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Posts tagged with "automation"

Introducing the 2022 Automation April Shortcuts Contest Winners

John: One of the hardest things about a new project is keeping it under wraps until it’s ready. That was true of Automation April in general, but it was especially true of the Shortcuts Contest. As soon as we’d decided on the outline of what the contest would be, we knew it was something that had the potential to be special by bringing together the MacStories and broader Shortcuts communities for a single event.

We couldn’t be happier with how this year’s inaugural Automation April Shortcuts Contest went. We had over 200 shortcuts submitted to compete in six categories:

  • Best Everyday Shortcut
  • Best HomeKit Shortcut
  • Best Mac Shortcut
  • Best Media Shortcut
  • Best Productivity Shortcut
  • Best Overall Shortcut

The shortcuts we received were remarkable, and as we’d hoped, they ran the gamut from simple automations that solved one problem exceptionally well to shortcuts that offered broad functionality more like an app than an automation.

Having gone through every one of this year’s submissions, we’ve got a deeper appreciation than ever for just how vibrant and creative the Shortcuts community is. Across every Apple platform, its users are creating clever automations to extend the power of their devices and sharing them with a community that is incredibly generous with their time and efforts in helping others to learn how to build their own shortcuts.

With so many excellent shortcuts from which to choose, picking the winners was tough, but fortunately, we had a crack team of Shortcuts experts to help judge the submissions. Thanks to Simon Støvring, Matthew Cassinelli, Christopher Lawley, Jason Snell, Rosemary Orchard, Alex Cox, and David Sparks for their participation. We appreciate the time each was able to take sifting through this year’s contest submissions.

We’ve also got a little surprise for readers. Alongside the winners in each category, we’ve included a handful of honorable mentions to showcase some of our favorite shortcuts that didn’t win a category. I think you’ll see from the quality of these bonus shortcuts just how deep the field of submissions was.

With that, it’s time to reveal our first ever Automation April Shortcuts Contest winners and share the shortcuts they’ve created.

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Automating Podcast Sessions in Audio Hijack 4 with Shortcuts and Timery

Audio Hijack 4 and Timery.

Audio Hijack 4 and Timery.

For the past week, I’ve been rethinking my approach to time tracking with the Timery app with a focus on simplicity and automation. I appreciate the insights into my habits and patterns afforded by time tracking and Timery’s excellent Reports view, but lately I’ve felt like my setup with projects, tags, and sub-tasks was too convoluted since it was based on a structure I designed years ago.

My daily routine is different now – and it’ll continue to change in 2022 – and I wanted to get rid of the overhead caused by a time tracking system that was too granular. For time tracking to be effective, you need to remember to start a timer whenever you’re working on something; too much friction in the process – such as having to carefully pick from a list of similar projects – defeats the whole purpose of it. There’s also the opposite problem – forgetting to stop a long-running timer – which John explained and fixed in a separate story for Automation April.

So I went back to the drawing board of my Timery projects and reorganized everything with simplicity and ease of activation in mind. I cleaned up my saved timers and shortcut that activates those timers, which I can now trigger system-wide via Raycast on the Mac and the Shortcuts widgets on iPad. I split my work projects into three main areas – MacStories, Club, and podcasts – removed redundant sub-tasks, and grouped related activities under the same tags for more reliable filtering.

How I access my saved timers from the Home Screen.

How I access my saved timers from the Home Screen.

The approach worked well for MacStories and the Club, but podcast timers turned out to be a different beast. You see, when I sit down to record a show like Connected or AppStories, I need to take care of key tasks such as making sure my audio inputs are correct, checking out notes for the show’s outline and intro, and keeping an eye on the Connected audience in Relay’s Discord server. These tasks distract me from time tracking and, as a result, I often forget to start a timer for when I begin recording and, conversely, stop the timer when I’m done. I could automatically start a timer when a calendar event for a show is due in my calendar, but that also doesn’t work for me since it doesn’t account for the time before we actually record the show when I may be chatting privately with Myke and Stephen. Wouldn’t it be great if there was One True Way to automatically start tracking my real recording time when I start talking into the microphone for a show?

