Today following its Brooklyn keynote event, Apple released iOS 12.1, the first major update since September's iOS 12 brought Shortcuts, Screen Time, and more. Version 12.1 adds over 70 new emoji, introduces Group FaceTime with up to 32 participants, and lastly 2018's iPhones get upgrades via camera improvements and dual SIM support.
Posts tagged with "iOS 12"
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.
Since it was announced at WWDC over the summer, the lion’s share of conversation around shortcuts has been about getting things done quickly and efficiently. Apple’s marketing message focuses on how shortcuts in iOS 12 help “streamline the things you do often” using Siri and/or the Shortcuts app. The company also recently put out a press release highlighting top App Store apps that have integrated shortcuts to extend their functionality, touting them for “making [users'] favorite apps even easier to use with a simple tap or by asking Siri.”
While the convenience factor of shortcuts is appreciated, an important aspect to their utility is accessibility. It’s a crucial aspect of the story around shortcuts, because while everyone loves a time-saver or two, these workflows also have the potential to make iPhone and iPad more accessible. In an accessibility context, shortcuts can be lifesavers in terms of reducing cognitive load, excessive swiping and tapping, and other common points of friction often met by disabled users.
Shortcuts, Past and Present
Before considering shortcuts as an accessibility tool, it’s important to understand their roots in order to properly frame them into perspective. The idea that shortcuts, or workflows, can prove valuable as an assistive technology isn’t a novel one.
Workflow, on which the Shortcuts app is based, was acquired by Apple in early 2017. Two years earlier, however, Apple selected Workflow as an Apple Design Award winner primarily for its integration of iOS accessibility features. Ari Weinstein, who joined Apple to work on Shortcuts post-acquisition, told me in an interview at WWDC 2015 that he and his team received feedback from several blind and visually impaired users who were curious about Workflow and wanted to try it. As a result, the team felt adding VoiceOver support was “the right thing to do,” Weinstein said.
To paraphrase Kendrick Lamar, Shortcuts got accessibility in its DNA.
Given the history lesson, it’s not at all far-fetched to think the Shortcuts app would have appeal to disabled users. Like Overcast and Twitterrific, Shortcuts is an app built for the mainstream, yet it has the care and design sensibility to carry relevance for a variety of use cases, like being fully accessible to a blind user via VoiceOver. This isn’t small potatoes; given Apple’s commitment to the disabled community, it’s certainly plausible Workflow’s ode to accessibility made the app all the more desirable.
More Than Just Productivity
As I reported during WWDC, Apple’s focus this year, software-wise, marked a departure from how they’ve traditionally approached accessibility enhancements. Unlike past years, there were no new discrete accessibility features for any platform. (AirPods with Live Listen is close). Instead, Apple chose to hammer on the idea that the tentpole features (e.g. Group FaceTime in iOS 12, Walkie-Talkie in watchOS 5) can be enabling technologies. The overarching theme of the conference was that the new features were so well designed that they brought inherent accessibility gains.
Siri shortcuts is another of those features. In my briefings with Apple at WWDC and since, shortcuts has been one of the first items they wanted to discuss. Like Group FaceTime and others, the company firmly believes in shortcuts' potential as an accessibility aid. Their enthusiasm is warranted: for many users with certain cognitive and/or physical motor delays, the consolidation of tasks can reduce friction associated with remembering how to perform a task and then doing it. In this way, shortcuts are the inverse of task analyses; rather than extrapolating tasks into their individual parts (e.g. tapping a series of buttons in an app), the Shortcuts app's automation turns them into a single step. (You break down steps when creating your own workflows, but that’s beside the point being made here.) Lest we forget about Siri; being able to use your voice to activate shortcuts is a boon for people with motor delays, as the “hands free” experience can be empowering.
For disabled people, shortcuts’ focus on speed and accessibility can open up new possibilities in terms of what they can do with their iOS devices and how they do things. Throw in system accessibility features like VoiceOver and Dynamic Type, and the Shortcuts app becomes far more compelling than simply being a sheer productivity tool.
”We see huge accessibility potential with Siri Shortcuts and the Shortcuts app. It’s already making a difference — helping people across a wide range of assistive needs simplify every-day tasks like getting to work, coming home, or staying in touch with friends and family,” Sarah Herrlinger, Apple’s Senior Director of Global Accessibility Policy & Initiatives, said in a statement. “We’re getting great feedback about how powerful the technology is in streamlining frequent tasks and integrating multiple app functions with just a single voice command or tap.”
How I Use Shortcuts
I am far less prolific in my adoption of shortcuts than some people. Others, like Federico and Matthew Cassinelli, are far more well-versed in the intricacies of what is possible and, more importantly, how you chain certain commands together.
My needs for shortcuts are pretty spartan. The shortcuts I use most often are practical, everyday ones I found in the Gallery section of the app. I currently have thirteen shortcuts; of those, the ones that are the most heavily-used are the laundry timer, tip calculator, and one for texting my girlfriend. While I have enjoyed spelunking through Federico’s work for esoteric, power user shortcuts, the reality is my work doesn’t require much automation. I typically don’t need to do fancy things with images, text, and the like. That isn’t to say these tools aren’t cool or valuable; they’re just not necessarily for me. For my needs, quick access to, say, the laundry timer is worth its weight in gold because I always forget to move my clothes.
