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Posts tagged with "automation"

iPad Diaries: Clipboard Management with Copied and Workflow

One of the common challenges involving a switch from macOS to an iPad is the lack of desktop-like clipboard managers on iOS.

By nature of the platform1 and technical restrictions imposed by Apple, apps like Pastebot or Alfred wouldn't be able to adapt their Mac capabilities to the iPad. Third-party iOS apps can't constantly monitor changes to the system clipboard in the background; similarly, it isn't possible for an iPad app to register as the handler of a keyboard shortcut at a system-wide level. An app would have to at least be currently in use via Split View to listen for clipboard changes, but, even in that case, it would have to be active to receive external keyboard commands.

With these limitations, it's no surprise that clipboard managers aren't a flourishing category on the iPad App Store. However, once we accept the intrinsic differences between the Mac and iPad and if we look at the problem from a different perspective, there's plenty we can do – either with apps or automation – to go beyond Apple's modest clipboard offerings on iOS.

After years of testing iPad clipboard managers and automation/scripting strategies, this is what I've come up with.

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Omni Group Automation

New website dedicated to The Omni Group's upcoming automation features in their apps, created by Sal Soghoian:

By default, all of the macOS versions of the Omni applications offer robust integrated AppleScript and JavaScript (JXA) support for Apple Events scripting on the Mac. These excellent automation tools will continued to be integrated into every macOS version of Omni software.

And in addition, the Omni Group now offers integrated cross-platform JavaScript support for both the iOS and macOS versions of their popular productivity applications. Finally, the power of automation is available regardless of whether you use Omni tools on mobile devices, laptops, or desktops.

As for the technology itself:

OmniJS, the name for Omni’s new version of the JavaScript language, is based on JavaScript Core, the foundation of the JavaScript implementation in WebKit. Using OmniJS, the Omni Group suite of applications will be able to be queried and controlled on both iOS and macOS in ways similar to how they are automated today using the traditional macOS Apple Event-based scripts.

What's most impressive is that The Omni Group is bringing all of these automation features to iOS as well – it's not limited to the Mac. Watch the OmniGraffle videos recorded by Sal to get an idea of the functionality automation will unlock. I'm genuinely excited about all this.

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Workflow 1.7 Introduces Magic Variables for Easier, More Powerful Visual Automation

Magic Variables in Workflow 1.7.

Magic Variables in Workflow 1.7.

At its core, Workflow is a visual programming app that deals with variables. Data flows through actions and is altered by the user until it has to be stored in a variable – a local reference that can be recalled in subsequent steps.

Since the app's original release, the Workflow team has done a commendable job at abstracting the complexity behind variable creation and management, but the feature itself is a vestige of traditional programming languages. The manually-saved variable is fundamentally ill-suited for Workflow's visual approach predicated on direct manipulation of actions. Workflow revolutionized several automation concepts, yet it was always anchored in the common practice of declaring variables between actions.

For the past year, I've been lamenting the sluggishness involved with setting variables and extracting additional details from them. Anyone who's ever created complex workflows has likely come across the same problem:

  • There's a "master variable" that contains rich metadata (such as an iTunes song or an App Store app);
  • You want to extract details from the master variable – e.g. an app's name, icon, or price;
  • Each of the variable's sub-items has to be extracted by repeating a combination of 'Get Variable-Get Details of Variable-Set Variable' over and over.

Not only did this limitation make workflows slower to create – it also made variables difficult to explain and workflows harder to read for people who aren't proficient in iOS automation.

As someone who writes about iOS workflows on a weekly basis, I've been thinking about this issue for a while. Every time I had to explain the inner workings and shortcomings of variables, I kept going back to the same idea: Workflow needed to get rid of its clunky variable management altogether.

Here's what I proposed when Workflow 1.5 launched in May 2016:

"Instant Variables" to get details of a macro variable without doing the Get Variable-Get Details-Set Variable dance every time. You could save a lot of time if instead of fetching details of a variable multiple times you could use a single master variable and only specify where necessary which sub-details to use;

With today's 1.7 update, the Workflow team isn't introducing Instant Variables. Instead, they've rebuilt the engine behind variables on a new system called Magic Variables, which completely reimagines how you can create workflows and connect actions for even more powerful automations.

