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.
Mac Power Users co-host David Sparks has released his latest MacSparky publication:
The Hazel Video Field Guide. Hazel is one of my favorite automation tools, and was recently updated to version 4. I bought it before I even downloaded the new version. That’s how great of a tool it is.
As David says: “The thing I love about Hazel is the way it can turn mere mortals into automation gods. Anybody can do this. You don't need a lick of programming knowledge.” He’s right. Hazel is easier than Folder Actions, and a lot more powerful too. If you can write Mail.app rules, you can automate your Mac with Hazel.
But what if you’ve never used Hazel and want to jump right in and learn the best of what it has to offer? That’s where David comes in. In almost 2.5 hours of video, David will walk you through Hazel, showing you everything from the basics to more advanced features using AppleScript. I’ve been using Hazel for years and would call myself a power user, but I learned some new tricks from David in this guide.
When iOS 8 came out, I thought I'd stop using URL schemes altogether. Until two years ago1, my attempts at working on iOS had focused on overcoming the lack of inter-app communication with URL scheme automation, as our old coverage here at MacStories can attest. iOS 8 showed a new way to get things done on the iPhone and iPad thanks to extensions, eschewing the limited functionality (and security concerns) of URL schemes for a native, integrated foundation.
Two years later, I've largely reappraised my usage of URL schemes, but, unlike I first imagined, they haven't disappeared completely from my iOS computing life. iOS automation has taken on a different form since 2014: thanks to its action extension, Workflow has brought deeply integrated automation to every app, while Pythonista remains the most powerful environment for those who prefer to dabble with Python scripting and advanced tasks (also while taking advantage of an action extension to be activated from apps).
Today, URL schemes are being used by developers and users who want to go beyond the limitations of system extensions: apps like Drafts and Workflow use URL schemes to invoke specific apps directly (which extensions can't do – see Airmail and its custom app actions) and to link more complex chains of automated actions. URL schemes are also the best way to set up templates and import workflows for dedicated functionalities – a good example being The Omni Group with their latest automation options for template generation in OmniFocus.
While Apple's goal with iOS 8 might have been to "kill" URL schemes by turning them into a niche technology mostly supplanted by extensions, that niche has continued to quietly thrive. iOS automation is drastically better (and more secure) today because of extensions, but, for many, URL schemes still are the backbone of app shortcuts and complex workflows. Where extensions can't go, there's a good chance a URL scheme will do the trick.
It's in this modern iOS automation landscape that Launcher, first released in 2014, is graduating to version 2.0 with a focus on what it does best: standalone app shortcuts. Launcher 2.0 offers more control than its predecessor over widget customization and activation, with new features and settings that have pushed me to reconsider how I use Notification Center widgets on both my iPhone and iPad Pro.
Hazel is one of the first utilities that I install when I get a new Mac. Judging from the Noodlesoft forums, there are many people who use Hazel far more heavily than I do, but it is no less important to my Mac setup. By automating what would otherwise be repetitive file management tasks, Hazel helps keep me focused on more important tasks. Today, Hazel 4 was released with new features and refinements that bring new power and convenience to an already exceptional app.
Microsoft has entered the web automation space with Flow, a new service currently in public preview that aims to connect multiple web apps together. Microsoft describes Flow as a way to "create automated workflows between your favorite apps and services to get notifications, synchronize files, collect data, and more".
From the Microsoft blog:
Microsoft Flow makes it easy to mash-up two or more different services. Today, Microsoft Flow is publicly available as a preview, at no cost. We have connections to 35+ different services, including both Microsoft services like OneDrive and SharePoint, and public software services like Slack, Twitter and Salesforce.com, with more being added every week.
I took Flow for a quick spin today, and it looks, for now, like a less powerful, less intuitive Zapier targeted at business users. You can create multi-step flows with more than two apps, but Flow lacks the rich editor of Zapier; in my tests, the web interface crashed often on the iPad (I guess that's why they call it a preview); and, in general, 35 supported services pales in comparison to the hundreds of options offered by Zapier.
Still, it's good to see Microsoft joining this area and it makes sense for the new, cloud-oriented Microsoft to offer this kind of solution. Flow doesn't have the consumer features of IFTTT (such as support for home automation devices and iOS apps) or the power of Zapier (which I like and use every day), but I'll keep an eye on it.