Posts tagged with "automation"

Editorial 1.2 Brings Powerful New Text Editing Features, More iOS Automation

If I had to pick one iOS app I couldn't live without, that would be Editorial.

Developed by Berlin-based Ole Zorn, Editorial was the app that reinvented text automation in 2013 and that pushed me to start working exclusively from my iPad. Editorial is a powerful Markdown text editor that combines visual Automator-like actions with a web browser, text snippets, Python scripts, and URL schemes to supercharge text editing on iOS with the power of automation. I spend most of my days writing and researching in Editorial, and my workflow depends on this app.

Editorial also has a slow release cycle. Zorn likes to take his time with updates that contain hundreds of changes: Editorial 1.1, released in May 2014, brought an iPhone version and custom interfaces, making Editorial feel like an entirely new app. The same is happening today with Editorial 1.2, which adds support for the latest iPhones, iOS 8 integration, custom templates, browser tabs, folding, and much more.

Editorial 1.2 with iOS 8 support is launching right after Apple's announcement of iOS 9, but the wait has been worth it. The new version builds upon the excellent foundation of Editorial 1.1, and the enhancements it brings vastly improve the app for users who rely on its automation features and Python interpreter.

Rather than covering every single change, I'll focus on the 10 new features that have most impacted the way I get work done with Editorial on a daily basis.

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Managing Team Tasks with IFTTT, Slack, and Todoist

I recently decided that I wanted to overhaul the way I deal with email pitches (new apps, hardware accessories, web services, etc.) and I set out to find a solution that would allow me to broadcast an email to my team without having to forward more emails.

The problem:

  • Most email pitches are sent to my personal email address, which teammates can’t access;
  • I can’t stop developers and PR people from sending messages to my personal address;
  • I go through email every day, and I carefully handpick what I would like to see covered on MacStories;
  • I used to forward every email to individual members of our team, duplicating attachments and using conversations as a tracking system to remember who’s interested in covering what;
  • Inboxes got overcrowded, I couldn’t easily keep track of pitches assigned to someone else, and everybody was unhappy.

For years, I envisioned a system that, with one tap, would allow me to put an email message in a folder and forget about it, while it would still be broadcasted to my team so that others could take it into consideration. After weeks of experiments, I chose to leverage web automation and two tools I already use for todo management and team communication: Todoist and Slack.

The solution I landed on is remarkably simple, but it took a while to get it just right and work around a few unexpected bugs.

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How I Control My Mac with Automatic + IFTTT + Dropbox

The other day, Federico asked about why people use web services such as IFTTT. I have a few of these that I use frequently, but the geekiest one is this: controlling my Mac with my car.

More specifically, when I turn my car’s ignition on or off in the parking lot at my office, Automatic triggers an IFTTT recipe, creating a text file in a special Dropbox folder which is monitored by launchd[1] and runs a shell script depending on which file is created.

It sounds more complicated than it is. No, really.

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Workflow 1.1: Deeper iOS Automation

Released by a small team of indies in December 2014, Workflow reinvented iOS automation. Combining an interface reminiscent of Apple's Automator for OS X with easy access to native iOS features such as Safari, the photo library, and iOS 8 extensions, Workflow promised to make automating tasks on an iPhone and iPad a simple and pleasant affair. The results spoke for themselves: Apple selected Workflow as Editor's Choice, the app trended for weeks in the App Store's Top Charts, and thousands of users released interesting and useful workflows in various online communities. MacStories readers may remember that Workflow was my iPad app of the year.

Workflow is one of those few apps that have dramatically changed how I work on my iPad. For me, the point of using Workflow isn't to put together chains of actions to show off the app's power – I just want to save time I can spend doing something else. While I have fun experimenting with Workflow and understanding its capabilities, ultimately the app just sits there in the background, waiting for me to call a series of actions I need. I love Workflow the most when it's summoned for those two seconds and it does something magic that would have normally required minutes of manual interaction. Things like appending links to Evernote, converting spreadsheets to Markdown tables, or adding text to the clipboard.

Workflow fits my routine like a glove. I've used it every day to automate aspects of my work that speed up how I write and communicate on my iOS devices. And with Workflow 1.1, released today on the App Store, its developers are further expanding the app's capabilities with powerful new functionality that includes filtering, better conditionals and image manipulation, URL expansion and deeper calendar access, and even the ability to open multiple links at once in a web browser.

Version 1.1 of Workflow includes over 50 new actions and dozens of fixes, improvements, and changes to existing actions. Core parts of the app have been revised for a faster experience and the foundation laid with the Content Graph has started to pay off with the addition of metadata and filters. Because I've been playing around with Workflow 1.1 since the app's original release two months ago, I'm going to offer some practical examples with a high-level overview of the changes.

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Reasons for Web Automation

I've been thinking a lot about web automation and whether I should keep investing time and money into IFTTT and Zapier when I can't seem to find problems that need to be fixed. For years, I fiddled with web automation, recipes, and connecting services together, but I've never really relied on web automation and I feel like I experimented with it because I liked the idea on principle.

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Workflow Tip: Append Text to the iOS Clipboard

If you do any sort of note-taking or writing on iOS, you probably find yourself wishing you'd be able to copy separate bits of text in the clipboard simultaneously. While that's still not possible because the iOS clipboard only supports one entry at a time, the process can be sped up with Workflow.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I was looking for an extension to append links to an existing note through the system share sheet. I eventually downloaded NoteBox, which has an iOS 8 extension that can quickly capture any string of text and that has a merge feature to collect separate notes into a single one. That wasn't perfect, but it allowed me to collect dozens of tweets and prepare them for a blog post on MacStories in just a couple of minutes.

With Workflow, I came up with a better system that uses extensions and the ability to append text to the iOS clipboard. This is the workflow I use, which does three simple things:

  1. Receives input (text) from the Workflow action extension;
  2. Adds the input to your existing clipboard;
  3. Updates the system clipboard with the added input text.

In practice, this means that, using any app capable of showing the share sheet, you can add some text to your clipboard as a new line without convoluted steps of manual copy & paste. Want to add some tweets to a link you copied? In Twitterrific, run the workflow on those tweets and they will be added to the clipboard. Multiple links in Safari or RSS? Copy the first one as you'd normally do, then add more through the workflow. You won't have to manually merge the contents of the clipboard as long as you use the Workflow action extension to append text.

I'm using this workflow every day to end up with a clipboard that contains multiple links, email addresses, or generic strings of text, and it's been a great timesaver. You can download the workflow here.