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Workflow Co-Founders Want to Bring AI to the Desktop

When I read earlier this year that Ari Weinstein, one of the co-founders of Workflow before it was acquired by Apple, had left the company, I had a feeling he’d team up soon enough with Conrad Kramer, another Workflow co-founder. I was right. Alex Heath, writing for The Verge, has some initial details on Software Applications Incorporated, the new venture by Weinstein, Kramer, and Kim Beverett, another Apple vet you may remember from the original Siri Shortcuts demo at WWDC 2018:

In their first interview since leaving Apple to start something new, the trio tells me that their focus is on bringing generative AI to the desktop in a way that “pushes operating systems forward.” While they don’t have a product to show off yet, they are prototyping with a variety of large language models, including OpenAI’s GPT and Meta’s Llama 2. The ultimate goal, according to Weinstein, is to recreate “the magic that you felt when you used computers in the ’80s and ’90s.”

“If you turned on an Apple II or an Atari, you’d get this basic console where you could type in basic code as a user and program the computer to do whatever you wanted,” he explains. “Nowadays, it’s sort of the exact opposite. Everybody spends time in very optimized operating systems with pieces of software that are designed to be extremely easy to use but are not flexible.”

An example he gives: “Sometimes you’ve got a browser window open with a schedule on it, and you just want to say, ‘add this to my calendar,’ and somehow, there’s no way to do that… We think that language models and AI give us the ingredients to make a new kind of software that can unlock this fundamental power of computing and make everyday people able to use computers to actually solve their problems.”

They don’t have a product to show yet, but I’ll say this: if there’s anyone out there who can figure out how to turn generative AI into something more than a text prompt or writing assistant for Word and Notion – something that can be truly integrated with your computer, your data, and, well, your workflow, it’s this trio. I absolutely can’t wait to learn more about what they’re working on.

Also worth noting: the company’s website (great domain, too) is a delightfully retro, emulated browser version of Mac OS 8.


Last Week, on Club MacStories: iPad Stand, Keyboard, and Mouse Recommendations, AppStories Live, and Rebuilding Workflows

Because Club MacStories now encompasses more than just newsletters, we’ve created a guide to the past week’s happenings:

MacStories Weekly: Issue 370

Federico's keyboard and mouse setup.

Federico’s keyboard and mouse setup.

AppStories, Episode 324 – Automation April: A Link Management Workflow and S-GPT

This week on AppStories, I explain my new link management workflow, combining a series of apps and shortcuts, and Federico shares more about his S-GPT shortcut that integrates ChatGPT with Apple’s OSes.

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On AppStories+, a behind-the-scenes look at the first week of Automation April.

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Bike: An Elegant Outliner For Mac-Focused Workflows

Bike is a brand new Mac-only outlining app from Hog Bay Software that executes the fundamentals of outlining flawlessly. The outline creation and editing workflows are polished, and the keyboard-focused navigation makes moving around a large outline effortless.

The app’s feature set is limited by design. That focus is part of what makes Bike such a good outliner. The care and attention that has gone into building a solid outlining foundation are immediately evident.

However, that focus comes with a downside. Bike is a simple app that won’t meet the needs of users looking for iPhone or iPad support, formatting options, Shortcuts support, or other features.

Overall, I like the approach Bike has taken a lot, but I think it has gone too far, limiting the app’s utility more than is necessary to maintain its simplicity. Let me explain what I mean.

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Automation April: A Three-Part Shortcuts Workflow for Syncing Timestamped Research Notes with Videos

Whenever I review notes I’ve taken on a video, I inevitably want to go back to rewatch parts of it. However, finding the right segment is a slow, cumbersome chore, which is why I’ve created Timestamped Notes, a trio of shortcuts that are optimized for the Mac, but adaptable to iPadOS, to automate the process of creating timestamped notes without interrupting your typing.

There are two scenarios where I use or plan to use these shortcuts a lot. The first is during Apple events when I’m under time pressure to get stories out and don’t have the luxury of scanning through large sections of a presentation as I write. Timestamped Notes got its first real-world test with Apple’s March event and passed with flying colors.

