Kirk McElhearn, writing for Macworld on automation in iTunes following Sal Soghoian's departure from Apple:
No application can do everything its users need, and none should offer everything they want. For this reason, AppleScript has long been the perfect adjunct to iTunes, which is already feature-rich (some say “bloated,” but I disagree), and doesn’t need more options and tools. Many of these AppleScripts are designed to tag files, edit their metadata to correct errors, improve consistency, and ensure that users can find the files they want, and help them efficiently use smart playlists.
It’s not clear whether the termination of Mr. Soghoian means the demise of AppleScript altogether, and particularly in iTunes, but many developers, iTunes users, and others are concerned by this decision.
You see, it’s all about freedom. Freedom to do things we want that Apple doesn’t think we need to be able to do. Freedom to explore. Freedom to discover new ways to link applications, to interact with files, to create our own solutions. We can’t expect apps to cater to all our whims, and tools like AppleScript and Automator allow us to go a step further and discover ways to do things that Apple never even considered.
Losing AppleScript and automation features altogether would be a horrific loss for the Mac. However, I don't think that's going to be the case. Like Jason Snell, I believe today's Apple finds this stuff uninteresting and "vintage"; rather than removing it, I feel like they'll stop pretending they care about it, just as they did for Dashboard. Which isn't an ideal scenario either, but between two poisons, it's the one I'd pick.
See also: Dr. Drang back in 2013, 'When and why I automate'.
Since version 1.0 launched nearly two years ago, Workflow has always offered the ability to share workflows with others. While somewhat simplistic, Workflow's 'Copy Link' button has allowed the proliferation of sites and communities aimed at sharing workflows with the app's users – here at MacStories, workflows are one of the key aspects of our MacStories Weekly newsletter, for instance.
With version 1.6, launching today on the App Store, the Workflow team is revising some of the features that have been in the app since the beginning, starting with the Workflow Gallery and major updates to how workflows are shared, installed, and explained to other users.
Sad news for the Mac automation community: Sal Soghoian, Product Manager of Automation Technologies since 1997, has left Apple. Details from Soghoian himself:
Q. I hear you no longer work for Apple; is that true?
A. Correct. I joined Apple in January of 1997, almost twenty years ago, because of my profound belief that “the power of the computer should reside in the hands of the one using it.” That credo remains my truth to this day. Recently, I was informed that my position as Product Manager of Automation Technologies was eliminated for business reasons. Consequently, I am no longer employed by Apple Inc. But, I still believe my credo to be as true today as ever.
Soghoian's work on AppleScript and other macOS automation, scripting, and accessibility technologies has always been inspiring – we wouldn't have apps like Workflow today hadn't Soghoian pushed the boundaries of user automation at Apple.
I don't know what this means for automation on macOS going forward, but it doesn't feel like a good sign to me. I love his determination, though:
Q. Are you still upbeat about the future of user automation?
A. Absolutely. The need for user automation is a constant. I've seen the benefits and power of individuals being able to automate critical and repetitive tasks. Solution apps are great, emojis are fun, but there's nothing like really great automation tools. I have faith in this community, and that makes me optimistic about what we can do together.
More than ever before, I'm going to keep an eye on Soghoian's website and future projects.
See also: the transcript of Soghoian's WWDC 2016 session on using macOS dictation to perform specific actions (unfortunately, Apple's session video URL doesn't seem to be working anymore).
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.
The latest announcement from Logitech sounds like a good idea: Pop is a physical switch with support for third-party smart home devices that can turn them on individually or trigger scenes.
Pop is a simple switch for controlling Bluetooth and Wi-Fi enabled smart devices, including products from LIFX, Phillips Hue, Lutron, and INSTEON, Smart Things and more. Plus, it works with IFTTT for control of a broader range of products.
Each switch can be used to trigger three different custom commands. For instance, use a single press to turn all the lights in a room on or off. Or, use a double press at dinner time to dim the lights and turn on your favorite Sonos jazz station. And since it works with Logitech’s Harmony hub-based remotes, you could even set a long press to start Movie Time in the living room.
Over the past year, I've bought a few home automation devices to bring more convenience into my life. Sometimes, I miss the ability to press a physical switch instead of fumbling with an app or a widget. The upcoming HomeKit card of Control Center in iOS 10 has improved this aspect, but it doesn't support IFTTT or Sonos.
With the Logitech switch, I could create a recipe to turn off my lights and start recording with Manything as soon as I leave my house with one press. I'm intrigued, but I can't find a European release date on Logitech's website.
Interesting move from IFTTT: the company has launched a developer platform to let third-parties enable recipe-building functionality into their apps.
We’ve worked closely with a select group of partners to add IFTTT directly into their apps. Users will be able to discover and activate IFTTT Recipes without having to leave a partner’s app. These native experiences make IFTTT more accessible than ever.
Our partners all have one thing in common: the desire to add value and enable a more seamless experience for their users.
Explaining IFTTT's web automation is probably the biggest hurdle to get started with the service. Having a streamlined recipe interface inside multiple native apps could help.
Back in April, Microsoft jumped into web service automation with the introduction of Flow, a business-oriented, Zapier and IFTTT-like service for creating workflows that connects disparate web services like Dropbox, Google Drive, Slack, Mailchimp, GitHub, Twitter, SharePoint, and Salesforce. Yesterday, Microsoft released an iOS app called Microsoft Flow that, according to the Microsoft blog, allows users to ‘manage, track, and explore your automated workflows anytime and anywhere.’
I have spent a little time with the Microsoft Flow app and it works as advertised, but is limited. Unlike IFTTT's iOS app, Flow does not let you create workflows, though Microsoft says that feature is will be added in the coming months. In addition, the complex workflows that are possible in Zapier are not possible with Flow. For now, Flow is limited to doing things like turning workflows on and off, reviewing history reports of workflows that have run, receiving workflow push notifications, and evaluating error messages for workflows that fail.
Flow has a long way to go before it approaches the power of Zapier or its app has the depth of IFTTT's, but it’s good to see Microsoft bring Flow to mobile devices and remains a service worth watching.
Microsoft Flow is available on the App Store as a free download.
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.