More than a mere tweak for power users, Magic Variables are the next step in Workflow's goal to enable everyone to automate their iOS devices. By making workflows easier to create and read, Magic Variables are the app's most important transformation to date, and the result far exceeds my expectations.

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Airmail 1.5 Brings Custom Actions, Workflow Integration

Airmail, the most powerful email client for iOS and my 2016 App of the Year, has made integrations with third-party apps and services the central element of its experience, allowing users to deeply fine-tune their email workflows. With version 1.5, launching today on the App Store, the developers at Bloop are further expanding Airmail's integration roster with the ability to create custom actions as well as Workflow support to craft automations tailored for messages shared from Airmail.

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Workflow Adds Bear Automation

In the latest update released today, Workflow has received support for six new Bear actions. Bear is the note-taking app with power-user features I reviewed in November, which I'm still using.

With the new Workflow actions, you can further automate Bear without writing a single URL scheme yourself. They are quite powerful: you can create new notes in the app, open a specific note in Bear (something Apple Notes can't do), and even turn a webpage into Markdown and save it as a note in Bear.

My favorite action, though, is 'Add to Bear Note', which can take any file or text and append it to an existing note. I have a Scratchpad note in Bear where I keep a little bit of everything, and with this workflow I can quickly pick a file or a photo and send it to the bottom of the note. Great stuff.

Bear actions are available in the latest version of Workflow.

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Workflow 1.6 Brings Revamped Gallery, Better Tools to Share and Import Workflows

Since version 1.0 launched nearly two years ago, Workflow has always offered the ability to share workflows with others. While somewhat simplistic, Workflow's 'Copy Link' button has allowed the proliferation of sites and communities aimed at sharing workflows with the app's users – here at MacStories, workflows are one of the key aspects of our MacStories Weekly newsletter, for instance.

With version 1.6, launching today on the App Store, the Workflow team is revising some of the features that have been in the app since the beginning, starting with the Workflow Gallery and major updates to how workflows are shared, installed, and explained to other users.

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Workflow Adds IFTTT Integration

One of the unique traits of Workflow is its integration with native iPhone and iPad apps. By abstracting URL schemes from the process of building workflows that communicate with apps, the Workflow team has been able to offer actions to automate apps such as OmniFocus, Drafts, and Ulysses with support for text, images, and even documents.

Increasingly, however, iOS users who rely on their devices as their primary computers are leveraging web services for their daily tasks. And in the past few years, a different kind of automation – web automation – has complemented (if not replaced altogether) native automation to save time on the iPhone and iPad through web APIs.

The Workflow team knows this, and their latest integration is aimed at extending Workflow to any web service – even if it doesn't offer an iOS app or a native web action in Workflow. Today, Workflow is launching a new IFTTT integration to trigger web recipes.

By fusing workflow actions with the power of IFTTT's web API glue, IFTTT support in Workflow promises to take iOS automation further than it's ever been, drastically altering the scope of Workflow's capabilities.

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Workflow 1.5: App Store Automation, Trello and Ulysses Actions, Audio Metadata, Safari View Controller, and More

In seven years of MacStories, few iOS apps fundamentally changed how I get work done as much as Workflow. Pythonista, Editorial, and Tweetbot are in that list, but Workflow, with its ongoing improvements and deep iOS integrations, continuously makes me question how I can optimize my setup further.

Nearly two years (and an Apple Design Award) later, Workflow is reaching version 1.5 today, an important milestone towards the road to 2.0. Unsurprisingly for the Workflow team, this release adds over 20 new actions and dozens of improvements. Some of them are new app actions based on URL schemes, while others introduce brand new system integrations (such as iTunes Store, App Store, and Safari View Controller) and web actions for the popular Trello team collaboration service. Workflow 1.5 is a packed release that is going to save heavy Workflow users a lot of time.

After testing and playing with Workflow 1.5 for the past month, I've been able to streamline key aspects of writing for MacStories and managing Club MacStories. With a bigger team and more Club responsibilities, we've been thinking about how to improve our shared tasks and creative process; Workflow 1.5 has played an essential role in it.

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