Tag: Shortcuts

The Changes to Shortcuts that Makes me Excited

Now that the Public Beta for iOS 15 is available, I thought I would talk about some of the changes and additions to Shortcuts that has me excited this year.

Split View and Slide Over Actions

The new and improved multitasking features being available on iPadOS 15. With that, Shortcuts now allows users to create actions and shortcuts that opens apps in both Split View and in Slide Over. I made a demo shortcut you can download here.

As you can see, you can choose the two apps that will be in Split View and have a separate action opening a specific app in Slide Over. In just two actions I can have my entire setup change on the iPad.

You are also able to change the Split View ratio from 50/50 to 70/30 if you so choose.

This might not seem like something to write home about, but like most Shortcut posts it is all about how you use these tools and actions.

For me, I integrate this with my Focus areas and have Shortcut Automation perform these actions automatically.

Focus Automation

Speaking of Focus Automation, here is what I have happen when I open my Writing Focus.

In two actions I have Safari and Craft in Split View and I have a new Toggl timer going in Timery. With just a single tap I have moved everything I need to the forefront and allowed everything else fall to the wayside.

This is what I was talking about with the building blocks and how you use the tools Shortcuts provides. Once you begin to understand the small things Shortcuts offers you can then build them into something bigger and more meaningful.

Stop and Output

This is a very specific feature in Shortcuts for people that build larger shortcuts and need to debug them.

Stop and Output is an easy way for you to put in an action to see what the output is at that particular point in the Shortcut. You can even copy it to the Clipboard for further investigation.

I don’t normally need this kind of tool when I am making Shortcuts, but when I do need it, I will absolutely be joyous that it is there.

Files Actions

Last, but certainly not least, is the improved Files support. Previously, you would only be allowed access to the Shortcuts folder in iCloud Drive to save, append, or edit files. If you had a file in any other iCloud or local folder on your iPhone or iPad it wasn’t accessible.

Thankfully, that has changed. You can most likely thank the Mac version of Shortcuts for this change, but it is here nonetheless. Now, you can choose a folder or file anywhere in your file system. From Dropbox, to iCloud Drive, to local storage (On My iPad/On My iPhone). Simply tap where the destination is on the Files action and “Replace” the folder/file with what ever you want.

As of right now, in the Developer Beta 2 (2nd Beta 2 update), I cannot seem to be able to make changes to the file/folder in Shortcuts. When I select “Replace” it is consistently crashing every time. If it does work for you, here’s an image of what it looks like in a Shortcut to “Replace” the File/Folder location.

As far as the crashing problem goes, I have filed a Feedback request to Apple sharing what I can in hopes it is fixed in the next version.

As a disclaimer for Beta season, there may be times where Shortcuts won’t work for you properly, like what I just explained above. I will try my best to debug things if something happens, but consider this your warning for testing things in the public Beta.

Conclusion

Shortcuts has a lot more changes and additions up its sleeve, and I can’t wait to share more with you this Summer about it as iOS 15 and macOS Monterey show us what Shortcuts has in store for us.

What Happened to Shortcuts?

I have spoken a lot about the Shortcuts app, and for good reason. It is the bridge to automation for the iPhone and iPad.

One of the best things about Shortcuts is that you can share ones you have created via an iCloud link. It’s great when you want to resolve an issue for someone via Shortcuts. The only problem is when it doesn’t work. That is what happened late March 23rd.

What Happened?

In the evening of March 23rd people began to notice that some Shortcut links weren’t showing anything when you click them on your iPhone or iPad.

Instead of a shortcut populating, there would be an error saying “Shortcut not found. The shortcut link may be invalid, or it may have been deleted.” This was happening with every single shortcut with the exception of those that were created less than a week ago.

Libraries like those made at MacStories, Matthew Cassinelli’s Shortcut Catalog, and shortcuts by Christopher Lawley became unusable due to this error from Apple and the Shortcuts team.

Thankfully, later that day Apple gave the following statement to MacStories when they reached out for comment.

We are aware of an issue where previously shared shortcuts are currently unavailable. Newly shared shortcuts are available, and we are working to restore previously shared shortcuts as quickly as possible.

On March 25th, it seemed that shortcuts from MacStories had been slowly enabled again, confirming that the Apple team is working on the issue.

In fact, when I try to open any shortcut on MacStories, Matthew Cassinelli’s website, or shortcuts made by Christopher Lawley I am yet to find something that is still broken.

While the issue should have never happened in the first place, I am happy to see such a quick turnaround to addressing the issue by Apple and the Shortcuts team.

You Are in Apple’s Yard

While this issue has been addressed, I worry about the future of sharing shortcuts as time goes on.

As of now, the only way you can import Shortcuts is through an iCloud link someone created within the app.

Before iOS 13 there was a time where you could export a shortcut as a file and save it, which was fantastic because you could export shortcuts you weren’t using but wanted to keep and import them as needed.