The second scenario where I’ll use Timestamped Notes a lot is during WWDC. I take lots of notes as I watch recorded presentations, but I often don’t revisit the notes I take for days or weeks later. If I need to refresh my memory of what was said during the session by skipping back through the session, Timestamped Notes will be what I use. No matter what kind of video or audio you take notes on, though, if there’s a chance you’ll want to go back to the source material, Timestamped Notes makes finding what you took notes on much easier.

Part of the inspiration for this shortcut came from a series of articles by Jason Snell and Dan Moren on Six Colors. They built a Stream Deck-powered shortcut for taking timestamped notes to highlight portions of podcast audio that needed editing. I built a similar shortcut at the time but abandoned it because it didn’t fit with the way I edit podcasts. However, the experience got me thinking about other ways to use timestamped notes that might fit better in other scenarios, which is what led to Timestamped Notes.

Timestamped Notes addresses three problems:

  • Creating a clean starting point, so your timestamped notes line up properly with the start of the video you watched
  • Providing a simple and fast way to create a timestamp that doesn’t interrupt the note-taking process
  • Converting clock-based timestamps, so they line up with a video’s timeline, which starts at 00:00:00.

The solution was to create three separate shortcuts, which I’ll cover in turn.

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AppStories, Episode 258 – Starting the New Year with New Shortcuts, Workflows, Apps, and More

This week on AppStories, we look back at the MacStories Starter Pack coverage last week, digging into the themes and details of each of the stories we wrote and the ways you can incorporate everything into your own workflows.

On AppStories+, a little behind the scenes of the MacStories Starter Pack, along with a detailed discussion of the bug fixes and other changes to Shortcuts in iOS and iPadOS 15.3 and our wishes for the app’s future.


MacStories Starter Pack: The Fujitsu ScanSnap iX1300 Is Perfect for Anyone Whose Paperless Workflow Still Starts with Paper

Fujitsu iX1300.

Fujitsu iX1300.

Editor’s Note: The Fujitsu ScanSnap iX1300 Is Perfect for Anyone Whose Paperless Workflow Still Start with Paper is part of the MacStories Starter Pack, a collection of ready-to-use shortcuts, apps, workflows, and more that we’ve created to help you get the most out of your Mac, iPhone, and iPad.

I’ve had a couple of different Fujitsu scanners over the years. In the early days, I used my scanner a lot. It helped me cut down on the paper in my life, which was great. However, over time, I found myself using my scanner less and less as banking, taxes, bills, and other paper-heavy areas of life became increasingly digital. As time wore on, and I found myself rarely, if ever, turning to my library of scanned documents, I also realized I didn’t need to scan and keep as much as I’d thought.

So when Fujitsu sent me their latest ScanSnap iX1300 scanner to try, I was skeptical. I wondered if there was still a place for scanners in the home or whether the many excellent scanning apps available on the iPhone and iPad were good enough. For most people who don’t need to scan more than a few pages of paper ever so often, I think apps or a scanner built into a home printer are adequate. However, if you run a business with workflows that involve paper, you’re working from home in a paper-oriented industry, or you simply find yourself needing to digitize paper documents regularly for whatever other reason, the iX1300 is an excellent choice.

The S1300i is a little smaller, but as a practical matter, you need more space or yere will be paper all over your floor.

The S1300i is a little smaller, but as a practical matter, you need more space or yere will be paper all over your floor.

What’s fascinating to me about the ix 1300 is that it’s actually slightly bigger than the ScanSnap S1300i model that I already owned, but I would never have guessed it. That’s because the way the two scanners work is quite different, which makes a considerable difference in how much space they demand. However, that’s not the only edge the newer iX1300 has, so let’s take a closer look at what sets it apart from its predecessor.

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MacStories Starter Pack: Customizing Your Workflows with Deep Links

Editor’s Note: Customizing Your Workflows with Deep Links is part of the MacStories Starter Pack, a collection of ready-to-use shortcuts, apps, workflows, and more that we’ve created to help you get the most out of your Mac, iPhone, and iPad.

In my story yesterday, I covered how I manage links to content I come across every day. Today’s story is also about linking, but it’s not about collecting and processing the content you stumble across. Instead, it’s about creating links between the apps you use to tie your projects and the content related to them together in a cohesive way.

