This week's sponsor

Remote for Mac

Turn iPhone or iPad into remote control for your Mac


Posts tagged with "automation"

Things 3.4 Brings Powerful New Automation Features and App Integrations

I switched to Things as my task manager late last year, sometime before the holidays. While I discussed this decision at length on Connected and AppStories, I didn't write about it on MacStories because I didn't want to rehash Ryan's in-depth review of Things 3. In terms of design and features, everything I like about Things is covered in his original review.

My personal motivation for switching to Things boils down to this: the way projects and the Today screen are designed in Things fits well with my schedule, and doesn't stress me out. Things has a "calm" interface that doesn't turn overdue tasks red, making me feel guilty; projects are clearly laid out with a tasteful use of San Francisco, and further organization can be applied to a project using headings, a feature I've never seen in any other task manager. And among dozens of thoughtful touches, Things' separation of Today and This Evening for the current day is absolutely in line with how I think about my typical day. In short: I want 2018 to be less stressful than last year, and Things is helping with the task management part.

That said, as someone who used 2Do and Todoist in the past and heavily automated them for integration with other apps, I was missing some solid automation options from Things. Cultured Code has offered a basic URL scheme in their iOS app for a few years now, but the supported commands never went beyond the ability to create basic, metadata-free tasks in the app.

This is changing today with Things 3.4, which I've had the opportunity to test and experiment with for the past couple of months. With this new version, the folks at Cultured Code have shipped one of the most powerful and versatile URL scheme action libraries seen in a task manager for iOS – comparable to Omni's work on OmniFocus, and, in a way, perhaps even more flexible.

The new Things URL scheme, which has been documented here, lets you create tasks, projects, show specific sections of the app, and search across your entire Things database. This may not sound too impressive on paper, but what sets this feature apart is the level of customization and detail that can be applied to every single parameter of every action. As a result, Things is now a first-class citizen of the iOS automation scene, and, within the limitations of iOS inter-app communication, its URL scheme unlocks several new possible integrations with apps and workflows.

Furthermore, Cultured Code wants to make it easy for third-party developers to natively support sending data to Things from their apps. Today, the company is also introducing a JSON-based command to allow more control when adding items to Things from external apps, and they've created a set of Swift helper classes that apps can use to easily generate the JSON needed to pass data to Things. As I'll demonstrate later in this article, a couple developers of two of my favorite iOS apps are already taking advantage of these capabilities to great effect.

As you can imagine, I've been busy experimenting with the new automation features of Things and identifying aspects of the app I wanted to speed up by integrating them with other apps. Below, you'll find a collection of the launchers and workflows I've put together for Things 3.4. These are the actions and scripts I find myself using the most on a daily basis, and which I believe considerably extend Things' capabilities on the iPhone and iPad. More advanced workflows will follow over the next couple of weeks (and months) exclusively for Club MacStories members in the Workflow Corner section of MacStories Weekly.

Let's dig in.

Read more


Letterboxd 2.0 Brings iPad Version, Support for iOS Automation Apps

I've always been fascinated by Letterboxd, the popular service to catalog and rate movies you've watched, as well as share your appreciation for the art of film with other users in a social network-type environment. My problem, however, is that dedicating serious time to watching quality movies (instead of whatever is on TV) has mostly been an aspirational effort; I never truly attempted to make a list of films I want to watch and set aside a good chunk of time every week to enjoy them.

Among various "quality of life" improvements (which I briefly mentioned in this episode of Analog(ue) with Myke Hurley), earlier this year I decided to create an Airtable database with a list of movies I want to see, trying to tick one off at least every week. Since I started testing a beta of Letterboxd 2.0 for iOS last week though, I'm wondering if maybe now is the time for me to consider using a dedicated service to collect, rate, and discover movies.

Read more



Workflow Update Restores Google Chrome and Pocket Actions, Extends Apple Music Integration

In the first update following Apple's acquisition in late March – and despite rumors that claimed the app would no longer be supported – Workflow has today restored some of the features that were removed in version 1.7.3 of the app (which was released when Apple confirmed the acquisition) and has brought a variety of changes and improvements, including new Apple Music actions.

Read more


Prizmo Go Review: Smarter OCR with the iPhone’s Camera

I've long been using Prizmo to quickly extract text contained in photos using the iPhone's camera. Developed by Creaceed, Prizmo has always stood out among iOS scanner apps thanks to its accurate and fast OCR. While most scanner apps focus on digitizing documents and exporting PDFs, Prizmo complemented that functionality with the ability to recognize and share text with just a couple of taps. Prizmo could be used as a scanner app for paperless workflows, but I preferred to keep it on my devices as a dedicated utility to effortlessly extract and share text.

With Prizmo Go, released today on the App Store, Creaceed is doubling down on Prizmo's best feature with a separate app that's been entirely designed with OCR and sharing text in mind. While OCR was a feature of Prizmo, it becomes the cornerstone of the experience in Prizmo Go, which takes advantage of impressive new OCR technologies to make character recognition smarter, faster, and better integrated with other iOS apps.

Read more


iPad Diaries: DEVONthink’s New Advanced Automation

iPad Diaries is a regular series about using the iPad as a primary computer. You can find more installments here and subscribe to the dedicated RSS feed.

When I covered DEVONthink To Go in the first iPad Diaries column back in February, I briefly mentioned the app's limited support for URL schemes and automation. I concluded the article noting that DEVONthink's advanced file management features were ideal candidates for my writing workflow – particularly given the app's ability to store different types of documents, reference them with unique links, and search them with Boolean operators. I also expanded upon the idea of using DEVONthink as my only iOS file manager in the latest episode of Mac Power Users.