You even could have multiple shortcuts in a single .zip folder and batch import those shortcuts at will. It was great for when you had shortcuts for a specific task or agenda. For example, you are at a conference and have shortcuts that makes it easier to share and save contact info with others. When done with the conference you can lighten up your library by exporting the shortcuts and save them for safe keeping for the next conference.

When iOS 13 came out Shortcuts removed the ability to import shortcuts via email or as a file. It was only available via iCloud links. Which is why it was such a disaster when the links of Shortcuts broke across the board last week. It effectively made every shortcut on websites, libraries, blogs, etc. completely useless unless you made a new shortcut link for them (given you still had the Shortcut in question in your library).

Bottom line is this blunder by Apple showed how Shortcuts users are playing in someone else’s yard. You have no control over when you get kicked out Apple’s yard or not, and that makes automation on iOS and iPadOS fickle, frustrating, and nerve-wracking.

I haven’t had this much anxiety about hoarding Shortcuts since it was announced that Workflow, the predecessor to Shortcuts, had been acquired by Apple. When that news broke many people in the community began to assume the worst. We worried Apple would discontinue the app and absorb the team for something else in the Apple ecosystem.

How Apple Can Fix This

The problems that occurred with Shortcuts should never happen again, that much is clear. That said, there are a few more steps Apple can take to make sure the foundation for Shortcuts stays intact.

Allow For Import and Export of Shortcuts via Files

The first is to allow for more ways users can import and export shortcuts. It is clear that iCloud links may not always be reliable, but that shouldn’t be the only reason for this change.

The other reason we should allow Shortcuts to import and export as files is because it allows for an easier way to import multiple shortcuts at once. It is much easier to import a .zip file with all your shortcuts than to scrape a bunch of URLs and import them one by one.

This may sound like a niche case, but if it were easier to import and export shortcuts in multiple ways I feel that all users of Shortcuts would benefit. More people can share and save libraries of Shortcuts, creating multiple niche shortcut libraries and allowing users to import them all.

Make a Road Map for Shortcuts

Apple loves secrecy and NDAs. While I am not saying they aren’t good for tech companies to have, it is often at the expense of the users. What I mean by this is that we don’t know what is going to happen with Shortcuts. It is clear that it has some backend changes in the works, but we truly have no clue what is happening until WWDC or an update to iOS comes out. One thing that I love about Indie developers is they offer roadmaps. OmniGroup, the company behind OmniFocus and OmniOutliner, give roadmaps for their apps all the time. Not only does it set a clear and defined goal for the developers, but it assures users that the companies behind the tools we use every day have plans to continue development of the app and features to come.

Apple needs to assure the users of Shortcuts that this important and necessary app is staying with Apple and will continue to allow everyone to create and share their work. I think Federico Viticci said it best when he wrote this in his iOS 13 review:

My only hope is that Apple remembers that the creativity of Shortcuts users is not the enemy. Part of what made Workflow special, which is still true for Shortcuts today, was the community — the people who advocated for automation, helped others by sharing shortcuts, and made iOS a more enjoyable operating system by enhancing it with Shortcuts. To put an end to that creativity and communal aspect of Shortcuts would be in Apple’s power, but it would also be a shame. I’m happy that sharing is still supported in Shortcuts today; I hope Apple won’t go beyond what they’ve done this year.

Have a Sanctioned Community to help improve Shortcuts

Speaking of community, I think it is time for Apple to create one. I am not sure what that would look like, I surely hope it is nothing like iTunes Ping.

I truly think this is a pipe dream, but it would be spectacular for Apple to have an official community or chatroom for people to talk about things like Shortcuts, automation, apps, and more.

Apple has been hiring tons of content creators as editors for the App Store over the years. With that in mind, I feel the next step is to have a place for Apple users to talk and perhaps be a part of the community with Apple employees.

Twitter has this to a point, there are times when I see Apple people talking to Apple employees, and it is interesting to see that. However, I feel it is too few and far between.

Apple might be using data to drive where they want their teams to focus on, or even focus groups at times. But having town halls and open chats where both user and developer can be a part of it — in a sanctioned space — might be the missing link needed to bridge the gap between user and developer. Apple does listen at times when users want changes made, but I worry that there is more of a vacuum for developers inside Apple than transparency with the users.

What Now?

Shortcuts is back to its status quo. Things are how they were before March 23rd, but that doesn’t mean the ground beneath Shortcuts users is still solid. Consider saving shortcuts you use and be more stingy when it comes to deleting them. If you do want to lighten the load of your shortcuts you can always file it away in a folder. Label it as something like “Safe Keeping” and dump anything you don’t want in there.

Wrap Up

I will be continuing to use Shortcuts and making new workflows to share with others. I sincerely believe that this event was an anomaly, but I also hope that Apple and the Shortcuts team takes this as a learning experience. I want them to make the necessary steps to quell the worry Shortcuts users are having after this and reassure us in some way that we will be seeing a long and prosperous life of automation on iOS and iPadOS devices.

