I’ve been on a book reading binge this year like never before. That’s partly owing to the pandemic, I’m sure, but it’s also tied to reduced time spent reading articles and social media. In a normal year I read about a dozen books, and this year I’m on pace for five times that. As a result, it’s no surprise that one of my favorite app debuts of the year has been Book Track, from developer Simone Montalto.
Book Track launched at the beginning of the year as a promising 1.0, then followed with a big update mid-year that addressed my initial problems with the app and expanded its functionality in key ways. That update was a great setup for the launch of today’s version 2.0, which introduces support for some of the top features of iOS 14 and iPadOS 14: widgets and a new sidebar design. By getting the low-hanging fruit out of the way in previous updates, Montalto was able to keep Book Track current with all the latest OS technologies right from launch day. Not stopping there, however, he’s thrown in support for Shortcuts (the app) and keyboard shortcuts in today’s update too.
When I reviewed GoodLinks, I knew its unique combination of Shortcuts integration and custom in-app actions that rely on URL schemes had the potential to sit at the center of powerful, automated workflows. My hunch was correct.
When I tried GoodLinks for the first time, I began thinking of ways to integrate it into the research I do for MacStories and Club MacStories. Michael LaPorta’s thoughts, however, immediately turned to music.
LaPorta has built a ton of music-related shortcuts that you can find on his website. After reading my review of GoodLinks, he set out to create a shortcut to allow him to save music reviews and related reviews to read and listen to later. Here’s how LaPorta explains it:
So here’s the concept: GoodLinks can grab music reviews and store them to read or access later. When grabbing the music reviews you can customize the information associated with the review. You can use this customized info to also grab the album and add it to your Music library. Once you have the review (along with its customized info) saved in GoodLinks and the album saved in Music, you can use GoodLinks as a read-and-listen-to-it-later app that can be accessed via Shortcuts in a variety of contexts.
LaPorta didn’t stop there, though. He also added a way to handle upcoming releases and begin listening to an album from inside its review in GoodLinks using the app’s custom action builder.
One of my favorite podcast clients, Castro, debuted a big update today that adds a host of Siri commands and strong Shortcuts support.
There are now 30 requests you can make of Castro through Siri, which can access all the world’s open podcasts. We know it can be hard to remember them all, so we made a handy reference guide in Settings → Siri where you can find what you’re looking for to make your day a little easier.
Besides the wide extent of possible commands in Castro, what’s especially impressive is the guide referenced above: Castro’s team has built an excellent Siri Guide and a related in-app Shortcuts Gallery, both of which are accessible via settings and highlight simply and beautifully what all is possible with Siri and Shortcuts.
Castro’s Siri Guide and Shortcuts Gallery.
Discovery is one of the biggest challenges I’ve found with apps that support Siri and Shortcuts, as apps seldom make a list available of all supported voice commands and actions. With both Siri and Shortcuts, I’ve struggled in the past to find great podcast-related uses for these features, but Castro solved that problem for me.
On the Siri front, skipping chapters and managing my queue via voice works great. With Shortcuts, Castro offers some great pre-built shortcuts that do things like import your full Apple Podcasts library, clear all your queued episodes, subscribe to a new show even when you don’t have a proper Castro link, and more. While it’s always nice having the tools to build something custom, as someone who isn’t a heavy Shortcuts tinkerer I appreciate the work put in by Castro’s team to offer users extra functionality with minimal effort.
Whether you have hundreds of notes and are looking for a way to sift through them, or you want a quick way to create a note or add to an existing one, Shortcuts is a terrific solution. I have about 300 notes. That’s a lot, but I know people with many more. Between pinning and sorting by date modified, my notes are manageable, but often I find myself searching for a bit of information I stored away months ago. That’s why I want to kick off a pair of Shortcuts Rewind installments with two shortcuts to help you locate existing notes. In a future installment, I’ll tackle note creation.
Apple’s Notes app has built-in search, and its sorting is powerful, but with Find Notes (with Menu) and View Recent Notes, you can create a customized system that takes you to your most-used notes faster, regardless of whether you are working in the Notes app.
Aside from the utility of the shortcuts themselves, these two shortcuts are also an excellent way to dig into Shortcuts’ scripting actions. As I walk through each shortcut, you’ll see how picking from lists works and use a counting script action to tie a shortcut’s behavior to the number of items found. I’ll also briefly revisit If and Otherwise actions, a staple of many shortcuts.
