Integration with native iOS features and apps has always been one of Workflow's strong suits. With an update released today, however, the Workflow team is considerably expanding the scope of the app to work with any web API, giving Workflow a virtually infinite feature set that goes beyond iOS alone.
Posts tagged with "automation"
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.
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.
When iOS 8 came out, I thought I'd stop using URL schemes altogether. Until two years ago1, my attempts at working on iOS had focused on overcoming the lack of inter-app communication with URL scheme automation, as our old coverage here at MacStories can attest. iOS 8 showed a new way to get things done on the iPhone and iPad thanks to extensions, eschewing the limited functionality (and security concerns) of URL schemes for a native, integrated foundation.
Two years later, I've largely reappraised my usage of URL schemes, but, unlike I first imagined, they haven't disappeared completely from my iOS computing life. iOS automation has taken on a different form since 2014: thanks to its action extension, Workflow has brought deeply integrated automation to every app, while Pythonista remains the most powerful environment for those who prefer to dabble with Python scripting and advanced tasks (also while taking advantage of an action extension to be activated from apps).
Today, URL schemes are being used by developers and users who want to go beyond the limitations of system extensions: apps like Drafts and Workflow use URL schemes to invoke specific apps directly (which extensions can't do – see Airmail and its custom app actions) and to link more complex chains of automated actions. URL schemes are also the best way to set up templates and import workflows for dedicated functionalities – a good example being The Omni Group with their latest automation options for template generation in OmniFocus.
While Apple's goal with iOS 8 might have been to "kill" URL schemes by turning them into a niche technology mostly supplanted by extensions, that niche has continued to quietly thrive. iOS automation is drastically better (and more secure) today because of extensions, but, for many, URL schemes still are the backbone of app shortcuts and complex workflows. Where extensions can't go, there's a good chance a URL scheme will do the trick.
It's in this modern iOS automation landscape that Launcher, first released in 2014, is graduating to version 2.0 with a focus on what it does best: standalone app shortcuts. Launcher 2.0 offers more control than its predecessor over widget customization and activation, with new features and settings that have pushed me to reconsider how I use Notification Center widgets on both my iPhone and iPad Pro.
Derek Reiff, writing on The Omni Blog:
Recently customers have been wanting to take advantage of automation apps like Workflow, Drafts, Pythonista, and others to quickly add new actions or projects or switch to different views inside OmniFocus.
With 2.14, OmniFocus now includes best-of-class support for callback URLs. At its simplest, this means that you can create a workflow that adds more than one item to OmniFocus. But we didn’t just add support for two-way communication between OmniFocus and other apps, we added support for automating a whole lot more of the powerful capabilities of OmniFocus.
Ken goes into the nitty gritty in a detailed Discourse post. But aside from doing the usual name and note additions, you can add estimates, attachments, dates, repetition rules, flags, and even set a project to Parallel.
While I won't be switching away from 2Do, I've tried the beta of OmniFocus 2.14 and the new automation features on iOS are impressive. I think a lot of people are going to reconsider OmniFocus and take advantage of callbacks for app integrations.
The examples posted by Ken Case on the forums should give you an idea of the improved capabilities. It's no surprise that The Omni Group continues to redefine what making pro apps on iOS means.
It's also great to see TaskPaper being used as a structured text communication format – I'd like to see more developers follow this route.
As much as I like to use Workflow for every task I don't want to perform manually, until last week there were still some things I couldn't automate with the app. Those tasks were utterly specific: converting HTML and rich text back to Markdown (with my beloved html2text in Python), or assembling iOS screenshots with pretty device frames (with LongScreen). With the release of Workflow 1.4.4 today, I can finally integrate these two key tasks into Workflow's automation, and I'm in love with the results.
Back in the Fall of 2012, a few months after I had taken it upon myself to start moving all my work from OS X to iOS, I came across Ole Zorn's Pythonista. A Python interpreter for iPhone and iPad that could natively integrate with iOS system features, Pythonista opened up a new world to me, demonstrating how I could automate tedious tasks on iOS devices via scripting. Since then, other apps have come along and shown how iOS tasks can be automated with visual interfaces and pre-packaged actions (above all, Workflow and Launch Center Pro), but Pythonista is, in many ways, the crown jewel of iOS automation and scripting for advanced users.