How to Solve Your Problems with Shortcuts

In a recent chat on Clubhouse with Matthew Cassinelli and Christopher Lawley there was a listener who asked a questions along the lines of:

How can I get someone new to Shortcuts start using it more?

My original answer was to solve a problem with Shortcuts for them. I still stand by that statement, but I want to elaborate more. When I say “”solve a problem” “it can mean a multituide of things.

Get Somewhere Faster

The first being to do something in a single tap on your iPhone rather than swiping, tapping, and searching for something. In this case you may be able to figure out a way to get to where you want thanks to Shortcuts. You could open a specific URL, open an app, or even find a deep link to a settings area and save yourself the hassle of finding the setting your want.

Do More at Once

The second problem you can solve using Shortcuts is to chain together a number of actions in a single shortcut instead of having to run multiple shortcuts at once. One great option is to have a built in menu selection in a Shortcut like those in Matthew Cassinelli’s simplified Shortcuts Library.

Do Something You Couldn’t Do Otherwise

There are things that Shortcuts can do that you can’t. These problems aren’t easy to find without a little knowledge of what is possible with Shortcuts, but when you do start tinkering and playing around in the app you start to make connections you otherwise wouldn’t.

One quick example is Federico Viticci’s Apple Frames shortcut which takes a screenshot you have and superimposes it into the Apple device to make for a beautiful looking image. You can see an example of this below.

5 Problems Solved with Shortcuts

Given this talk about solving problems with Shortcuts, I thought I would help kickstart things by solving 5 problems for you. Some solutions even have variations depending on the service you prefer.

Read Saved Articles

If you are a reader, or would like to start being one, a quick and easy way to do so is by saving articles to read later. One great solution for that is with an app or service.

There are two wonderful web services, Instapaper and Pocket. Both of these services have fantastic iOS and iPadOS apps that integrate with Shortcuts.

Another read later option is Reeder, an RSS reading service that also has a fantastic Read Later feature.

The potential problem with these services, no matter which one you choose, is that you need to actually read what you’ve saved. I know that I have caught myself saying I have nothing to read, even though my read later inbox is stuffed. The shortcuts below are used to choose a random article you have saved in Instapaper, Pocket, or Reeder and open it for you to read.

These are fairly simple shortcuts but you can play around with them a bit and see about filtering out certain articles by tag, folder, or something similar.

Open Your Task Inbox

Another problem that can be solved with Shortcuts is to open straight to the inbox of your task manager. If you are a GTDuser you know that processing and clarifying are among the most important steps. Which means you need to periodically take a look at the items in your inbox and organize them. These shortcuts are made to go straight to your Inbox area for just that reason. I have three built, one for Things 3, one for Omnifocus, and one for Todoist.

If you are a user of a different task manager app, chances are they have some Shortcut support. Just open the Shortcuts app and create a new shortcut. Once there, see if your task manager app shows up in the App section.

Turn on the Flashlight

I often find myself needing a flashlight and to this day I still haven’t figured out to long press on the lock screen properly. Sometimes I can tap on that little flashlight icon in the bottom left corner of my iPhone, and other times it just doesn’t work for me.

A simple solution is to just have a Shortcut for it and either use Siri or add it to the Home Screen and tap on it. I haven’t figured out how to make a flashlight shortcut toggle on and off in a singular shortcut so I had to create one shortcut to turn it on and another to turn it off. Not ideal, but it does the job.

Send Current Location

As I mentioned earlier, there may be a time where you need to send your location to someone. This could be something as simple as sending it to a friend for directions or something more important like a natural disaster. Either way, this shortcut can be preconfigured to either have a set recipient or allow you to choose who it goes to. Additionally, you can edit the message that is sent as well. I hope you never have to use it during a catastrophe but it might be better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

New Draft

If you are a Drafts user, this shortcut is made to open Drafts and begin a new draft document. On the surface this may seem redundant as Drafts is made to automatically open with a new draft note ready to be written in. The difference between this shortcut and simply opening Drafts to begin writing is that you’re able to preconfigured items you otherwise can’t in Drafts. For example, you can edit this shortcut and have “idea” as a built in tag. Now, whenever you have an idea you can simply run this shortcut, type in what your idea is, and Drafts automatically has the “idea” tag assigned to that note.

Conclusion

If you or someone you know is looking to get started in Shortcuts, consider thinking about problems you have with your devices and see if Shortcuts has a way for you to fix or simplify that problem.

One great resource I haven’t mentioned that can help you get ideas of what you can do with Shortcuts is the built-in Shortcuts Gallery. If you haven’t looked into that, I highly recommend it.

Finally, if you have any Shortcut issues or need help with building a shortcut to simplify your life let me know and I will be happy to help in any way I can. You can either email me at contact[at]tablethabit[dot]com or get a hold of me on Twitter @iamJeffPerry.

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