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Posts tagged with "automation"

Custom Shortcut Icons No Longer Open the Shortcuts App First in iOS 14.3 Beta 2

Juli Clover, writing at MacRumors about a tweak to Shortcuts in iOS 14.3 beta 2:

Apple in iOS 14.3 is streamlining the Home Screen customization process by simplifying the way that app shortcuts work. With the launch of iOS 14, users quickly discovered that Shortcuts could be used to replace traditional app icons to create an entirely customized ‌Home Screen‌ look.

Unfortunately, while these Home Screens created with Shortcuts looked fantastic, the experience was less than ideal because launching an app through shortcuts required the Shortcuts app to open briefly, slowing the app opening process. In iOS 14.3 beta 2, that’s no longer the case because shortcuts no longer have to route through the Shortcuts app.

As Reddit users discovered after installing yesterday’s beta, launching an app through Shortcuts on the ‌Home Screen‌ in iOS 14.3 pops up a banner at the top of the display, but the full Shortcuts app no longer opens, so there’s less of a delay when using a custom icon to launch apps.

When I covered the new Shortcuts widget in my review of iOS and iPadOS 14, I noted how disappointing it was that shortcuts added to the Home Screen as custom icons couldn’t take advantage of compact UI, which makes shortcuts dramatically faster to run. This single tweak has major implications for casual and power users alike, and it’s fascinating for a couple reasons.

First, it shows that Apple is very much aware of the fact that millions of people are personalizing their Home Screens with custom icons that are actually shortcuts based on an ‘Open App’ action. As of iOS 14.2, those custom icons don’t open the linked app directly: they take you to Shortcuts first, which then launches the app you need; it’s an annoying limitation, and it’s why I couldn’t get into customizing my Home Screen icons – when I tap a Safari icon, I want Safari to open immediately. With iOS 14.3, that’s going to be the case, and I have to assume Apple is doing this because of the popularity of this technique over the past few months. Even better, when folks who customized their Home Screens update their devices to iOS 14.3, all their custom icons will instantly switch over to the new direct-launching behavior – they won’t have to recreate those custom shortcuts from scratch.

Second, compact UI means that running shortcuts from the Home Screen as custom icons will once again be better than doing so via widgets. In iOS 14.3 beta 2, custom icons and widgets run shortcuts exactly the same way, except that you can place more custom shortcut icons on a single Home Screen page than widgets. I lamented the low information density of the Shortcuts widget in my iOS and iPadOS 14 review as well; with iOS 14.3, I’ll be able to place four custom shortcut icons in the same slot where a single Shortcuts widget would go, and I won’t have to sacrifice the convenience of compact UI. When it comes to custom shortcut icons that open apps, I just wish Apple would add an option to get rid of the confirmation banner that pops up every time you launch an app via a custom icon. Is that banner really necessary after you’ve launched that custom shortcut dozens of times?

I’ve updated both my iPhone and iPad to iOS 14.3 beta, and I guess I’ll have to spend some time rethinking my Home Screen (again) to include several MacStories Shortcuts Icons alongside app icons, replacing the Shortcuts widgets I added last month. This is going to be fun, and I hope Apple will continue to improve this feature with an option to disable the confirmation banner.

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MusicBot 1.1 Brings Shazam Integration, Music News and Reviews, Release Dates, Compact UI, and More

In December 2019, I published MusicBot, my all-in-one Apple Music shortcut to play music, get quick access to favorite albums and new releases, rediscover old gems in your music library, and lots more. MusicBot is one of the most complex shortcuts I’ve ever created and, along with Apple Frames, it’s among the shortcuts I use the most on a daily basis.

Over the past 11 months, MusicBot has been downloaded thousands of times from the MacStories Shortcuts Archive, and I’ve been saving a variety of ideas and user requests for features that would extend MusicBot’s capabilities and make it easier to use on iOS and iPadOS 14.

The result is MusicBot 1.1, the first substantial update to the original shortcut that introduces full support for iOS 14’s compact UI and Home Screen widgets, Shazam integration, the ability to read music news and check release dates inside MusicBot, plus other fixes and enhancements.

Let’s dive in.