I've been moving more work documents and other research material (web archives and PDFs, mostly) to DEVONthink over the past two months. The turning point occurred a few weeks ago, when DEVONtechnologies began adding advanced x-callback-url automation to DEVONthink's beta channel and were kind enough to let me test and provide feedback for the functionality.

I was genuinely excited by the prospect of a scriptable DEVONthink: due to iOS' lack of a deeply integrated Finder, I've always wanted a file manager that could be extended and enhanced through automation and other apps. With an improved set of URL commands and various optimizations for usage in Workflow, DEVONthink To Go can now be that kind of file manager. I made my decision: this is the app I'm going to use to manage the research content for my iOS 11 review this summer.

The automation features introduced by DEVONtechnologies in the latest DEVONthink for iOS go deep into the app's structure, covering discrete functionalities such as file creation, search, and data retrieval. These changes will enable a greater number of users to integrate DEVONthink with their favorite iPad apps and workflows. And while the new commands are documented in the app, I thought it'd be useful to provide some concrete examples of how we can take DEVONthink to the next level through automation.

Read more


The Future of Workflow

I've loved Workflow since the first beta I was sent in August 2014. Workflow is my most-used iOS app of all time, and, in many ways, it is the reason my iPad Pro can be my primary computer. I've written thousands of words on the app and have created hundreds of workflows for myself and others over the course of two years.

I referred to Workflow as Minecraft for iOS productivity and the modern bicycle for the mind in the past. I stand by those analogies. There's nothing else on iOS like Workflow, which deftly walked the fine line between absurd innovation and Apple rejections with a bold vision and technical prowess. Workflow embraced the limitations of iOS and turned them into strengths, resulting in a power-user app with no competition. After two years, no app gets remotely close to the automation features shipped by the Workflow team.

And now Workflow and its creators are going to be part of Apple and the company's bigger (and more secretive) plans.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I had always kept the possibility that Workflow could eventually be discontinued or acquired. In a somewhat prescient move, Stephen quizzed me on this problem a few weeks ago on Connected. My "worst-case scenario" of Workflow going away became the new reality of iOS automation last week.

Workflow as an app is an incredibly good acquisition for Apple, but there's a deeper subtext here. Workflow represents a movement from a large number of users who enjoy working from iOS devices so much, they want to optimize the experience as much as possible. Workflow's goal wasn't to merely provide a capable alternative to the Mac's AppleScript and Automator; Workflow wanted to eclipse legacy scripting environments and usher iOS users into a new era of mobile automation. There's the Workflow app and team – technically impressive and absolutely talented – and there's the bigger theme behind Workflow.

But what has Apple acquired, exactly? Under Apple's control, can Workflow continue on its mission to make automation accessible for everyone? If Apple sees a future in iOS automation powered by Workflow, what else can be done with a virtually infinite budget and stronger ties to the platform? And what does this acquisition mean for Apple's commitment to pro users on iOS?

I've been mulling over these questions for the past week. I don't have any absolute answers at this point, but, after building workflows and following the app's development for two years, I have some ideas on where Workflow can go next.

Below, you'll find two possible scenarios for Workflow as an Apple app, as well as some considerations on how Apple could evolve Workflow into a native feature of iOS devices and a new developer platform.

Read more


iPad Diaries: Working with Zip Archives

iPad Diaries is a regular series about using the iPad as a primary computer. You can find more installments here and subscribe to the dedicated RSS feed.


Compressing files into archives and extracting them into a specific location is one of the most common desktop tasks that is still surprisingly tricky to adapt to the iPad.

Unlike macOS, the iPad doesn't come with a built-in Archive Utility app that takes care of decompressing archives, nor does iOS include a native 'Compress Files' system action to create and share archives. I'd wager that anyone who works from an iPad deals with file archives on a regular basis, whether they come from email clients, Dropbox links shared by colleagues, or uploads in a Slack channel.

Archives – and the popular .zip format – are a staple of document-based workflows and file management, but the iPad isn't well-equipped to handle them. Working with .zip files on iOS is among the most frequent questions I receive from iPad-first users every week; effectively, Apple only offers basic integration with iOS' Quick Look when it comes to file archives. Fortunately, just like advanced file management, we have some solid third-party options and automation to help us.

Read more


Workflow’s New File and Ulysses Actions

In a seemingly minor 1.7.2 update released over the weekend, the Workflow team brought a few notable file-based changes to the app.

Workflow's existing support for cloud storage services has been expanded and all file actions have been unified under a single 'Files' category. You can now choose files from iCloud Drive, Dropbox, or Box within the same action UI, and there are also updated actions to create folders, delete files, and get links to files. Now you don't have to switch between different actions for iCloud Drive and Dropbox – there's only one type of File action, and you simply pick a service.

Interestingly, this means that Workflow can now generate shareable links for iCloud Drive files too; here's an example of a workflow to choose a file from the iCloud Drive document provider and copy its public link to the clipboard. (Under the hood, Workflow appears to be using the Mail Drop APIs for uploads. These links aren't pretty, but they work.)

There's also a noteworthy change for Ulysses users. Workflow now allows you to easily extract details from Ulysses sheets using their ID. After giving Workflow permission to access your Ulysses library (which, unfortunately, still has to be done using a glorified x-callback-url method), you'll be able to chain Workflow and Ulysses to, say, get the Markdown contents of a document, extract its notes, or copy its title to the clipboard. The new 'Get Ulysses Sheet-Get Details of Ulysses Sheet' combo makes Ulysses automation much easier and faster.

If you work with files in Workflow on a daily basis, and especially if you're an iCloud Drive user, you'll want to check out the new actions and rethink some of your existing workflows. You can get the latest version of Workflow here.