There's nothing quite like Pythonista on iOS. As I've documented over the past three years, Ole Zorn has slowly but steadily extended the app's capabilities with native ties to iOS interfaces via a UIKit bridge, support for location and the Reminders database, and even matplotlib and motion sensors. As it stands today, Pythonista is, by far, the richest and most powerful scripting app to integrate with native iOS features. Despite the variety of options now available for iOS automation and the continued evolution of iOS that cut down the number of tasks I need to automate (case in point: Split View and using two apps at once), I love keeping Pythonista around for key aspects of my workflow that can't be automated in any other way.
For the past several months, I've been using version 2.0 of Pythonista on my iPhone and iPad, which, after a few rejections from Apple, has been approved and is launching today on the App Store. A free update for existing customers, Pythonista 2.0 brings a refreshed UI, support for the iPad Pro, new modules, and, more importantly, a redesigned code editor and an action extension.
Behind the scenes, Pythonista 2.0 has played an essential role in helping me assemble my reviews of iOS 9 and the iPad Pro, with an action extension I rely upon for all my image uploads, OCR, text statistics, and more.
For the past two years, I've been publishing articles and linked posts on MacStories via Python. This inelegant solution was my only option to automate the process of publishing directly from Editorial (most recently, 1Writer): when it comes to writing on iOS, I'm too fussy to accept primitive copy & paste into WordPress' official client. Despite its minimal GUI, crude Python code, and lack of advanced features, my 'Publish to WordPress' script served me well for two years.1 99% of my MacStories articles since late 2013 have been published with it.
Still, I knew that something better would come along eventually. When the Workflow team pinged me about a new action they were developing to enable WordPress publishing from the app, I couldn't believe they were considering it. Workflow, an app that I employ on a daily basis to speed up core parts of my job, combined with the single task that powers my entire business – posting new content. It was almost too good to be true.
Fortunately, great things do happen in the third-party iOS ecosystem. Today's update to Workflow (version 1.4.2) adds, among more actions, a brand new WordPress action to publish posts and pages to configured WordPress blogs (both wordpress.com and self-hosted ones) and which can be combined with any other existing action or workflow for deeper automaton. After using a beta of this action for the past few weeks, I can say that it's, by far, the best automated publishing workflow I've ever had, and I don't want to go back to anything else.
In preparing my reviews of iOS 9 and the iPad Pro, I noticed that my writing process was being slowed down by the lack of multitasking support in my text editor of choice, Editorial. For the past couple of weeks, I've been trying to move some of my Editorial scripts and workflows to 1Writer, with interesting results and potential for the future.
I have written about Editorial at length on MacStories, and I still find Ole Zorn's text editor to provide the most powerful combination of Markdown and plain text automation that's ever been created on iOS. Over the years, I've put together hundreds of workflows thanks to Editorial's visual actions and Python scripting; while some of them were made for fun and intellectual curiosity, the majority of them helped me save time when doing actual work for this website, Relay FM, and Club MacStories. There is no other app with the same feature set and rich Markdown support of Editorial.
Since iOS 9, however, I've been wondering whether part of Editorial's automation could be taken somewhere else, possibly in another app that offered full integration with iOS 9 multitasking. I may have several workflows in Editorial, but I only use a tiny fraction of them on a daily basis for regular work on this website. I'd rather use a text editor that excels at a subset of Markdown workflows and integrates with iOS 9 than a single text editor with every imaginable workflow without proper iOS 9 integration.
It was this realization that pushed me to give 1Writer another look. I first bought the app years ago, but because I had no excuse to explore the world outside of Editorial, I didn't try to recreate any workflows in it. This time around, I was motivated to rebuild the core of my setup in 1Writer, so I took a deep dive into the app's automation engine.
Things will likely change again once Editorial supports iOS 9, but in the meantime I've developed an appreciation for 1Writer's design and features that helped me understand the app better.