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Shortcuts Corner: Apple Frames for iPhone 12 and SE, Get Image Resolution, Encode Images to Base64, and Search Articles in Reeder

In this comeback installment of the Shortcuts Corner (I took a break last spring to focus on my Modular Computer story, then WWDC happened, then…you get the idea), I’ve prepared an assortment of image-related shortcuts available for free on the MacStories Shortcuts Archive. Ever since I installed the first betas of iOS and iPadOS 14 on my iPhone and iPad months ago, I’ve been reorganizing my shortcut library with folders. Thanks to this feature, I’ve assembled a collection of simple “utility” shortcuts that I use on a daily basis, but which I never shared on MacStories. This week, I’m sharing three of these shortcuts: one to quickly get the resolution of any image; one to convert any image to JPEG while stripping metadata from it; and the last one to encode any image previously copied to the clipboard in Base64. Following the requests of several readers over the past week, I’ve also updated our popular Apple Frames shortcut with support for the iPhone SE, iPhone 12, and iPhone 12 Pro.

In the Club MacStories edition of the Shortcuts Corner this week, I’ve also created an advanced Reeder shortcut that lets you browse articles in your Read Later account by tag, title, and more. Let’s dig in.

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Introducing WallCreator: A Shortcut to Create iPhone and iPad Wallpapers with Solid Colors and Gradients

WallCreator for iOS 14.

WallCreator for iOS 14.

Two years ago in our MacStories Weekly newsletter for Club MacStories members, I shared a shortcut that enabled creating wallpapers for iPhone and iPad featuring solid colors or gradients of your choice. Given the newfound popularity of the Shortcuts app and the amazing custom Home screens people are putting together with widgets in iOS 14, I thought I’d play my part and revisit the shortcut by simplifying it and adding new features. The shortcut is now called WallCreator and you can download it for free (alongside 220 other shortcuts) from the MacStories Shortcuts Archive.

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A Shortcuts Wishlist

I wish I could quote a single section of Jordan Merrick’s Shortcuts wishlist, but I can’t because I agree with all of it. If you’re a heavy Shortcuts user, you’ve likely come across at least a couple of the limitations Merrick points out (lack of folders and struggling to navigate long shortcuts).

As we look ahead at WWDC 2020, it’s also a good time to link back to my What’s Still Missing from Shortcuts section from the iOS and iPadOS 13 review. Hopefully, a few items will be checked off this list in iOS 14.

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Shortcuts Corner: Opening YouTube Watch Later, Subscribing to RSS Feeds with NetNewsWire, and Uploading Images via FTP

For this week’s installment of the Shortcuts Corner, I’ve prepared quite an assortment of miscellaneous shortcuts to share with MacStories readers and Club MacStories members (because I’ve been spending all my time at home due to the state of emergency in Italy, I’ve been reorganizing my entire Shortcuts library, among other things). Following this week’s launch of NetNewsWire for iPhone and iPad, I’ve adapted an existing shortcut to let you subscribe to feeds using the popular RSS client. I’ve also created shortcuts to reopen the watch later queue in the YouTube app, copy app links from the App Store, and copy a webpage selection from Safari as rich text.

Furthermore, exclusively for Club MacStories members, I’ve created an advanced shortcut to upload images to a remote FTP server and copy their public URLs to the clipboard. Let’s dig in.

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LaunchCuts Review: A Better Way to Organize Your Shortcuts with Folders, Advanced Search, and Custom Views

LaunchCuts' shortcuts view.

LaunchCuts’ shortcuts view.

Developed by Adam Tow, LaunchCuts is the latest entry in a series of meta-utilities designed to extend Apple’s Shortcuts app with new functionalities. Unlike Toolbox Pro and Pushcut, however, LaunchCuts is the most peculiar and niche I’ve tested insofar as it doesn’t provide Shortcuts with exclusive actions nor does it come with its own web service to deliver rich push notifications; instead, LaunchCuts’ sole purpose is to offer an alternative view for your shortcut library with folders and powerful search filters. If you have less than 20 shortcuts installed on your iPhone or iPad, you’re likely not going to get much benefit out of LaunchCuts’ advanced organizational tools; but if you’re like me and use hundreds of different shortcuts on a regular basis, and especially if your library has grown out of control over the past few years, you’re going to need the assistance of LaunchCuts to make sense of it all.

