PCalc, James Thomson's advanced calculator for iPhone and iPad, has been updated this week to version 3.8. I've been testing PCalc 3.8 for the past couple of months on my devices running iOS 12, and it features one of the best implementations of Siri shortcuts I've seen from a third-party developer yet. Even more than the app's excellent widget, shortcuts have enabled me to integrate PCalc features into different aspects of my daily workflow, including conversations with Siri via my HomePods.
Posts tagged with "automation"
Back in June, I wrote on MacStories that I was evaluating whether Drafts 5 could replace Editorial for my Markdown automation and become the app I use to write my annual iOS review. Putting together these longform pieces involves a lot of writing, editing, and navigating between different sections; the more I can automate these tasks, the more time I can spend doing what actually matters for the review – testing the new version of iOS and ensuring the review is up to my standards.
Fun new project by iOS developer extraordinaire Guilherme Rambo – Sharecuts is a (so far, beta and invitation-only) directory to browse and install custom shortcuts created by other users. Sarah Perez has more details at TechCrunch:
But by the time iOS 12 releases to the public later this fall, Sharecuts’ directory will be filled out and a lot more functional.
The premise, explains Sharecuts’ creator Guilherme Rambo, was to make an easily accessible place where people could share their shortcuts with one another, discover those others have shared, and suggest improvements to existing shortcuts.
“I was talking to a friend [Patrick Balestra] about how cool shortcuts are, and how it should be easier for people to share and discover shortcuts,” says Guilherme. “He mentioned he wanted to build a website for that – he even had the idea for the name Sharecuts – but he was on vacation without a good internet connection so I decided to just build it myself in one day,” he says.
The site is currently a bare bones, black-and-white page with cards for each shortcut, but an update will bring a more colorful style (see below) and features that will allow users to filter the shortcuts by tags, vote on favorites, among other things.
This isn't the first time users have tried to launch curated directories for workflows (there were a bunch for the old Workflow app), but I think projects like this are going to be especially important given the lack of an official public directory for Shortcuts; the gallery built into the Shortcuts app is managed by Apple and doesn't accept user submissions. For now, Sharecuts works by uploading plain .shortcut files to the service, but I'm hoping that, once Apple brings back link-based sharing, you'll be able to just paste a link to a shortcut you've created. In the meantime, you can find a couple of shortcuts I've shared here and here.
Peter Davison-Reiber created something pretty amazing in Drafts 5 – a natural language parser to create events in the system calendar natively, without launching other apps:
What I’ve ended up creating has almost all of the same functionality as Fantastical, but since it does not rely on launching an external URL scheme, is considerably faster. You can enter multiple events, each on a different line, and have them all instantly added to your calendar without even launching another app.
When writing my review, I needed a way to navigate between the different sections, and all of the subheadings I had created. I had developed an action to navigate to each of the markdown headers, which I was happy with at the time. It was nice to have that functionality to switch around where I was in my review.
Well, I’m happy to say that I have been Sherlocked.
Drafts 5.2 came out while I was in San Jose for WWDC, and I've been meaning to check out the new features since I started getting back into a normal routine. Tim Nahumck, of course, has a great overview of the changes in this version of Drafts, along with some useful examples you can download.
As Tim points out, the ability to navigate headers of a Markdown document through a dedicated "section popup" is a terrific addition to Drafts. Few text editors designed for people who write in Markdown get this right; one of the reasons I still keep Editorial on my iOS devices is because it lets me navigate longer pieces with a header navigation tool. However, the implementation in Drafts 5 is more powerful, modern, and can be controlled with the keyboard (you can invoke the switcher with
⌘\ and, just like Things, dismiss it with
⌘. without ever leaving the keyboard).
