TextEdit, Dropbox, and my iPhone

I love TextEdit. For those who aren’t familiar with TextEdit, it is essentially Apple’s version of Microsoft’s Notepad (or more accurately WordPad). With Quicksilver installed I am only one quick keystroke away from having a new document open and ready to receive whatever information I need to throw at it–a phone number, a quick list, whatever. Combine this with Dropbox and those files are now accessible from anywhere–even my iPhone! Sound too good to be true? It is. Amazingly, the iPhone won’t read TextEdit documents. But don’t fret, this story has a happy ending that is sure to up your productivity and mobility.

First of all, let me address those of you questioning my use of TextEdit for note-taking. I know there are other applications for this sort of thing such as Stickies, Evernote, Devonthink, and countless others. I even use many of these apps such as Evernote and Devonthink Pro (including Devonthink’s dashboard widget) as great solutions in certain contexts–although I have never been a fan of Stickies. However, I often find it easier to pop open a quick TextEdit file to jot down a quick note. Sometimes it ends in TextEdit; other times that content gets copied/pasted into some other application. That’s just how I work. Don’t judge. Now back to the story…

Since these quick TextEdit notes are usually things that I only need for a short amount of time, I generally save these files onto my desktop. That way they will stare me in the face until I actually do something with the information and delete the files. I recently realized that I can save my TextEdit documents to my Dropbox folder making them accessible from my online Dropbox account. Now I can open these files from anywhere including my iPhone. Amazing!

The specific situation when I decided to test out this method was house shopping with my wife. We created a TextEdit file containing a list of things we were looking for in our new home categorized by “definitely, maybe, and bonus.” I then saved this file to our shared Dropbox folder. Once out in the wild looking at houses I just pulled out my handy-dandy pocket computing device and navigated Mobile Safari to my Dropbox account (because Dropbox still doesn’t have a native iPhone app). I found our list, clicked the file name to open it, and was greeted with this little message: “Safari cannot download this file.”

safari error

Apparently Apple’s default file format for TextEdit (RTF) is not compatible with the iPhone. This is even more ironic when you consider that Safari on the Mac will open RTF files with ease and even Apple’s QuickLook feature in Leopard views RTF files. Why would Apple choose to not support this format on the iPhone since they are the ones using it as a default format in their own applications? Who knows. Hopefully the new iPhone OS will solve this oversight or Dropbox will decide to make an iPhone app that reads all standard file types. But until then I needed a solution.

Solution #1

TextEdit may default to the RTF format but it is not limited to this format. One solution is to export files from TextEdit as PDF files which are definitely supported by mobile Safari. TextEdit will not natively “Save As…” a PDF file, but you can use Apple’s “Print to PDF” feature in TextEdit by selecting File → Print then clicking the PDF button in the bottom, left corner of the Print Dialog box. While these files are definitely viewable on the iPhone they are not editable. This means that you would have to save a copy of each file as a PDF to view and then as an RTF to be able to make changes. Every time you make changes to the RTF you would have to re-export the PDF version. Not ideal.

Solution #2

TextEdit can also save files in the standard (Microsoft) DOC format. This format is supported by mobile Safari as well as almost every word processor ever made. The caveat? If you have Microsoft Word installed on your Mac, once a TextEdit file has been saved as a DOC file it defaults to opening in Word the next time you double-click it to edit. I personally hate MS Word and never use it unless absolutely necessary. I use TextEdit for small documents and Pages for large documents. So this was a quick fix for me. I just told OSX to change the default behavior to start opening all DOC files in TextEdit.

This can be done by right-clicking one of your newly created DOC files and selecting “Get Info.” Scroll down to the “Open With” section and change the default application to TextEdit. Now click the “Change All…” button and confirm your decision in the window that pops up. Now when you double-click a DOC file it will open in TextEdit. If you encounter a DOC file that you know you want to open in MS Word you can always right-click it and select “Open With… Microsoft Word.”

Now the only thing I have to remember is to set the format of each TextEdit document I save as DOC instead of RTF (I wish I could make that the default format).

Do you have a solution you would like to share? Is this a solution you can use to make your content more accessible? Share your thoughts in the comments.