Consider another shortcut of mine, Play an Album. I’ve been listening to Eminem’s new album, Kamikaze, virtually non-stop since it came out at the end of August. Rather than manually launch the Music app, find the album in my recently played queue, and hit play, I can utilize the Shortcuts widget to play it with a single tap. The manual method is three steps which, while not tedious for me in any way, is more work. Going back to the task analysis analogy I used earlier, not only is Play an Album faster, it particularly helps me conserve precious visual energy I otherwise would have expended finding the album. For fine-motor skills, the shortcut also saves on potential cramping in my fingers caused by my cerebral palsy. Again, what can take multiple taps can be condensed into a single motion. For many, that’s a huge win.
The same concept applies to sending iMessages to my girlfriend. Using the shortcut, what would normally be a multi-step process is reduced to a single step. The advantage for me is a matter of kinetics, but for others, the advantage very well could reduce cognitive load and increase executive function. Not insignificant.
The Bottom Line
As is the case with stuff like Markdown and Apple Pay, technologies not built expressly for accessibility’s sake, the Shortcuts app is so well considered and approachable that anyone can use it, regardless of ability. There are no complicated settings or special modes; as Apple designed it, it just works as they intended it.
That’s what makes Shortcuts’ star shine brighter. Yes, Apple is pitching it for speed and convenience. Yes, shortcuts can be as pedestrian or as nerdy as you want them to be. Above all, however, the Shortcuts app is accessible. It's an app that's reachable to the widest possible audience, turning its utilitarianism into something far greater.
In my iOS 12 review from last month, here’s what I wrote about iOS 11’s slow adoption rate as it related to its performance:
While iOS 11 may go down in Apple software history as the touchstone of the iPad's maturity, it will also be remembered as one of the company's most taxing releases for its users. You don't have to look far into the iOS 11 cycle for headlines lamenting its poor stability on older hardware, plethora of design inconsistencies (which were noted time and time again), and general sense of sluggishness – issues that may have contributed to a slower adoption rate than 2016's iOS 10.
With iOS 12, Apple wants to rectify iOS' performance woes, proving to their customers that iOS updates should never induce digital regret.
It sounds like at least part of Apple’s plan to focus on performance to entice upgrades to iOS 12 is working. Here’s Benjamin Mayo, writing for 9to5Mac last week:
Apple launched iOS 12 with much fanfare earlier this month but early adoption appeared sluggish. However, in the following weeks, iOS 12 adoption has actually outpaced iOS 11 now, according to data from Mixpanel.
iOS 12 is now installed on more than 50% of active iPhones, iPads and iPod touch devices. It took iOS 11 a month to reach this milestone; iOS 12 has achieved it in under twenty days.
The numbers have since been confirmed by Apple on its Developer site.
Anecdotally speaking, I’ve yet to hear of any friends or family members who updated to iOS 12 and regretted it. It’s almost as if Apple was able to somewhat slow down and ship a higher-quality iOS release that more users can enjoy and recommend to others. Or maybe it’s just the Memoji.
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.
Fantastical was updated last week to version 2.10, which brought support for some of the key features of iOS 12 and watchOS 5 – namely Siri shortcuts and complications for the Infograph watch faces. I want to highlight some of the changes in this release and how they fit my usage of Reminders as my main task management system.
Apple has released iOS 12.0.1, which fixes several bugs that affected users after upgrading to iOS 12.
One of the highest profile issues affected the iPhone XS, which sometimes failed to begin charging when connected to a Lightning cable. Other users reported that after the iOS 12 update, their iPhones would connect to WiFi networks at 2.4 GHz instead of 5.0 GHz even when both were available. Apple's release notes say both issues have been fixed. The update also addresses a Bluetooth connectivity issue and a problem where subtitles sometimes didn’t appear in video apps.
iOS 12.0.1 includes a small design change on the iPad too. With the iOS 12 update, the ‘.?123’ key was moved. With version 12.0.1, that key has been restored to its previous position on the software keyboard.
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.
Apple has announced that later this fall, it will release more than 70 new emoji. The emoji, which will be released when iOS 12.1 is shipped, will be included on the Mac and Apple Watch too.
The new glyphs, which are based on the characters approved by the Unicode Consortium as part of Unicode 11.0, include a wide variety of themes. For people, there are new options for gray, red, and curly hair, and for bald people. The new set of emoji also includes new foods, animals, sports, and other activities like travel.
Among the animals added are a raccoon, kangaroo, lobster, swan, parrot, peacock, and llama. Foods include leafy greens, a cupcake, a bagel, moon cake, mango, and salt. Sports have added a softball, frisbee, lacrosse stick and ball, and skateboard. There are new emotive smiley faces too.
Looking to next year, Apple says that for Unicode 12.0, which will be the basis for emoji released in 2019, it is working with the Unicode Consortium to add disability-themed emoji. Although the emoji announced today will be officially released until later this fall, you can try them now as part of the iOS 12.1 beta and public preview released today.