In my Future of Workflow article from last year (published soon after the news of Apple's acquisition), I outlined some of the probable outcomes for the app. The more optimistic one – the "best timeline", so to speak – envisioned an updated Workflow app as a native iOS automation layer, deeply integrated with the system and its built-in frameworks. After studying Apple's announcements at WWDC and talking to developers at the conference, and based on other details I've been personally hearing about Shortcuts while at WWDC, it appears that the brightest scenario is indeed coming true in a matter of months.
On the surface, Shortcuts the app looks like the full-blown Workflow replacement heavy users of the app have been wishfully imagining for the past year. But there is more going on with Shortcuts than the app alone. Shortcuts the feature, in fact, reveals a fascinating twofold strategy: on one hand, Apple hopes to accelerate third-party Siri integrations by leveraging existing APIs as well as enabling the creation of custom SiriKit Intents; on the other, the company is advancing a new vision of automation through the lens of Siri and proactive assistance from which everyone – not just power users – can reap the benefits.
While it's still too early to comment on the long-term impact of Shortcuts, I can at least attempt to understand the potential of this new technology. In this article, I'll try to explain the differences between Siri shortcuts and the Shortcuts app, as well as answering some common questions about how much Shortcuts borrows from the original Workflow app. Let's dig in.
With WWDC around the corner and speculation continuing about why Apple purchased Workflow a little over a year ago, Wired has published a profile of Sal Soghoian, who worked on Automator at Apple until 2016. The feature piece, also covers the development of x-callback-urls on iOS and the introduction Workflow, which was acquired by Apple in 2017.
Soghoian is a guy who's built a long career creating technology that lets users hand the tedium of repetitive grunt work off to their computers in creative ways. In the early 2000s, he created a program that let Mac users turn clunky, multi-step tasks into something that could be run at any time with just a double click of the mouse. This process, and the field where Soghoian's excels, is known as PC automation. Nearly a decade after the original Automator app arrived on the Mac, a group of hungry iOS developers were inspired to hard-code a way for apps to share information between each other. The creation, which built upon Soghian's [sic] work, made iOS more elegant and useful.
Automation has a long history at Apple. However, in the 18 months or so since Soghoian left Apple and roughly one year since the company acquired Workflow, Apple has been relatively quiet about automation. One of my hopes for WWDC this year is that we start to see signs of why Apple acquired Workflow and its team of talented developers that include the incorporation of some of their automation work into iOS and macOS.
There are few apps I've ever used which made a lasting impact on my daily workflow. But for years now, the singular app that's been the foundation of my iOS use has been Drafts. The app has lived in my dock since I first picked it up, it's the single most important app I use on the platform, and it's the only paid app I mandate to anyone looking for must-have apps on iOS.
Drafts is the bedrock app from which I build all my productivity. It’s the single point of text entry that shares to any app, whether through the share sheet, a simple action, or a custom and complex action. Any time I have an idea, I put it in Drafts. Tasks to add to my task manager? I do that from Drafts. Something I want to write about on my blog? That idea starts in Drafts too. It's the focal point for everything I do.
But times change. Apps age. New features are added in the OS that need to be integrated, which cause some developers to pull the plug. So today, I'm saying goodbye to Drafts 4. And it's getting replaced by the only app that could possibly replace it: Drafts 5.
It's been a busy 2018 so far for Cultured Code, makers of Things for Mac and iOS. Earlier this year, the company shipped Things 3.4, which, thanks to app integrations and a toolkit for third-party developers, propelled the task manager into the elite of automation-capable apps on iOS. It doesn't happen very often that a task manager becomes so flexible it lets you build your own natural language interpreter; Things 3.4 made it possible without having to be a programmer by trade.
Today, Cultured Code is launching Things 3.5, a mid-cycle update that refines several aspects of the app and prepares its foundation for other major upgrades down the road. There isn't a single all-encompassing change in Things 3.5 – nor is this version going to convince users to switch to Things like, say, version 3.4 or 3.0 might have. However, Things 3.5 is a collection of smaller yet welcome improvements that are worth outlining because they all contribute to making Things more powerful, intuitive, and consistent with its macOS counterpart.