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.
Like all Apple products, macOS is an accessible platform. Blind and low vision users can navigate their Mac using VoiceOver, while someone who has physical motor delays can use Switch Control to edit videos in Final Cut. And under the Accessibility pane in System Preferences, there is a multitude of other features one can use, ranging from Zoom to Invert Colors to closed-captioning and more. Whatever your need, the breadth and depth of Apple’s accessibility software spans many domains. This is why Apple is lauded as the industry leader in accessibility: the tools run deep and they’re well-designed.
Still, accessibility on macOS doesn’t quite reach feature parity with iOS. Amidst rumors that Apple is working on a cross-platform set of APIs to bridge the company’s two primary operating systems, now is an opportune time to consider what each platform does and what they offer one another.
In the context of accessibility, the way Apple brings consistency between iOS and macOS is by sharing features and technologies among the two. As such, there are some iOS-first features macOS sorely needs, while the Mac offers things iOS would benefit from as well. Such enhancements would not only improve the user experience across devices, but also would make iOS and Mac software richer, fuller products overall. And most importantly, more accessible.
Benjamin Mayo on the state of iconography in Apple’s built-in iOS apps:
My gripe is there is no consistency, no structure or logic to this. Apps introduced later sometimes use rounded icons, sometimes not, sometimes create all-new custom glyphs of their own. Incredulously, you could open flagship apps like Messages, Mail and Safari and have no idea Apple was even playing with bold icons as a conceptual change. These apps adopted the iOS 11 large bold navigation bar title formats, but their icons and glyphs have stagnated for more than four years at this point.
Mayo uses eight examples of Apple’s action icon to emphasize the design inconsistencies.
Since iOS 7, each revision of iOS has felt like a tentative design experiment, with icons in a handful of apps moving in different directions. The trouble is, Apple doesn’t seem to have settled on a clear winner among the several options tested, which has begun to make the UI feel directionless. Although rumors seem to indicate that a design refresh of iOS is at least another year off, I hope we’ll start to see indications of where iOS design is going this year at WWDC.
Bear debuted in 2016. That’s given users plenty of time to accumulate large collections of notes, which has made managing them more difficult. With Bear 1.5, Shiny Frog takes note management head-on with an update that significantly improves the way users interact with their note libraries.
The first thing you will notice when you set up 1Blocker X on an iOS device is its 7 toggles in Safari’s Content Blocker section of the Settings app. It’s a bit of a head-scratcher at first until you realize that this is what allows 1Blocker X to expand beyond the confines of its predecessor.
You see, iOS limits the number of blocking rules that can be implemented by an app to 50,000. That’s a lot of rules, but sadly not enough given the amount of junk on the Internet these days. As a result, it’s a limit that 1Blocker began to run into not long after it launched in 2015.
Finding a way around that hard limit required a rewrite of 1Blocker from the ground up. The result is 1Blocker X, an app with around three times as many blocking rules, room to grow, and enhanced flexibility for applying those rules.
Last month I covered the return of Sunlit, the iOS photo blogging app from Manton Reece that works with Micro.blog and blogging platforms like WordPress. Reece is back with another iOS app that’s aimed at bringing microcasting, which is short-form podcasting, to Micro.blog. Wavelength is an end-to-end solution for recording, editing, and publishing audio using nothing but an iPhone. It’s an interesting approach to podcasting designed to lower the barriers to entry by simplifying the workflow, while also creating new uses for Micro.blog.
Peter Wells has an interesting story in The Sydney Morning Herald about the much-rumored merger of Macs and iOS devices. Wells interviewed Apple CEO Tim Cook at the education event that was held late last month in Chicago. During the conversation, Wells asked Cook about Microsoft’s convertible Windows 10 strategy and how it compared to Apple’s approach to OSes. Cook responded:
“We don't believe in sort of watering down one for the other. Both [The Mac and iPad] are incredible. One of the reasons that both of them are incredible is because we pushed them to do what they do well. And if you begin to merge the two ... you begin to make trade offs and compromises.
”So maybe the company would be more efficient at the end of the day. But that's not what it's about. You know it's about giving people things that they can then use to help them change the world or express their passion or express their creativity. So this merger thing that some folks are fixated on, I don't think that's what users want."
Especially since Mark Gurman of Bloomberg reported on rumors of an Apple initiative codenamed Project Marzipan designed to bring aspects of iOS to the Mac, there has been speculation about whether it might be the first step in an eventual merger of the two operating systems. Although Cook’s comments are interesting in the context of the rumors that have circulated, he was asked about Microsoft’s Windows 10 strategy, not Apple’s plans for its platforms. I think it’s safe to say that Cook believes iOS devices and Macs are good for different tasks, which suggests that the Mac’s form factor isn’t at imminent risk, but I don’t think you can draw any conclusions from his comments about the chipsets or operating system that may drive Macs in the future.
Dieter Bohn at The Verge has some fantastic observations about notifications on Android and iOS, concluding that the iPhone’s notification system needs to be reworked. Bohn believes both OSes offer too many ways to tweak notifications, but he sees a broader issue with iOS in particular:
On both of those platforms, the question isn’t (or isn’t just) whether or not there are too many options. It’s whether or not the end state of those options are any good. The difference, I’ve found, is that Android has a way of doing things that make notifications more “humane” than what’s possible on the iPhone.
In his video and accompanying article, Bohn points to a handful of critical areas where Android does a better job with notifications than iOS:
- Notifications can be set to appear silently in Android’s notification tray and on the lock screen.
- Text messages and other notifications from actual people are prioritized.
- Similar notifications are grouped so they’re only a couple of lines long and can be dismissed together.
- Users can jump to an app’s notification settings from the notification itself.
Of those features, I agree with Bohn that adding the ability to jump directly to an app’s notification settings from the notification itself would go a long way on iOS. As Federico and I discussed recently on AppStories, periodically evaluating and adjusting notifications is essential to avoiding notification overload on iOS, but it’s also something that becomes a project because it requires a lot of hunting and tapping. With a system like Android’s, I can imagine making fine-tuned adjustments to notifications more frequently because doing so would be less likely to disrupt what I was doing when I’m interrupted.
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.