For the past couple of years, I (and the rest of the MacStories team) have used Working Copy to store and collaborate on Markdown drafts for our articles. As I explained in a story from late 2016, even though Working Copy is a Git client primarily designed for programmers, it is possible to leverage the app's capabilities to perform version control for plain text too. Each MacStories team member has a private GitHub repository where we store Markdown files of our articles; in the same repository, other writers can make edits to drafts and commit them to GitHub; this way, the author can then pull back the edited file and use Working Copy's built-in diff tool to see what's changed from the last version of the file and read comments left by whoever edited the draft.
As I mentioned two years ago, this system takes a while to get used to: GitHub has a bit of overhead in terms of understanding the correct terminology for different aspects of its file management workflow, but Working Copy makes it easier by abstracting much of the complexity involved with committing files, pushing them, and comparing them. This system has never failed us in over two years, and it has saved us dozens of hours we would have otherwise spent exchanging revised versions of our drafts and finding changes in them. With Working Copy, we can use the text editors we each prefer and, as long as we overwrite the original copies of our drafts and keep track of commits, the app will take care of merging everything and displaying differences between versions. From a collaboration standpoint, using Working Copy and GitHub for file storage and version control has been one of the best decisions I made in recent years.
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.
HomeRun is a simple, elegant utility for triggering HomeKit scenes from your Apple Watch. Through a combination of color and iconography, HomeRun developer Aaron Pearce, who is the creator of other excellent HomeKit apps like HomeCam and HomePass, creates an effective solution for accessing HomeKit scenes from your wrist. It’s a user-friendly approach that’s a fantastic alternative for HomeKit device users frustrated by Apple’s Home app.
Apple’s Home app is hard to use on the Apple Watch. First, when you open Home on the Watch, it’s not clear what you’re seeing. Home presents a series of card-like, monochrome scene and accessory buttons that you scroll through one or two at a time. Although the app doesn’t say so, these are the favorite scenes and accessories from the Home tab of the iOS app. That makes the list customizable, which is nice, but the app should do a better job identifying where the user is in relationship to the iOS app.
Second, although you can rearrange your Home favorites to reorder them on the Watch too, you can only see two scenes or one accessory at a time. Depending on how many favorites you have, that limits the Watch app’s utility because a long list of scenes and accessories requires a lot of swiping or scrolling with the Digital Crown.
HomeRun avoids this by eliminating text and relying on color and iconography to distinguish between scenes. The app is also limited to triggering scenes, reducing potential clutter further. The approach allows HomeRun to display up to 12 scenes on a single screen of a 44mm Apple Watch compared to the two scene buttons that Home can display. If you set up more than 12 scenes, they are accessible by scrolling.
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.
Tweetbot 5 for iOS is out with a new look that more closely resembles the latest Mac version, which was redesigned in May. Tapbots has also added a handful of additional features, some of which mirror additions to the Mac version and others of which are unique to iOS.
With Game of Thrones on hiatus before its eighth and final season, fans can get their fix of their favorite characters and join in the intrigue with Reigns: Game of Thrones, which was developed by UK-based Nerial and published by Devolver Digital. The announcement of the game in August came as something of a surprise because it’s not often that a media company the size of HBO entrusts the characters and story behind one of its most popular shows to a small independent game studio. At the same time, however, the combination felt like a perfectly natural evolution of the Reigns series. Reigns: Game of Thrones, which was released today, doesn't disappoint.
BestPhotos, a photo management app from Chicago-based Windy Software that we’ve covered on Club MacStories before, was updated today with new features for quickly and efficiently organizing your photos. I take thousands of pictures each year and sometimes it feels like I take even more screenshots. Sifting through to find the best shots and discard old screenshots, duplicates, and just plain bad photos takes a lot of tapping and time in Apple’s Photos app. BestPhotos is a better solution that streamlines the whole process.
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.