Federico Viticci

9431 posts on MacStories since April 2009

Federico is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of MacStories, where he writes about Apple with a focus on apps, developers, iPad, and iOS productivity. He founded MacStories in April 2009 and has been writing about Apple since. Federico is also the co-host of AppStories, a weekly podcast exploring the world of apps, and Dialog, a show where creativity meets technology.

He can also be found on his two other podcasts on Relay FM – Connected and Remaster.

| Instagram: @viticci |

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UI Browser for macOS to Be Retired in October 2022

Longtime MacStories readers may be familiar with UI Browser, an incredible scripting tool for macOS created by Bill Cheeseman. UI Browser lets you discover the AppleScript structure of an app’s menu system, taking advantage of Apple’s Accessibility APIs to make it easier to script UI, which is not – how do I put this – normally “fun”, per se. UI Browser developer Bill Cheeseman, having turned 79 years old, has decided it is now time to “bring this good work to a conclusion”, and the app will be retired in October.

Here’s what John Gruber wrote about UI Browser last week:

Long story as short as possible: “Regular” AppleScript scripting is accomplished using the programming syntax terms defined in scriptable apps’ scripting dictionaries. If you ever merely tinkered with writing or tweaking AppleScript scripts, this is almost certainly what you know. But as an expansion of accessibility features under Mac OS X, Apple added UI scripting — a way to automate apps that either don’t support AppleScript properly at all, or to accomplish something unscriptable in an otherwise scriptable app. UI scripting is, basically, a way to expose everything accessible to the Accessibility APIs to anyone writing an AppleScript script. They’re not APIs per se but just ways to automate the things you — a human — can do on screen.

A great idea. The only downside: scripting the user interface this way is tedious (very verbose) at best, and inscrutable at worst. Cheeseman’s UI Browser makes it easy. Arguably — but I’ll argue this side — “regular” AppleScript scripting is easier than “UI” AppleScript scripting, but “UI” AppleScript scripting with UI Browser is easier than anything else. UI Browser is both incredibly well-designed and well-named: it lets you browse the user interface of an app and copy the scripting syntax to automate elements of it.

I first covered UI Browser in 2019, when I published a story on how I could control my Mac mini from the iPad Pro using Luna Display and some AppleScript, which I was able to learn thanks to UI Browser. I then mentioned UI Browser twice last month for Automation April: it was thanks to the app that I managed to create shortcuts to toggle the Lyrics and Up Next sidebars in the Music app for Monterey. Maybe it’s silly, but I think there’s something beautiful in the fact that the last thing I did with UI Browser was bridging the old world of AppleScript with the modern reality of Shortcuts.

Gruber argued that Apple should acquire UI Browser and make it part of their built-in scripting tools for macOS; while I don’t disagree, I think it’s more realistic to hope another indie developer or studio picks up UI Browser and continues developing for as long as possible. There’s nothing else like it on the market, and I’d like to thank Bill Cheeseman for his amazing work on this application over the years. It’ll be missed.

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Automation April: 10 Shortcuts for Discord, Photos, Finder and Files, Tot, Weather Forecasts, and More

All the shortcuts I created for Automation April this month.

All the shortcuts I created for Automation April this month.

It’s the final week of Automation April, and before we get into the details of the final batch of 10 shortcuts I’ve prepared for this week, I just want to express my gratitude toward all readers – old and new – who checked out MacStories this month, entered the contest, or signed up for Club MacStories. The response to Automation April has exceeded our most optimistic expectations: we received over 200 shortcut submissions for the contest, which is why we’re taking a few extra days to sift through all of them before; look for an official announcement of all the winners next week.

For this final group of 10 shortcuts, I’ve assembled another pretty diverse list of utilities for iPhone, iPad, and Mac that integrate with different parts of Apple’s operating systems. There’s a shortcut that automatically deletes old files from Finder or the Files app; another that finds the unique identifier of a specific task in the Reminders app; there’s a shortcut that gives you a weather report for the location of an upcoming event in your calendar. In case you missed the previous collections of shortcuts, you can find them here and here.

