Posts tagged with "automation"

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.

Read more


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.

Read more


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.

Read more


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.

Read more


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.

Read more


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).


Replacing QuickCursor with Keyboard Maestro

QuickCursor was a great app which allowed you to use your favorite text editor to edit text anywhere on the Mac. For example, rather than writing a blog post in a form field in your browser, you could press a keyboard shortcut and then whatever text you had written would be sent BBEdit (or any other text editor). You could finish writing your post using all of the features of your preferred text editor (and, most importantly, not have to worry about your browser window crashing or anything else that might cause you to lose your work). When you finished writing, your text would automatically be sent from your text editor back to the web browser. (If the awesomeness of this is not immediately obvious, watch this short YouTube video showing how QuickCursor worked.)

Read more


IFTTT Launches Spotify Channel

This is an interesting idea by IFTTT: a Spotify channel to create automated recipes for the music service so you can connect it to other apps. Triggers include new saved tracks and tracks added to a playlist (the same are available as actions). I haven't kept my Spotify account since switching to Apple Music, but this is the kind of integration that likely won't ever come to Apple's service, and it seems like you can create some pretty cool recipes with it. Worth checking out if you're a Spotify user and are into web automation.

Permalink

Editorial 1.2 Brings Powerful New Text Editing Features, More iOS Automation

If I had to pick one iOS app I couldn't live without, that would be Editorial.

Developed by Berlin-based Ole Zorn, Editorial was the app that reinvented text automation in 2013 and that pushed me to start working exclusively from my iPad. Editorial is a powerful Markdown text editor that combines visual Automator-like actions with a web browser, text snippets, Python scripts, and URL schemes to supercharge text editing on iOS with the power of automation. I spend most of my days writing and researching in Editorial, and my workflow depends on this app.

Editorial also has a slow release cycle. Zorn likes to take his time with updates that contain hundreds of changes: Editorial 1.1, released in May 2014, brought an iPhone version and custom interfaces, making Editorial feel like an entirely new app. The same is happening today with Editorial 1.2, which adds support for the latest iPhones, iOS 8 integration, custom templates, browser tabs, folding, and much more.

Editorial 1.2 with iOS 8 support is launching right after Apple's announcement of iOS 9, but the wait has been worth it. The new version builds upon the excellent foundation of Editorial 1.1, and the enhancements it brings vastly improve the app for users who rely on its automation features and Python interpreter.

Rather than covering every single change, I'll focus on the 10 new features that have most impacted the way I get work done with Editorial on a daily basis.

Read more