Posts tagged with "automation"


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.



Getting Started with JavaScript for Automation on Yosemite

Last month I wrote an article for MacStories on the extensibility and automation changes in OS X Yosemite. The second half was a basic overview of JavaScript for Automation (JXA) (the new addition to OS X scripting languages) joining AppleScript. Before writing that section of the article, I wanted to learn the basics of JXA in order to be sure that I understood what I was writing about and wasn't just blindly summarizing the contents of the JXA release notes and WWDC Session Video.

Since JXA is so new, there obviously was not much information to go by. I've never gotten around to learning AppleScript, so articles based on the classic OS X automation language were not much help either, although I’m not sure how much they would apply anyway. The result was quite a few wasted hours trying to figure out some of the most basic parts of JXA, such as proper syntax of method calls, which method calls worked with which apps, and how to identify UI Elements in order to trigger them with UI automation. Eventually I was able to figure these things out, so now I'm back to share what I learned.

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Extensibility and Automation Changes in OS X Yosemite

The headline making news of OS X 10.10 Yosemite, released yesterday as a free update on the Mac App Store, is that it brings an extensive UI overhaul, modernizing the look of Apple’s desktop operating system to fit in with the design language pioneered by iOS 7. This is a great change, and maybe would have been enough to satisfy the average Mac user, but if you’re reading further into this article than the title, chances are you’re looking for a little more than a surface adjustment. Thankfully, Apple was kind enough to oblige.

OS X Yosemite introduces a series of interesting and useful changes under the hood, particularly in the category of automation. The first of these is the addition of extensions to the Mac. Yes, those extensions. If you have a device running iOS 8, you already know what extensions are, and extensions on the Mac are built on the exact same concept of extending the functionality and content of your individual apps out across the entire operating system. Although the idea is the same, extensions on the Mac are a bit different in their implementation due to the fact that the restrictions and capabilities of the operating system are not the same as those of iOS.

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Drafts 4 Review

Drafts is one of my all-time favorite apps on iOS, not only for its amazing utility, but also because it was the app that got me started writing about technology, so it has a special place in my heart. However, surveying what the app has looked like since its last big update over a year ago, it’s been clear to me that an unchanged Drafts would stagnate in the post-iOS 8 world. In the face of new methods of inter-app communication such as extensions, documents pickers, and widgets, surviving on URL scheme-based utilities alone would likely not be enough to keep Drafts relevant.

This is Drafts though, an app that has been at the forefront of iOS automation since the field began. I should not have been worried. Released today on the App Store as a new, iOS 8-only, and Universal app, Drafts 4 is an evolution which boasts a huge number of improvements and represents a much needed shift in direction. With a UI refresh, a smarter and more accessible interface for building actions, a fantastic Share extension, a customizable extended keyboard, an enhanced URL scheme, and the intriguing introduction of JavaScript scripts for text manipulation, Drafts 4 is Agile Tortoise’s statement that they are ready for the challenges of a modern iOS.

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Based on Launch Center Pro, Contact Center Simplifies Contact Shortcuts

Contact Center is not for me. The latest product from Contrast, Contact Center is a simplified version of Launch Center Pro that brings a subset of its features to a free iPhone app supported by ads and aimed at a less geeky and power-user audience. I don't need Contact Center. But, at the same time, I recognize that it's a great idea from the Contrast team, cleverly executed in this 1.0 release.

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Automating iOS: A Comprehensive and Updated Guide to Launch Center Pro

Note: The following is a complete update of our original Launch Center Pro guide published in April 2014. It has been rewritten and updated for the latest 2.3 and 2.3.1 versions of Launch Center Pro with new sections, actions, videos, and more.

Released in December of 2011, Launch Center (the predecessor to Launch Center Pro) was one of the first apps to put the spotlight on URL schemes and actions. Promising the ability to launch "actions" instead of just apps, Launch Center leveraged URL actions to minimize the number of taps it took to complete common tasks on a variety of iOS apps.

In those days, URL schemes were a fairly obscure facet of iOS, and few apps supported them. App Cubby (the developers of Launch Center and Launch Center Pro, now known as Contrast) wanted to change that. With Launch Center 1.2, they introduced the "Supported Apps" list: a list of apps supporting URL schemes with quick links to load actions from those schemes into Launch Center.

A few months later, in June of 2012, App Cubby released Launch Center Pro. The evolution of Launch Center, Launch Center Pro substituted the old list view for a 3x4 grid of large, easily tappable actions.

Where Launch Center had clearly been a utility, Launch Center Pro was a second home screen. Tapping icons in a grid is natural to every iOS user, and LCP took advantage of that to feel instantly familiar. As the slick new app made waves in the tech community, awareness and support of URL schemes began to grow. Launch Center Pro was the spark that would ignite the fire for URL schemes and iOS automation.

In the following months the iOS automation landscape grew as new players entered. Pythonista brought powerful Python scripting to iOS, and Greg Pierce's x-callback-url specification was gaining steam among third-party apps. In January, 2013, Pierce released Drafts 2.5 (Drafts for iPad 1.5), adding custom URL actions via an action menu and powerful support for x-callback-url. This placed Drafts among the front runners for the most powerful iOS automation and inter-app communication possible on iOS. The rest of 2013 would not slow down the pace. Drafts, Launch Center Pro, and Pythonista continued to iterate and improve.

August 2013 brought Editorial, a new app by the same developer behind Pythonista, which revolutionized the field all over again. Not to be defeated, Agile Tortoise answered with Drafts 3.5, and App Cubby became Contrast as they released Launch Center Pro 2.0 and (soon after) Launch Center Pro for iPad. In May of 2014, Editorial 1.1 made waves once again, and was quickly followed by the huge Launch Center Pro 2.3 update (more on that later). Right now we have the next update to Drafts to look forward to, hopefully including the intriguing new action builder Greg Pierce has teased on Twitter.

Watching these developers fight it out has been an awesome experience. The intense, unceasing competition has brought iOS automation incredibly far in a ridiculously short amount of time. The power of these apps, the increasing support of URL schemes from third party developers and the attention from many independent websites such as MacStories, Unapologetic (my personal website), Geeks With Juniors, I Miss My Mac and many others which latched onto the idea and fostered it in the early days, have grown the field from a ridiculed thought (no one can do real work on an iPad!) to a subject often discussed in the tech press. Moreover, after this year's WWDC, the new Extensions coming in iOS 8 could redefine the field once again, and I can't wait to see how these developers will evolve their apps to compete in this impending new era of iOS automation.

Today, Launch Center Pro (or "LCP") has come incredibly far from its rudimentary beginnings. Once a simple app launcher held back by the lack of support for more advanced actions from third party developers, the expanding interest in URL schemes have let Contrast focus on beefing up LCP's internal functionalities. While on the surface it looks deceptively simple, and no more than a reskin of its original design from June 2012, 2014’s Launch Center Pro is brimming with hidden power and advanced capabilities.

Since no single resource has previously existed to bring you up to speed from a total beginner to a Launch Center Pro power user, my goal is to provide one for you here. Whether you had never even heard of Launch Center Pro until reading this, or you're a seasoned veteran of the app, this article will familiarize you with LCP's full feature set.

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