As it turns out, thanks to the latest update to Audio Hijack – the new version 4.0 that recently launched on macOS – there is. So for this week’s Automation April story, I’m sharing the custom system I created to trigger a single shortcut that starts time tracking in Timery based on the show I’m recording in that specific moment. Let’s take a look.

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Automation April: 10 Shortcuts for Mac Multitasking, Markdown, Reminders, Music Lyrics, Twitter, and More

10 shortcuts for Automation April.

10 shortcuts for Automation April.

Automation April is well underway: we’ve entered the second week of our month-long special event about automation on Apple platforms, and – in case you haven’t noticed – things are happening everywhere. We’ve published Shortcuts-focused articles on MacStories; interviewed developers of Shortcuts-compatible apps on AppStories; we’ve hosted a Town Hall Workshop on our Discord along with giveaways. And, of course, our panel of judges is now busy testing and evaluating shortcuts submitted by people for the Automation April Shortcuts Contest. If you haven’t yet, now would be a great time to start following @AutomationApril on Twitter to keep up with everything we’re doing.

Last week, I shared an initial batch of 10 shortcuts I prepared for Automation April here on MacStories. I’m back this week with another set of 10 shortcuts that encompass a variety of platforms, app integrations, and functionalities. In this week’s collection, you’ll find even more shortcuts to speed up macOS multitasking; a shortcut that makes it easy to create a calendar event starting from a date; there will be a couple of shortcuts for Markdown and Obsidian users too.

I’m having a lot of fun sharing these sets of shortcuts for Automation April. So once again, let’s dive in.

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Automation April: 10 Shortcuts for Apple Translate, Live Text, Finder Images, Pixelmator Pro, and More

Shortcuts I've prepared for Automation April.

Shortcuts I’ve prepared for Automation April.

It’s Week 1 of Automation April, and as I announced last week, alongside the several initiatives we’ve prepared for this month-long automation event, I’ve been working on 30 shortcuts to share with everyone for free on MacStories this month.

Today, I’m pleased to share the first group of 10 shortcuts that will join the other 250 on the MacStories Shortcuts Archive. These shortcuts are a diverse collection of utilities that have been specifically optimized for the latest versions of iOS, iPadOS, and macOS Monterey. Below, you’ll find shortcuts that take advantage of new actions for Translate and Live Text; there are Mac-only shortcuts that integrate with Finder and AppleScript; there’s even a shortcut that helps you speed up multitasking and window control on macOS.

As always, all the shortcuts I’m sharing as part of Automation April have been tested across all Apple devices and you can install them via the iCloud download links in this story. So grab a good cup of espresso, take a break from the Automation April contest, and let’s have a look.

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Introducing Automation April: A Month-Long Community Event About Automation, Featuring Shortcuts, Interviews, Discord Workshops, and a Shortcut Contest

Welcome to Automation April.

Welcome to Automation April.

Over the past decade, MacStories has become the hub for all kinds of user automation. Starting with URL schemes, then Workflow, and eventually Shortcuts, we’ve created hundreds of shortcuts for MacStories readers and Club members and published stories about automation that have been read by millions of people around the world. With the MacStories Shortcuts Archive, launched three years ago, we unified our catalog of free shortcuts in a single gallery; with the arrival of Shortcuts on macOS, we’ve expanded our Mac coverage for Club members and launched a new column and Discord channel all about automation.

I love automation because of what it stands for: giving users – the people – the power to fully control their computer and make it more efficient. To make it truly their own. This is why I’ve been writing about the Shortcuts app for years and why I’ve always believed in it as the future of automation on Apple platforms: it’s the software equivalent of a bicycle for the mind.

For this reason, I’m absolutely thrilled to introduce Automation April, a month-long showcase of automation on Apple platforms by us, developers, and MacStories readers – with a focus on Shortcuts.