Some of the new icons included in the latest MacStories Shortcuts Icons update.
I’m happy to announce that MacStories Shortcuts Icons, our custom icon set for adding shortcuts to the Home screen, has received a free update today that adds 50 new glyphs. With this second free update, the set has reached 400 unique glyphs available in four versions for a total of 1,600 icons included in the complete Bundle edition.
The update is now available, free for existing customers (just download the file again); for new customers, the update is part of the standard purchase for all editions of MacStories Shortcuts Icons: Bundle, Color, and Classic.
For those who may have missed it last year: MacStories Shortcuts Icons lets you customize the look of your shortcuts added to the Home screen by choosing from hundreds of glyphs designed specifically with Shortcuts users in mind, going beyond what’s provided by Apple in the Shortcuts app. The icons are available in two versions – Classic and Color – and a Bundle edition containing both (and discounted by 40% right now) is available as well.
I wish I could quote a single section of Jordan Merrick’s Shortcuts wishlist, but I can’t because I agree with all of it. If you’re a heavy Shortcuts user, you’ve likely come across at least a couple of the limitations Merrick points out (lack of folders and struggling to navigate long shortcuts).
At some point, I think everyone who manages their work and personal lives in a task manager runs into a clutter problem. With everything from reminders to move my laundry from the washer to the dryer to another to publish our latest MacStories project, it often feels like my list of tasks never gets shorter.
If you’ve ever experienced that feeling yourself, or just want a lightweight way to quickly manage your life, Due is a fantastic option that Federico and I have both covered since it first debuted in the earliest days of the App Store. What I like so much about Due is that by moving short-term, smaller tasks out of my main task manager to it, my primary task manager becomes more focused and easier to use. It’s also so simple to add reminders and timers to Due that I’m far more likely to use the app for ephemeral to-dos, reducing day-to-day mental overhead.
Due is a pro-user implementation of reminders and timers. The app has one of the best quick-entry UIs I’ve used in an app. Picking dates and times is a clunky, laborious process in most apps, but Due gets it right making it simple to add a date and time to a reminder with a combination of natural language recognition and a unique date and time grid.
With today’s release of version 20.5 of Due, the app adds updated Shortcuts support complete with actions with parameters, which I expect will make Due an integral component of many users’ shortcuts. The app’s numbering scheme changed earlier this year, too, jumping from version 3 to 20 to indicate the release year.
For this week’s installment of the Shortcuts Corner, I’ve prepared quite an assortment of miscellaneous shortcuts to share with MacStories readers and Club MacStories members (because I’ve been spending all my time at home due to the state of emergency in Italy, I’ve been reorganizing my entire Shortcuts library, among other things). Following this week’s launch of NetNewsWire for iPhone and iPad, I’ve adapted an existing shortcut to let you subscribe to feeds using the popular RSS client. I’ve also created shortcuts to reopen the watch later queue in the YouTube app, copy app links from the App Store, and copy a webpage selection from Safari as rich text.
Furthermore, exclusively for Club MacStories members, I’ve created an advanced shortcut to upload images to a remote FTP server and copy their public URLs to the clipboard. Let’s dig in.
For this installment of Shortcuts Rewind, I’m going to focus on date and calendar actions. I’ll also touch on some of the Shortcuts actions that Apple Maps offers and explain dictionaries.
I wanted to cover date and calendar actions early in the Shortcuts Rewind series because they’re the sort of actions that come in handy over and over in a wide variety of shortcuts. Plus, date-based shortcuts are useful to lots of people. After all, everyone deals with schedules and meetings to some degree.
With Shortcuts, dates become modifiable building blocks that go hand-in-hand with events that the app allows you to decouple from your calendar app and recombine in new ways. It’s a powerful pairing that, along with an understanding of dictionaries, can be extended to other contexts over and over.
You can download each of the three shortcuts I cover at the end of each section of this story or by visiting the MacStories Shortcuts Archive, where you’ll find these and over 200 other shortcuts. Once you download one of the shortcuts, opening it on an iPad side-by-side with this walkthrough is a terrific way to learn how each works. Another technique that is effective is to rebuild each shortcut from scratch yourself, as you follow along below.