Like the aforementioned Shortcuts utilities, LaunchCuts was born of its developer’s frustration with the lack of folders in Shortcuts – a basic feature that is still bafflingly absent from the app in 2020. As I keep pointing out in my iOS reviews, I find Apple’s continuing reliance on a crude, one-level-deep grid for shortcuts perplexing at best – particularly when the app is so very clearly employed by professional users who want to accomplish more on their iPhones and iPads.

LaunchCuts was originally created by Tow as an advanced shortcut that let you tag and organize your shortcuts from within the Shortcuts app itself. I remember playing around with the original version of LaunchCuts and, although technically remarkable, I didn’t find much utility in it since it was limited by the UI constraints of Shortcuts; LaunchCuts was begging to become a fully-fledged app with a custom interface to take advantage of Tow’s original concept. Now that it’s a native app, LaunchCuts can fulfill Tow’s vision for taming cluttered and disorganized Shortcuts libraries in a way that wouldn’t have been possible as a shortcut – all while taking advantage of new features in iOS and iPadOS 13.

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Introducing MusicBot: The All-in-One Apple Music Assistant, Powered by Shortcuts

For the past several months, I’ve been working on a shortcut designed to be the ultimate assistant for Apple Music. Called MusicBot, the shortcut encompasses dozens of different features and aims to be an all-in-one assistant that helps you listen to music more quickly, generate intelligent mixes based on your tastes, rediscover music from your library, control playback on AirPlay 2 speakers, and much more. I poured hundreds of hours of work into MusicBot, which has gained a permanent spot on my Home screen. Best of all, MusicBot is available to everyone for free.

I’m a happy Apple Music subscriber, and I love the direction Apple has taken with the service: fewer exclusive deals, more human curation, artist spotlights, and playlists updated daily. However, I believe the Music app for iPhone and iPad leaves much to be desired in terms of navigation and fast access to your favorite music. While Music gets the job done as a gateway to a streaming catalog, I find its interactions somewhat slow when it comes to playing my favorite playlists on shuffle or getting to albums I frequently listen to. Some of Music’s most interesting mixes are only available by asking Siri; additionally, getting to certain sections of the app or tweaking specific settings often takes far too many taps for my taste.

I created MusicBot for two reasons: I wanted to speed up common interactions with the Music app by using custom actions in the Shortcuts app; and I also wanted to build a series of “utilities” for Apple Music that could be bundled in a single, all-in-one shortcut instead of dozens of smaller, standalone ones.

The result is, by far, the most complex shortcut I’ve ever ever created (MusicBot spans 750+ actions in the Shortcuts app), but that’s not the point. MusicBot matters to me because, as I’ve shared before, music plays an essential role in my life, and MusicBot lets me enjoy my music more. This is why I spent so much time working on MusicBot, and why I wanted to share it publicly with everyone for free: I genuinely believe MusicBot offers useful enhancements for the Apple Music experience on iOS and iPadOS, providing tools that can help you rediscover lost gems in your library or find your next music obsession.

Let’s dive in.

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Drafts for Mac: It’s Action Time

When Drafts for Mac first arrived, I knew there were great things to come – not that it wasn’t an excellent app already! But since that time, Drafts for Mac has evolved. What was previously a functional app is now functional, automatable, and more importantly a flexible tool that can mold to fit your workflow.

Since Drafts first released, there have been numerous new features. Notably, it now supports multiple windows. This means you can have as many Drafts windows open at once as you like. I’ve taken to assigning different Spaces to different projects, enabling me to have Drafts open with its relevant Workspace in the same area as other apps.

As well as this, Drafts for Mac added batch tagging (and untagging) drafts. This has improved my workflow dramatically, as I can process the items that land in my inbox and need filing much faster. Another excellent feature is the addition of dictation (for macOS Catalina users). Especially with the demise of Dragon Dictate for Mac, this feature is a great way to talk at your computer and let it do the typing.

The headline new feature, though, is something Drafts for iOS fans consider the heart of the app: actions.

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