For the entire month of April, we will cover automation and Shortcuts – even more than we normally do – on every property of the extended MacStories universe. There will be shortcuts and articles on MacStories; we will post Automation April-themed episodes of AppStories; there will be special content in MacStories Weekly and AppStories+ for Club members; we will host special ‘Town Hall Workshops’ and a dedicated Automation April channel in our Discord community.

But there’s more:

In addition to all of the above, we are launching a contest to pick the best shortcuts submitted by MacStories readers for Automation April.

Starting Monday, April 4th, until Wednesday, April 20th, we will be accepting up to two shortcut entries per user via a dedicated Automation April website. The contest will be open to everyone with a free MacStories account (more on this below). We’ve also assembled a panel of Shortcuts experts who, alongside the MacStories team, will judge shortcuts submitted by people.

Oh, and we’re giving away an Elgato Stream Deck XL and an Analogue Pocket for the Best Overall Shortcut prize. Yep, you read that right.

April has always been a special month for MacStories: the site turns 13 (!) on April 20th, and this isn’t the first time we’ve organized a special event to celebrate our community. But with Automation April, we’ve prepared the biggest event we’ve ever done that will encompass every single aspect of the MacStories family – from the articles you know and love to Discord, the Weekly newsletter, and a brand new community contest.

The next four weeks are going to be fun. So let’s dive in and let me give you an overview of what you can expect from the first edition of Automation April.

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Logger Is the Missing Console for Shortcuts Power Users

Logger for Shortcuts.

Logger for Shortcuts.

Indie developer Alex Hay has long pushed the boundaries of what third-party developers can build with the SiriKit framework and Shortcuts integrations on Apple platforms.

In late 2019, his Toolbox Pro app redefined what it means to complement Apple’s Shortcuts app with additional actions, creating an entirely new sub-genre of headless utilities designed to provide additional actions with configurable parameters. Recently, Hay introduced Nautomate, another utility that provides users with Shortcuts actions to integrate with the Notion API without having to write a single line of code. And today, Hay is launching Logger, another Shortcuts-compatible app that is similar to his previous ones, but with a twist: rather than adding actions for external services or apps such as Apple Music and Notion, Logger offers actions to create the troubleshooting console that has always been missing from Shortcuts.

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Preserve and Play the Original Wordle for Decades with WordleForever

Playing the original Wordle offline with WordleForever.

Playing the original Wordle offline with WordleForever.

Update: It appears that WordleForever is only supported on iOS/iPadOS 15.4 at the moment, which are available as public betas. I was not aware of the fact that older versions of iOS/iPadOS had a bug in the Shortcuts app that prevented WordleForever from working properly. If you want to play with WordleForever now, you’ll have to install iOS/iPadOS 15.4.


Like many others over the past week, when I saw the news that Wordle had been acquired by The New York Times, I immediately felt a mix of two feelings: I was genuinely happy (and still am!) for Wordle creator Josh Wardle, who managed to turn a simple web game into a successful venture; and I was concerned The New York Times would inevitably ruin the beauty and simplicity of the original game. And I still am.

So in the spirit of game preservation (a topic I care deeply about) and out of skepticism regarding the future of Wordle as a NYT product, I teamed up with Finn Voorhees to create WordleForever, a shortcut that lets you back up the entire Wordle game offline – on your device – using Apple’s Shortcuts app so you can keep playing the game for the next few decades. With WordleForever, you can put the original Wordle on your iPhone or iPad Home Screen and play the original game (with the same words as everyone else) for years to come.

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MacStories Starter Pack: Reverse-Engineering the Matter API and My ‘Save to Matter’ Shortcut

My Save to Matter shortcut.

My Save to Matter shortcut.

Editor’s Note: Reverse-Engineering the Matter API and My ‘Save to Matter’ Shortcut is part of the MacStories Starter Pack, a collection of ready-to-use shortcuts, apps, workflows, and more that we’ve created to help you get the most out of your Mac, iPhone, and iPad.

