touch, brings snippets to iOS devices. Unfortunately, the iOS platform isn’t as open as OS X so there are some compromises. With TextExpander Touch you can either use the accompanying TextExpander Keyboard to get access to snippets in any app, or use just use TextExpander Touch with compatible apps.

Syncing to TextExpander Touch

TextExpander offers two ways to sync snippets to an iOS device. The first, is to transfer them over your local network. The second, is to sync them just as you do between Macs.

To transfer the snippets over a local area network, check the Local Network Sharing box in TextExpander’s Sync options. On the iOS device, open the TextExpander Touch app and click the plus icon. Select Add via Local Network and the pick the Mac from the list of devices. You can then choose which snippet groups to sync.

setting up sync
Setting up sync with TextExpander Touch.

With a manual transfer you get to choose exactly which groups of snippets are sent to your iOS device. If you only want to sync a small selection of your snippets to your iOS device, it’s the way to do it.

The second option is to sync all snippets across using Dropbox or iCloud. With everything set up on the Mac as above, open TextExpander Touch on the iOS device and head to the settings menu. Under Synchronisation, select Sync Snippets and then Link to Snippets in either iCloud Drive or Dropbox, depending on where you have them stored.

With that done, the snippets will be kept in sync between both the Mac and the iOS device.

The TextExpander Keyboard

With the addition of third-party keyboards in iOS8, TextExpander Touch became a lot more powerful. Until then, you could only use TextExpander snippets with compatible apps. With the TextExpander Keyboard you can use any of your TextExpander snippets on an iOS device. The only unsupported snippets are those that use a scripting language other than regular JavaScript.

With TextExpander Touch installed on an iOS device, open the Settings app and head to General and then Keyboard. Select Keyboards and then Add New Keyboard. From the list choose TextExpander.

textexpander keyboar
Setting up the TextExpander Touch Keyboard.

You can now use the TextExpander Keyboard at any time by selecting it from the Keyboards menu on the default iOS keyboard. If you’d prefer just to use the TextExpander Keyboard, you can turn off the default iOS keyboard by selecting Edit and then deleting the irrelevant system keyboard, in my case it’s English (UK).

The TextExpander Keyboard works just like the regular iOS one, except that when you type in an abbreviation, it will automatically expand into a snippet. This will work in any text field in any application that does not use its own custom keyboard.

TextExpander Touch and Compatible Apps

If you don’t want to go all out and use the TextExpander Keyboard as the default keyboard, you can still use your TextExpander snippets in certain apps. The developers provide an API that other apps can use to load your snippets. There are currently 72 apps such as Byword, Day One and OmniFocus that support snippets. The full list of apps is available on the developer’s website.

Every app has a slightly different procedure for loading the TextExpander snippets. Generally, you navigate to the app’s settings and there will be a TextExpander option.

Tip: Unfortunately, the compatible apps don’t automatically update your TextExpander snippets. If you create a new snippet, you will need to resync them all.

Once the TextExpander snippets are loaded into the app, any abbreviation you type with any keyboard will be automatically expanded into the relevant snippet. This only works within that one specific app.

Conclusion

TextExpander is a great application that can save you a surprising amount of time. If you’re going to go to the effort of setting it up properly on one Mac, it’s a shame not to have access to your snippets on your other Macs, or your iOS devices. In this tutorial I’ve looked at how to do exactly that.

This is the last tutorial in the current series on TextExpander. If you’ve any questions about syncing, or the app as a whole, please ask them in the comments below.

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