Update: Thanks to MacStories reader Thomas, I was able to remove the need to upload image assets to Dropbox. The shortcut is now much faster to run (takes about 5 seconds instead of 20) and doesn't need to save any file in your Dropbox account. You can get the updated shortcut at the end of this post.
I've always been intrigued by Workflow's implementation of 'Add to Home Screen' – a feature that Apple kept in the transition to the Shortcuts app, and which allows users to create home screen icons to launch their favorite shortcuts. So earlier this month, I decided I wanted to learn how Shortcuts was handling the creation of home screen icons.
After a few weeks of experiments and refinements, I ended up reverse-engineering Shortcuts' 'Add to Home Screen' implementation, which turns out to be an evolution of Workflow's existing hack based on Safari and web clips. The result is Home Screen Icon Creator, an advanced shortcut that lets you create custom home screen icons to launch apps, custom shortcuts from the Shortcuts app, or specific actions for any of your contacts; the shortcut can also generate icons with solid colors, which you can combine with matching wallpapers to create custom home screen layouts.
This shortcut is, by far, the most complex piece of iOS automation I've ever put together for MacStories, and I'm happy with the final product. It fully replicates a native Shortcuts feature while giving you the freedom to create icons and launchers for anything you want. There is no configuration necessary on the user's end: it'll take you 20 seconds to create your first custom icon, complete with onscreen instructions. Allow me, however, to offer more context on how this shortcut came to be, how it works behind the scenes, and what you can build with it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Drafts 5 was recently updated to version 5.4, which brings a host of new features. While there is support for iOS 12's Siri shortcuts and all that they have to offer, there are also other important features that have improved the app's capabilities significantly.
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.