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Posts tagged with "automation"

OmniFocus for iOS Adds Deep Automation Features

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.

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Day One Adds IFTTT Integration

Great change for those who want to populate their journal entries with content from the web: Day One has launched their IFTTT channel today, which will let you create all sorts of automated recipes such as saving Instagram pictures to a journal, emailing a new entry to yourself, or logging check-ins from a third-party service.

Much as Day One 2 was criticized for ditching iCloud and Dropbox in lieu of its own sync, integrations like this are always better when the developers can fully control the sync platform they're using. Thanks to Day One Sync and support for multiple journals, you can connect to IFTTT and set your recipes to save data into a dedicated journal separate from your main thoughts (something that bugged me a few years ago with a similar solution).

I've been playing around with the beta of Day One + IFTTT, and it works well. I have recipes to save liked tweets and YouTube videos to an 'Internet' journal, and I'm planning to build more soon. If you use Day One and IFTTT, this is a fantastic addition.


Workflow 1.4.4 Brings More Image Automation, HTML to Markdown Conversion

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.

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Zapier Launches Multi-Step Zaps for Richer Web Automation

The new multi-step editor in Zapier.

The new multi-step editor in Zapier.

I've long been interested in web automation as a complement to my iOS apps and workflows. While I expressed my fair share of skepticism about the practical benefits of web automation in the past – primarily due to a lack of native apps to trigger recipes on IFTTT and Zapier – with time I've learned to appreciate the ability to automate web services and let them perform tedious tasks for me. The fact that I'm increasingly relying on web services with iOS apps that are simple front-ends to data that lives in the cloud might be related, too.1 My use of web automation isn't dramatically creative: I have a couple of Do Button recipes to send automated emails with one tap; I forward YouTube updates and some RSS items to Slack; and, I let a couple of Twitter accounts tweet on my behalf with automated recipes because I'd forget otherwise. Nothing too revolutionary.

Today, Zapier – the power-user (and paid) alternative to IFTTT – is launching multi-step zaps (the equivalent of recipes in IFTTT), which I was able to test for the past week. I've long preferred Zapier to IFTTT for the additional controls that it offers when building complex web automations. Zapier lets you assign filters to actions, you can parse data from email messages with a dedicated Zapier Parser service, and, generally speaking, everything is built with an eye for people who, like me, want to tweak as much as possible. Multi-step zaps fit squarely into this strategy and they're, by far, the most powerful solution I've tried to chain multiple web services together and save time.

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Pythonista 2.0 Brings Action Extension, iPad Pro Support, Code Editor Improvements, and More

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.

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Publishing Articles to WordPress with Workflow on iOS

Posting to MacStories with Workflow.

Posting to MacStories with Workflow.

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.

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Markdown and Automation Experiments with 1Writer

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.

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Workflow 1.3 Brings Powerful Widget, Sync, Health Actions, and More

Since its debut on the App Store last year, Workflow has established a new paradigm for automation on iOS.

By deeply integrating with iOS apps, device hardware and sensors, an array of web services, and advanced actions for scripting and control flows, Workflow has shown how automation – for many an area of computing that evokes thoughts of old desktop apps and arcane scripting languages – can be reimagined for the iPhone and iPad while being fun and powerful. Workflow is one of the reasons behind my decision to go all-in with the iPad as my primary computer, and the Apple Design Award it won in June is testament to the amazing work by the app's young and prolific team.

Workflow 1.3, launching today on the App Store, is another major step forward for the app, bringing a powerful Today widget, sync between devices, new Health actions, and more.

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Elegant Image Watermarking and Resizing with Watermarker 2

I'm a bit behind in mentioning it, but Watermarker 2 is out. This Mac app from developer (and former MacStories writer) Don Southard lets you quickly resize and add professional watermarks to batches of photos. It's a great-looking app that elegantly accomplishes its goal.

You can use custom text, import your own logo or image, and apply a customizable strike-through "X" over an image (all with adjustable transparency). You can also add pixelation to an image to obscure parts of it, and annotate images with additional shapes.

Watermarker 2 offers powerful batch photo manipulation features such as renaming groups of files based on patterns and resizing using pixel or percentage constraints.

You can save your watermark settings as presets, and apply them to batches in the future with a couple of clicks. There's even an Action Extension for sending images from other apps to Watermarker, and a Share Sheet for sending watermarked images to others.

Watermarker 2 Action Extension

Watermarker 2 Action Extension

Watermarker 2 is available for $14.99, both on the Mac App Store and through direct purchase (with a free trial available).