For the past few months, I’ve been enjoying and keeping an eye on the development of Matter, a new read-later service that aims to combine a powerful text parser with elegant design, social discovery features, annotations, and the ability to listen to articles as audio. I’m not one to typically care about the latest VC-backed startup that promises to revolutionize reading articles with social features, but Matter struck me for a few reasons: the app’s reader mode is gorgeous; the ability to annotate articles with highlights is great; and, more importantly, it has the best, most human-sounding text-to-audio conversion engine I’ve ever tested.

Something else happened a few months ago: Matter introduced an official plugin to sync your article highlights as Markdown notes to Obsidian. Integration with PKM-style apps is a hot trend right now in the modern crop of read-later services (John covered this very topic here), so I wasn’t shocked to see that Matter joined Readwise in supporting Obsidian with a plugin. Something about it piqued my interest though:

If Matter didn’t have a public API, how could the Obsidian plugin even sync to the Matter service?

Obviously, there had to be an API involved behind the scenes, which Matter hadn’t announced yet, but which I could potentially reverse-engineer and integrate with Shortcuts. And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing for the past month.

My experiments with the still-unannounced Matter API have developed on three separate fronts, and I’m going to share the results in three different places:

  • Today on MacStories, I’m going to share a one-click shortcut called Save to Matter that lets you save any article to your Matter queue directly from the share sheet or anywhere else on iOS, iPadOS, or macOS without having to use the Matter extension;
  • Tomorrow on MacStories Weekly for Club MacStories members, I will share MatterBot, an advanced Matter shortcut that lets you take complete control over your Matter queue with support for exporting annotations as Markdown or even downloading articles as MP3 files;
  • Next week for Club MacStories+ and Premier members only, I will share MatterPod, another advanced shortcut that lets you turn your Matter queue into a Matter podcast feed hosted on your own web server.

Before we dive in, I also want to confirm that I privately reached out to the folks at Matter weeks ago about my experiments, and they were cool with me writing about my findings and sharing shortcuts I’ve built for the Matter API.

With that being said, let’s take a look at how you can get started with the Matter API and the Save to Matter shortcut.

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MacStories Starter Pack: Introducing Obsidian Shortcut Launcher, A Free Plugin to Trigger Shortcuts from Obsidian

Obsidian Shortcut Launcher is a free plugin that works on iOS, iPadOS, and macOS.

Obsidian Shortcut Launcher is a free plugin that works on iOS, iPadOS, and macOS.

Editor’s Note: Obsidian Shortcut Launcher is part of the MacStories Starter Pack, a collection of ready-to-use shortcuts, apps, workflows, and more that we’ve created to help you get the most out of your Mac, iPhone, and iPad.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that, over the past year, Obsidian has become as essential to my workflow as Shortcuts. As I have been thoroughly documenting in the My Obsidian Setup series for Club MacStories members, Obsidian – which is the MacStories Selects 2021 App of the Year – is more than a text editor: it’s something more similar to an OS for writers that encompasses note-taking, Markdown writing, journaling, research, and more. At this point, just like I can’t imagine using Apple devices without Shortcuts, I can’t imagine taking notes or writing articles without Obsidian.

Which means that it shouldn’t surprise anyone either that I wanted to combine my two favorite apps and figure out a way to integrate Obsidian with Shortcuts.

Today, I’m thrilled to introduce Obsidian Shortcut Launcher, a free Obsidian plugin – available in the Community Plugins section of the app – that lets you trigger shortcuts as commands from Obsidian. With Obsidian Shortcut Launcher (or ‘OSL’), you’ll be able to trigger any shortcut you want from Obsidian, passing along values such as the text of the document you’re working on, its name, text selection, and more. Obsidian Shortcut Launcher is free to use and works on iOS, iPadOS, and macOS.

Obsidian Shortcut Launcher is the result of weeks of planning and work from me and Finn Voorhees, and it has created an entirely new dimension in how I use Obsidian and Shortcuts on a daily basis. Because OSL is available in Obsidian’s Community Plugins list, you can find its source code here. Read on below to find out how OSL works behind the scenes, how I’ve been using it for my setup, and how you can start using it yourself with Obsidian and your favorite shortcuts.

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