So, with Automation April coming to a close, let’s dive in one last time and check out the details of the shortcuts I’m sharing this week.

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Automating Podcast Sessions in Audio Hijack 4 with Shortcuts and Timery

Audio Hijack 4 and Timery.

Audio Hijack 4 and Timery.

For the past week, I’ve been rethinking my approach to time tracking with the Timery app with a focus on simplicity and automation. I appreciate the insights into my habits and patterns afforded by time tracking and Timery’s excellent Reports view, but lately I’ve felt like my setup with projects, tags, and sub-tasks was too convoluted since it was based on a structure I designed years ago.

My daily routine is different now – and it’ll continue to change in 2022 – and I wanted to get rid of the overhead caused by a time tracking system that was too granular. For time tracking to be effective, you need to remember to start a timer whenever you’re working on something; too much friction in the process – such as having to carefully pick from a list of similar projects – defeats the whole purpose of it. There’s also the opposite problem – forgetting to stop a long-running timer – which John explained and fixed in a separate story for Automation April.

So I went back to the drawing board of my Timery projects and reorganized everything with simplicity and ease of activation in mind. I cleaned up my saved timers and shortcut that activates those timers, which I can now trigger system-wide via Raycast on the Mac and the Shortcuts widgets on iPad. I split my work projects into three main areas – MacStories, Club, and podcasts – removed redundant sub-tasks, and grouped related activities under the same tags for more reliable filtering.

How I access my saved timers from the Home Screen.

How I access my saved timers from the Home Screen.

The approach worked well for MacStories and the Club, but podcast timers turned out to be a different beast. You see, when I sit down to record a show like Connected or AppStories, I need to take care of key tasks such as making sure my audio inputs are correct, checking out notes for the show’s outline and intro, and keeping an eye on the Connected audience in Relay’s Discord server. These tasks distract me from time tracking and, as a result, I often forget to start a timer for when I begin recording and, conversely, stop the timer when I’m done. I could automatically start a timer when a calendar event for a show is due in my calendar, but that also doesn’t work for me since it doesn’t account for the time before we actually record the show when I may be chatting privately with Myke and Stephen. Wouldn’t it be great if there was One True Way to automatically start tracking my real recording time when I start talking into the microphone for a show?

As it turns out, thanks to the latest update to Audio Hijack – the new version 4.0 that recently launched on macOS – there is. So for this week’s Automation April story, I’m sharing the custom system I created to trigger a single shortcut that starts time tracking in Timery based on the show I’m recording in that specific moment. Let’s take a look.

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Automation April: 10 Shortcuts for Mac Multitasking, Markdown, Reminders, Music Lyrics, Twitter, and More

10 shortcuts for Automation April.

10 shortcuts for Automation April.

Automation April is well underway: we’ve entered the second week of our month-long special event about automation on Apple platforms, and – in case you haven’t noticed – things are happening everywhere. We’ve published Shortcuts-focused articles on MacStories; interviewed developers of Shortcuts-compatible apps on AppStories; we’ve hosted a Town Hall Workshop on our Discord along with giveaways. And, of course, our panel of judges is now busy testing and evaluating shortcuts submitted by people for the Automation April Shortcuts Contest. If you haven’t yet, now would be a great time to start following @AutomationApril on Twitter to keep up with everything we’re doing.

Last week, I shared an initial batch of 10 shortcuts I prepared for Automation April here on MacStories. I’m back this week with another set of 10 shortcuts that encompass a variety of platforms, app integrations, and functionalities. In this week’s collection, you’ll find even more shortcuts to speed up macOS multitasking; a shortcut that makes it easy to create a calendar event starting from a date; there will be a couple of shortcuts for Markdown and Obsidian users too.

I’m having a lot of fun sharing these sets of shortcuts for Automation April. So once again, let’s dive in.

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Automation April: 10 Shortcuts for Apple Translate, Live Text, Finder Images, Pixelmator Pro, and More

Shortcuts I've prepared for Automation April.

