This is a proof of concept that I put together out of curiosity today, and it'll likely break for some documents or Microsoft Excel, but it's been working well for me, and I thought I'd share it.
Posts tagged with "iOS"
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:
- Receives input (text) from the Workflow action extension;
- Adds the input to your existing clipboard;
- 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.
In the years I’ve spent covering iOS automation, I’ve often asked for a mobile version of Automator. Workflow, released today, tries to bring the deep system integration of Apple’s OS X utility to the iPhone and iPad, taking advantage of extensions in iOS 8 to make its automation features ubiquitous and compatible with any app.
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.
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.
In need of a project to learn on, I decided to take a Python script I wrote last year for connecting to a server and manipulating files over FTP (File Transfer Protocol) and build a User Interface for it.
Simone Rizzo has a good post on iOS and the progressive demotion of buttons, arguing that there's a reason Apple has started adding gestures to perform actions that used to be exclusively associated with buttons.
Assuming I’m right in spotting this trend of a) removing the need for buttons to interact with iOS or b) removing the need for the buttons to be on a specific point on the screen, the next obvious question is why. Why would Apple move away from an admittedly easy way of interacting with iOS, one that arguably sustained the initial success of the iPhone and iPad?
The addition of new gestures for key tasks (particularly navigation in iOS 7 and one-handed picture sharing in iOS 8's Messages) mixes well with iOS' new design structure, but I, too, believe that it signals upcoming bigger devices. (We'll see in September, I guess.)
The trade-off with relying on gestures too much is that, without clear borders, shadows, or realistic elements that indicate interactivity and state for buttons, the overall experience can be confusing and the interface difficult to use. A year later, I find myself occasionally struggling to make out buttons from labels, stopping my finger for a fraction of a second as I wonder “Is this a button?”. In other cases, I slow down my swipe because I can't remember if the app I'm in supports that Back gesture. I don't think I'm alone in this, but it's undeniable that gestures – whether suggested (like the Camera shortcut in the Lock screen) or implied – are becoming more prominent in iOS.
An OS that doesn't rely on buttons in fixed positions should make for a better experience when using a larger device. The issue with “button” design in iOS is still a hot topic in design circles, and I imagine that gesture discoverability will be as important if Apple is really working on a bigger iPhone. Perhaps some sort of guide to discover features could help.
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.
I recently tweeted about a change in the Spotify app for iOS – which I've been using to listen to music every day1 – that broke my shortcut to search for songs and artists from my Launch Center Pro action grid. I've been trying to identify the culprit and I've read documentation about Spotify's URL scheme and integration with the web app, but I haven't been able to figure out how to make searches typed in Launch Center Pro work with Spotify again. Therefore, I've tweaked my Spotify action setup and settled on a compromise that's (kind of) working for now.