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Posts tagged with "automation"

Shortcuts 2.1 Brings New Weather and Clock Actions, iCloud Sharing Improvements, and More

In a release that largely focuses on performance improvements and digital well-being tools to curb notification overload and smartphone addiction, Apple's Siri shortcuts initiative in iOS 12 stands out as one of the most exciting developments in modern iOS history. Perhaps even more impressive than developers' adoption of Siri shortcuts though has been the response to Apple's Shortcuts app, which enables the creation of custom shortcuts that can integrate with apps, system features, and even Siri.

In addition to a thriving community that continues to prove how combining users' imagination with automation can elevate iOS productivity, Apple itself has so far shown a remarkable commitment to the Shortcuts app by listening to the community and ensuring a smooth transition from Workflow. Traditionally, Apple's App Store apps receive major updates then linger for months before the next big set of changes; with Shortcuts, Apple has kept the TestFlight beta channel active, pushing for the same development pace that characterized Workflow before its acquisition.

The result is Shortcuts 2.1, released today on the App Store with a variety of bug fixes, iCloud improvements, and, more importantly, new actions that integrate the app even more deeply with iOS 12. If you're not familiar with the Shortcuts app, I recommending reading the dedicated section from my iOS 12 review first; if you're an existing Shortcuts user and rely on the app for key aspects of your iOS workflow, let's dig in and take a look at what's new.

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Creating Shortcuts with Invisible Names for the iOS Home Screen and Widget

I've spent the past two weeks updating my iPhone's home screen setup for the XS Max and, as I shared in the latest episode of AppStories, part of the process involved gaining easier access to some of the shortcuts I use on a regular basis. While I'm not a fan of the shortcuts-only home screen approach described by CGP Grey in episode 75 of the Cortex podcast (at some point, I believe you just end up swapping app folders for shortcuts), I do like the idea of adding a couple of frequently used custom shortcuts to the home screen. And as I detailed on AppStories, I also like to use "shortcut launchers" – effectively, shortcuts to launch other shortcuts.

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Apple Frames: A Shortcut for Framing Screenshots from Every Apple Device

When I published my iPhone XS Frames shortcut two weeks ago, I noted that my goal was to eventually support screenshots and device templates from other Apple devices, starting with the Apple Watch and MacBook Pro. After two weeks spent rebuilding the shortcut and asking Silvia to prepare several more templates, I'm happy to re-introduce my shortcut as the new and improved Apple Frames – a comprehensive custom shortcut to frame screenshots taken on every Apple device. Well, at least most of the current ones that the company is still selling.

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Visualizing Photos Taken ‘On This Day’ in Previous Years with Shortcuts

I'm in the process of creating a complete archive of every workflow I ever created for the Workflow app and updating each one for Shortcuts. As I was browsing through my old Workflow articles, I came across an interesting workflow I created in early 2015 called Photo Flashbacks. The main idea was simple enough: given Workflow's ability to read the contents of the photo library, the workflow would filter a photo taken on the same day in previous years and preview it with Quick Look. That seemed like a fun project that I could pick up again and improve for the Shortcuts app.

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Adding Device Frames to iPhone XS and XS Max Screenshots with Shortcuts

Update 10/10: A newer version of this shortcut, which can apply frames to screenshots taken on multiple Apple devices, is available here.

MacStories readers may be familiar with the way I like to present iPhone screenshots in app reviews and other stories – particularly for "hero" images, such as the one above, I want my screenshots to be contained in device frames that resemble official marketing images from Apple. They're prettier, and they do a better job at communicating what an app looks like on an actual device. I could create these images manually using apps like Affinity Photo and Pixelmator on iOS, but the process would be slow, boring, and time-consuming. Instead, for years now I've been using Workflow and its 'Overlay Image' action to get this done in an automated fashion.

With Shortcuts and the new iPhone XS and XS Max, it was time for an update to my old workflow. While I could have kept using the same iPhone X assets for the XS given their physical resemblance, I upgraded to a XS Max this year, which meant that my screenshots wouldn't have fit the old device frames natively anyway. Fortunately, Apple uploaded official marketing assets for the XS and XS Max a couple of days ago, so with the help of my girlfriend (who's better at Photoshop than I am) I was able to update my workflow for the new devices and add a few extra options in the process as well.

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How to Dictate iMessages in Multiple Languages from a Widget with Shortcuts

Wallpaper: Traces by AR72014

I live in Italy, but because of my work I communicate with friends and colleagues in English. All my devices are set to English, including Siri on our HomePods. As a multilingual iOS user, the addition of multilingual typing to the QuickType keyboard was, by far, one of my favorite changes in iOS 10. Besides being aware of the language used in each iMessage conversation, since 2016 the QuickType keyboard has been able to jump between multiple languages on the fly without switching keyboard layouts – which is amazing when you have conversations with people who live in different countries. I can't believe there was a time when I was constantly switching between the Italian and English keyboards hundreds of times each day. For international users, it was as bad as not having copy and paste before iPhone OS 3.0.

With the release of Shortcuts and the ability to send iMessages in the background (without showing the Messages composer), I had an idea: what if instead of typing I could use dictation (also improved in Shortcuts) to quickly send a message from a widget? A shortcut to accomplish this seemed relatively easy to build, so I got to work. However, after a few minutes of tests, I realized that Shortcuts' dictation didn't support automatic language recognition – which meant I had to consider a more creative approach.

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How to Trigger IFTTT Applets with iOS 12’s New Shortcuts App and Siri

Among the actions that didn't make the transition from Workflow to the new Shortcuts app for iOS 12, built-in support for triggering IFTTT applets (formerly known as "recipes") is perhaps the most annoying one. With just a few taps, Workflow's old 'Trigger IFTTT Applet' action allowed you to assemble workflows that combined the power of iOS integrations with IFTTT's hundreds of supported services. The IFTTT action acted as a bridge between Workflow and services that didn't offer native support for the app, such as Google Sheets, Spotify, and several smart home devices.

Fortunately, there's still a way to integrate the just-released Shortcuts app with IFTTT. The method I'm going to describe below involves a bit more manual setup because it's not as nicely integrated with Shortcuts as the old action might have been. In return however, you'll unlock the ability to enable IFTTT triggers using Siri on your iOS devices, Apple Watch, and HomePod – something that was never possible with Workflow's original IFTTT support. Let's take a look.

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Overcast 5: Redesigned Now Playing Screen, Search, Siri Media Shortcuts, and More

Overcast, Marco Arment's popular podcast client for iPhone and iPad, received a major update today to version 5. While I've long praised Apple's work on their built-in Podcasts app for iOS – particularly since getting three HomePods and leveraging Podcasts' support for AirPlay 2 – I also recognize the appeal of Overcast's advanced features and powerful audio effects. Sprinkled throughout Overcast's release history are design details and enhancements big and small that make it a sophisticated, versatile client for podcast aficionados who don't want to settle for a stock app. From this standpoint, despite welcome improvements to Podcasts in iOS 12, changes in Overcast 5 make it an even more attractive option that has caused me second-guess my decision to embrace Apple's native app.

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