Shortcuts I’ve prepared for Automation April.

It’s Week 1 of Automation April, and as I announced last week, alongside the several initiatives we’ve prepared for this month-long automation event, I’ve been working on 30 shortcuts to share with everyone for free on MacStories this month.

Today, I’m pleased to share the first group of 10 shortcuts that will join the other 250 on the MacStories Shortcuts Archive. These shortcuts are a diverse collection of utilities that have been specifically optimized for the latest versions of iOS, iPadOS, and macOS Monterey. Below, you’ll find shortcuts that take advantage of new actions for Translate and Live Text; there are Mac-only shortcuts that integrate with Finder and AppleScript; there’s even a shortcut that helps you speed up multitasking and window control on macOS.

As always, all the shortcuts I’m sharing as part of Automation April have been tested across all Apple devices and you can install them via the iCloud download links in this story. So grab a good cup of espresso, take a break from the Automation April contest, and let’s have a look.

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Introducing Automation April: A Month-Long Community Event About Automation, Featuring Shortcuts, Interviews, Discord Workshops, and a Shortcut Contest

Welcome to Automation April.

Welcome to Automation April.

Over the past decade, MacStories has become the hub for all kinds of user automation. Starting with URL schemes, then Workflow, and eventually Shortcuts, we’ve created hundreds of shortcuts for MacStories readers and Club members and published stories about automation that have been read by millions of people around the world. With the MacStories Shortcuts Archive, launched three years ago, we unified our catalog of free shortcuts in a single gallery; with the arrival of Shortcuts on macOS, we’ve expanded our Mac coverage for Club members and launched a new column and Discord channel all about automation.

I love automation because of what it stands for: giving users – the people – the power to fully control their computer and make it more efficient. To make it truly their own. This is why I’ve been writing about the Shortcuts app for years and why I’ve always believed in it as the future of automation on Apple platforms: it’s the software equivalent of a bicycle for the mind.

For this reason, I’m absolutely thrilled to introduce Automation April, a month-long showcase of automation on Apple platforms by us, developers, and MacStories readers – with a focus on Shortcuts.

For the entire month of April, we will cover automation and Shortcuts – even more than we normally do – on every property of the extended MacStories universe. There will be shortcuts and articles on MacStories; we will post Automation April-themed episodes of AppStories; there will be special content in MacStories Weekly and AppStories+ for Club members; we will host special ‘Town Hall Workshops’ and a dedicated Automation April channel in our Discord community.

But there’s more:

In addition to all of the above, we are launching a contest to pick the best shortcuts submitted by MacStories readers for Automation April.

Starting Monday, April 4th, until Wednesday, April 20th, we will be accepting up to two shortcut entries per user via a dedicated Automation April website. The contest will be open to everyone with a free MacStories account (more on this below). We’ve also assembled a panel of Shortcuts experts who, alongside the MacStories team, will judge shortcuts submitted by people.

Oh, and we’re giving away an Elgato Stream Deck XL and an Analogue Pocket for the Best Overall Shortcut prize. Yep, you read that right.

April has always been a special month for MacStories: the site turns 13 (!) on April 20th, and this isn’t the first time we’ve organized a special event to celebrate our community. But with Automation April, we’ve prepared the biggest event we’ve ever done that will encompass every single aspect of the MacStories family – from the articles you know and love to Discord, the Weekly newsletter, and a brand new community contest.

The next four weeks are going to be fun. So let’s dive in and let me give you an overview of what you can expect from the first edition of Automation April.

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iPad Air 2022 Review: Refined Balance

The new iPad Air.

The new iPad Air.

The last time I wrote about the iPad Air in October 2020, I explained how its fourth-generation model intrigued me again. A year and a half later, here I am, once again fascinated by the iPad Air, captivated by its hybrid nature caught between a base model iPad and the aspirations of an iPad Pro.

Here’s why: while the new iPad Air, which goes on sale this Friday starting at $599, doesn’t break any ground for the Air line, I believe it has reached its most balanced state yet.