Deep linking between apps isn’t new, but it has seen a resurgence of interest. Part of that seems to be a natural extension of the popularity of internal linking systems in note-taking apps, but it’s also thanks to apps like Hook, the entire purpose of which is to help users link the content inside their apps together more easily.

When you step back and think about productivity apps, most involve some sort of list. You’ve got lists of messages in your email client, events in your calendar, documents in your text editor, and so on. Those lists, which serve as inboxes for an app’s content, are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, having everything consolidated and organized into lists is valuable. That’s true of the kinds of links I wrote about yesterday, but even more so for things like upcoming appointments and tasks. Apps like calendars and task managers exist because there are better solutions than a pile of scribbled notes to yourself.

It's easy to get lost in a long task list when you should only be focused on the task at hand.

It’s easy to get lost in a long task list when you should only be focused on the task at hand.

On the other hand, though, any list has the power to distract you the moment you open it. You go looking for one thing but end up browsing everything or following up on something else. Before you know it, you barely remember why you opened the app in the first place. For me, the trick to staying on task when I open any app full of distractions is to find a way to go straight to what I need, bypassing the distractions entirely with the help of a deep link.

Linking to Gmail in Mimestream.

Linking to Gmail in Mimestream.

Email is one of the best examples of this sort of setup. As I explained in my story about my email setup on Monday, getting information out of whatever email client I’m using and into Obsidian where I can integrate it with my own notes helps keep my inbox under control. When I pull text out of an email message and paste it into my notes, I do my best to get everything I need. However, when there’s a back and forth conversation about a topic, it can be valuable to go back and see the entire context of the conversation, which I can do by linking to the original message thread.

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Accessing Shortcuts for Mac with Alfred Workflows and Universal Actions

Alfred users can now access their library of shortcuts on the Mac, thanks to an official Alfred workflow by Vítor Galvão. The workflow allows users to access individual shortcuts and folders of shortcuts, as well as pass text and files to shortcuts for processing. It’s a nice approach that uses Alfred’s existing workflow system to invoke Ruby and Bash scripts under the hood.

Searching for individual shortcuts (left) and by folder (right).

Searching for individual shortcuts (left) and by folder (right).

Let’s start with the easiest approach first. Invoke Alfred with the hotkey you’ve assigned to the app, then type ‘sc’ for Shortcuts. Any shortcuts you’ve recently accessed through Alfred will appear at the top of the list for quick access. If you need a different shortcut, though, start typing its name to filter the results until you see the one you want. Press Return and the shortcut will run.

Browsing shortcuts by folder.

Browsing shortcuts by folder.

If you don’t recall the name of the shortcut you want or want to browse a folder of shortcuts before running one, type ‘scd’ instead, which lists all of your shortcuts folders. Highlight one and hit Return to see all of the shortcuts in that folder.

Providing text to Alfred that displays an alert.

Providing text to Alfred that displays an alert.

Using Universal Actions to pass the text to the Alert shortcut.

Using Universal Actions to pass the text to the Alert shortcut.

Alfred’s Shortcuts workflow also incorporates its Universal Actions feature, which was introduced last year. The simplest way to pass some text to a shortcut is to invoke Alfred, type, or paste some text into its UI. Then, invoke Alfred’s Universal Actions to display a list of commands that can be performed on the text you provided.

The list of Universal Actions includes ‘Run shortcut,’ ‘Shortcuts,’ and ‘Shortcuts Folders.’ ‘Run shortcut’ lets you pick from your list of shortcuts and then uses the text you provided to Alfred as its input. The ‘Shortcuts’ action locates any shortcuts that match the text you provided, and ‘Shortcuts Folders’ does the same searching instead for folder names that match your text. URLs and files work similarly when the ‘Run shortcut’ action is selected, passing the URL or file as input.

Picking an image to pass to a shortcut.

Picking an image to pass to a shortcut.

Displaying an image passed to a simple 'Open File' shortcut.

Displaying an image passed to a simple ‘Open File’ shortcut.

Vítor Galvão’s Alfred workflow for Shortcuts, which you can download from GitHub, is an excellent example of Alfred’s extensibility, which makes a series of Ruby and Bash scripts approachable for more users through Alfred’s simple UI. The workflow is also another of the many examples of just how well Shortcuts for Mac integrates with third-party utilities thanks to its scripting support and other integrations with macOS.