Typinator: Why Write Out Everything Yourself?

Posted by | October 26, 2011 | Apps | No Comments

Most of us find ourselves writing at least once a day on a computer. And surely you have found yourself more than once annoyed at having to type out the same phrase over and over again. Or maybe you’d like a way to quickly insert an image, date or signature?

Here’s where Typinator comes in. The tiny tool helps you to set up abbreviations, which it will expand to whatever text you define. How exactly that works we’ll have a look at after the break.

So What Does a Text Expander Do Again?

To explain what a text-expander is, I will borrow from one of my previous articles in which I compared different text-expansion apps.

The basic principle is that you create a short abbreviation for the content you use regularly, and the app expands it for you as you type the abbreviation. For example, if you answer the same type of emails with a “thankyou” note, you could come up with “tty” and the expander would turn that into something like:

Dear Person X,
Thank you very much for your inquiry. We will get back to you as soon as possible.
Sincerely,
Julia

And if you like, you could have your signature inserted as an image or even the logo of your company added. Similarly, when you code, you can set up some shorthand code for the basic structure of a website (DOCTYPE declaration, head, body, basic css stylesheet links and so on).

With maybe three or four keystrokes, you could have the framework of the website set up; something that would normally take you up to two or three minutes. Now, that’s what I call a time saver!

Getting to Know Typinator

Now that we know what Typinator does, let’s take a look at how it does it. Don’t be fooled by the rather spartan interface; the app is quite powerful.

To ease you into working with Typinator, the app comes with a default set of abbreviations, which showcase the different usage scenarios quite nicely.

Getting to know Typinator

Getting to know Typinator

As you can see, the window – which is usually hidden – is divided into different sections. On the very top is an overview of the different sets of abbreviations. You might have one for work related terms and one for private terms; especially once a set fills up, dividing phrases into separate sets makes it much easier to find and manage them. I only wish Ergonis would make that tiny window larger.

Apart from the default set, Typinator has some hidden goodies. Clicking the “Predefined Sets” icon on the top of the app window you’ll be presented with even more sets that you can activate. Non-Lion users will appreciate the auto-correction sets (and those Lion users, who have deactivated the build-in auto-correction might like this as well) and developers will rejoice over the HTML snippets.

Many sets come included with Typinator

Many sets come included with Typinator

In the lower part of the app window you can see a field where you enter a new abbreviation and below that you define your expanded text, which can be plain or formatted.

Creating a New Abbreviation

New abbreviations can be created in two different ways. No matter how you do it, you should think about something before you proceed: what makes an abbreviation useful?

The more abbreviations you create, the more you have to remember. So, you want to go for something that will come to you naturally and not result in a learning-marathon that can compete with learning vocabulary. For example, try “tthanks” for “Thank you so much. We really appreciate…”. Doubling the first letter is easy to type and you just have to remember to double the “t” in a word you’d use anyway.

Also, you want to stay away from words that you use normally (for obvious reasons) and long abbreviations (which will just frustrate you) and instead go for short, easy phrases which are easy to type.

Once you have thought of something smart, hit the plus button and type your abbreviation. In the window below, enter the text you want to see expanded.

Define an abbreviation and the expanded text

Define an abbreviation and the expanded text

That’s actually all you real need, you can go ahead and use the abbreviation straight away. Of course, you can always fine tune it. For example, you can check “whole word”.

This setting is useful when your abbreviation might include parts of other abbreviations and to make sure the text is not expanded prematurely. You can take it even further and define whether or not the case matters.

The expanded text itself can be adjusted as well. You have the choice between plain text, formatted text and images. If you’d like to enter formatted text, you can either use the “Format” button (kind of tedious) or just write it in TextEdit and paste it into the app.

Here's a formatted (rich text) example

Here's a formatted (rich text) example

Also, you can insert variables, which will expand to dynamic content and not static text. Examples are the current date and time, the content of the clipboard or, really awesome, the cursor position. The latter lets you insert a predefined text with a set spot where your cursor will be after the text-expansion – so instead of it being after the expanded text, you could have it right within it. (Say to enter the name of a mail recipient, with the rest of the message being predefined.)

Create dynamic content with Typinator

Create dynamic content with Typinator

But this is just one way to create a new abbreviation. You can also set a keyboard shortcut to create new abbreviations from selection or the keyboard. This speeds up the entire process incredibly.

Add abbreviations via keyboard shortcut

Add abbreviations via keyboard shortcut

Working with Typinator

Now that you’ve set up everything, how do you use Typinator? Actually, you don’t have to do anything except to type your abbreviation whenever you need a certain phrase that you’ve set up in Typinator. The expansion works in a web browser the same as in your text-editing app or in your mail app.

But what happens if you’ve forgotten an abbreviation? You know you made one, but what was it? Easy. Just use the keyboard shortcut CTRL+ENTER to bring up a search window at the very top of your screen. Type what you want to expand (obviously, you don’t need to search by abbreviation) and Typinator will present you all search results. Everything can be done from the keyboard.

Search from any app

Search from any app

What if you don’t want certain abbreviations to work in certain apps? For example, if you use the HTML snippets, but don’t want them to work with Espresso or Coda, because those apps have excellent code completion already? There’s a setting for that. Simply define which apps to exclude from a set.

Exclude apps from sets

Exclude apps from sets

I’ve had some mixed success with that setting. For some apps it worked, for others not so well so you’ll need to experiment a little.

Verdict

At first, I thought: Who in the world needs this kind of app? I mean, it’s not expensive, but I though that people were just being lazy. Fast forward a couple of months to when I was writing a 90-page documentation full of repeating, long technical terms. It drove me crazy to have to type all of them over and over again.

That’s when I finally realized the value of Typinator. That was a couple of years ago. By now, I use it for all sorts of tasks. For example quickly answering or writing emails that only differ by the name of the addressee or recipient.

Just imagine your daily workflow speeding up and freeing you to concentrate on the really important stuff instead of being stuck doing the same thing over and over again. Then you will understand the value of Typinator.