The new iPad Air catches up with the iPad Pro and iPad mini in supporting 5G networking; it’s the final iPad in the lineup to get Center Stage; like the iPad Pro, it now comes with an M1 chip and the same 8 GB of RAM. The 2022 iPad Air refines what Apple started with the relaunch of this model in 2020 and achieves a balance of features, size, and price that makes it the ideal iPad for most people.

The iPad Air and the features it adds compared to its previous-gen model are, at this point, known quantities. The design, 10.9” display, and implementation of Touch ID are unchanged from the 2020 version; I covered Center Stage (we even built a custom app for it), the M1, and 5G in my 2021 iPad Pro review; the Magic Keyboard, Apple Pencil, and Smart Folio covers are the same ones we’ve been using for years.

The same is true regarding how I see Apple’s pitch for the iPad Air as a product: it’s a distillation of the most essential traits of the Pro line, made accessible to more customers at a lower price point. I wrote this in 2020, and it still applies to the new iPad Air:

While the 10.9” Air won’t replace the 12.9” iPad Pro as my primary machine, I’ve been impressed by this iPad for a different reason: the iPad Air democratizes the notion of “pro iPad”, bringing key features of iPad Pro to more customers, while at the same time looking ahead toward the future of iPad with hardware not seen on the current iPad Pro lineup. The iPad Air sits at the intersection of old iPad Pro features trickling down to the rest of the iPad line and new ones appearing on this model first.

If the “new” features of the iPad Air aren’t new at all and if the strategy behind this product hasn’t changed since 2020, I could reasonably wrap up this story here, right?

Well, not quite. Something happened recently that allowed me to evaluate the new iPad Air from a fresh perspective: Silvia started using my iPad mini and fell in love with it. So when I received a review unit of the new iPad Air from Apple last week, I asked myself: could I use the iPad Air as my secondary iPad, replacing the iPad mini for reading, chatting on Twitter and Discord, and watching YouTube videos, plus doing the occasional note-taking and having a small extra monitor for Universal Control?

I had been feeling like the iPad mini was a bit too small for my hands anyway (hence why I was okay with Silvia taking it); perhaps the new iPad Air could be a good opportunity to reassess its capabilities as a general-purpose tablet for people who want just one iPad in their lives as well as folks who, like me, work on a 12.9” iPad Pro but also want to complement it with a smaller, more focused iPad.

So that’s the experiment I’ve been running for the past six days. Let’s see how it went.

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iOS and iPadOS 15.4: Hands-On with Universal Control, Face ID with a Mask, and More

iOS and iPadOS 15.4 are available today.

iOS and iPadOS 15.4 are available today.

Today, Apple released iOS and iPadOS 15.4. The fourth major updates to iOS and iPadOS 15, originally released in September 2021, offer a long list of miscellaneous improvements and feature tweaks (which I will detail later in the story) as well as two major additions for iPad and iPhone users: the long-awaited Universal Control and the ability to use Face ID while wearing a mask, respectively.

I’ve been testing both iOS and iPadOS 15.4 since the first beta in late January, and I was able to spend some quality time with both of these features and everything else that is new and improved in these releases. Let’s take a look.

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Logger Is the Missing Console for Shortcuts Power Users

Logger for Shortcuts.

Logger for Shortcuts.

Indie developer Alex Hay has long pushed the boundaries of what third-party developers can build with the SiriKit framework and Shortcuts integrations on Apple platforms.

In late 2019, his Toolbox Pro app redefined what it means to complement Apple’s Shortcuts app with additional actions, creating an entirely new sub-genre of headless utilities designed to provide additional actions with configurable parameters. Recently, Hay introduced Nautomate, another utility that provides users with Shortcuts actions to integrate with the Notion API without having to write a single line of code. And today, Hay is launching Logger, another Shortcuts-compatible app that is similar to his previous ones, but with a twist: rather than adding actions for external services or apps such as Apple Music and Notion, Logger offers actions to create the troubleshooting console that has always been missing from Shortcuts.

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