The malevolent weather app CARROT Weather was updated this week to add support for the new capabilities provided by iOS 13 and the forthcoming iPadOS update. This latest version enables more powerful automations in the Shortcuts app, integration with the system dark mode, multiwindow support on iPad, and a fully independent watchOS 6 app. It’s the same CARROT app, but supercharged with all the new possibilities Apple just introduced for its software platforms.
Posts tagged with "shortcuts"
The average life cycle of an app typically consists of two phases: the app’s early days often bring a host of significant updates as it strives toward feature maturity; however, once that level of maturity is achieved, the updates become more iterative and unsurprising, largely aimed at keeping pace with new OS technologies. LookUp 6 defies that normal pattern. The sixth major version of the excellent iOS dictionary app weds two important themes: adopting all the relevant functionality enabled by Apple’s latest OS releases, while simultaneously adding substantial features like quizzes, translation, full navigation via keyboard, and more. Despite how modern and feature-rich LookUp already was, version 6 sets the app on even stronger footing at the dawn of Apple’s latest software releases.
Last year when Siri shortcuts debuted on iOS 12, developer James Thomson added one of the first and best implementations for creating custom shortcuts with his calculator app PCalc. However, iOS 12 required PCalc to rely on the system clipboard as a means of passing inputs to calculations and then outputting the results, which added complexity to shortcuts that used PCalc actions. iOS and iPadOS 13 free PCalc of that constraint, and with the addition of parameter support and the conversational Siri shortcuts coming in iOS and iPadOS 13.1, PCalc’s automation features are vastly more powerful.
Federico’s review of PCalc 3.8 featured a shortcut called PCalc Currencies, which is a terrific example of what a PCalc-based shortcut looked like in iOS 12. The shortcut coverts Euros to US Dollars and British Pounds. The first step is to pass the number of Euros to the shortcut from the system clipboard and then create a variable to store that value. Next, the shortcut uses PCalc’s conversion action to calculate the US Dollar equivalent, store it in a separate variable, and then do the same for pounds. The final step displays the results using each of the three currency variables. In total, the shortcut uses twelve actions, many of which involve moving data on and off the clipboard.
With PCalc’s new Shortcuts actions, we can reduce the number of actions from twelve to just four. It’s a fantastic demonstration of the power that iOS and iPadOS 13 add to third-party shortcut actions and the reduction in complexity that can be achieved with even a relatively simple shortcut. Okay, let’s update Federico’s shortcut.
This fall when iPadOS 13 launches, it will bring an updated Home screen that incorporates pinned widgets and a denser arrangement of apps. The changes aren’t as revolutionary as iPad power users may have hoped when they heard whispers of a redesigned Home screen, but they’re a start. While the addition of widgets is valuable in its own right, in my beta testing of iPadOS I’ve also discovered a lot of potential for the larger set of icons the Home screen can now hold – particularly when combined with a new feature just added to Launch Center Pro.
Debuting today, Launch Center Pro 3.1 centers around a major upgrade to the app’s icon composer that provides countless options for creating custom icons. While the use cases for this icon creation tool are vast, I was intrigued by one specific possibility: designing icons that could be exported as image files and used by Apple’s Shortcuts app when adding shortcuts to the Home screen, since Shortcuts allows choosing custom images for Home screen shortcuts. Combined with several key OS changes, and the icon creation tool in Launch Center Pro, it’s a better time than ever to add shortcuts to your iPad or iPhone Home screen.
On last week’s episode of Adapt I shared that automation for running shortcuts was one of my top two feature requests for iOS 13. And despite the Shortcuts app not receiving much stage time during the WWDC keynote, Apple has officially granted my wish in a big way.
The Shortcuts app in iOS 13 has a new Automation tab, in which you can configure shortcuts that automatically run based on a wide variety of triggers. Currently, certain automation actions require sending a notification first when the trigger is activated, and that alert contains the option to run the shortcut; other actions, however, include a toggle that determines whether the automation runs automatically in the background, or if you’d prefer an alert instead.
Here is the full list of current automation triggers in iOS 13 beta 1:
For the past seven years, I’ve considered the iPad my main computer. Not my only one, and not the most powerful one I own, but the computer which I use and enjoy using the most.
I’ve told this story on various occasions before, but it’s worth mentioning for context once again. My iPad journey began in 2012 when I was undergoing cancer treatments. In the first half of the year, right after my diagnosis, I was constantly moving between hospitals to talk to different doctors and understand the best strategies for my initial round of treatments. Those chemo treatments, it turned out, often made me too tired to get any work done. I wanted to continue working for MacStories because it was a healthy distraction that kept my brain busy, but my MacBook Air was uncomfortable to carry around and I couldn’t use it in my car as it lacked a cellular connection. By contrast, the iPad was light, it featured built-in 3G, and it allowed me to stay in touch with the MacStories team from anywhere, at any time with the comfort of a large, beautiful Retina display.
The tipping point came when I had to be hospitalized for three consecutive weeks to undergo aggressive chemo treatments; in that period of time, I concluded that the extreme portability and freedom granted by the iPad had become essential for me. I started exploring the idea of using the iPad as my primary computer (see this story for more details); if anything were to ever happen to me again that prevented being at my desk in my home office, I wanted to be prepared. That meant embracing iOS, iPad apps, and a different way of working on a daily basis.
I realized when writing this story that I’ve been running MacStories from my iPad for longer than I ever ran it from a Mac. The website turned 10 last month, and I’ve managed it almost exclusively from an iPad for seven of those years. And yet, I feel like I’m still adapting to the iPad lifestyle myself – I’m still figuring out the best approaches and forcing myself to be creative in working around the limitations of iOS.
On one hand, some may see this as an indictment of Apple’s slow evolution of the iPad platform, with biennial tablet-focused iOS releases that have left long-standing issues still yet to be fixed. And they’re not wrong: I love working from my iPad, but I recognize how some aspects of its software are still severely lagging behind macOS. On the other hand, I won’t lie: I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of “figuring out the iPad” and pushing myself to be creative and productive in a more constrained environment.
In addition to discovering new apps I could cover on MacStories, rethinking how I could work on the iPad provided me with a mental framework that I likely wouldn’t have developed on a traditional desktop computer. If I was in a hospital bed and couldn’t use a Mac, that meant someone else from the MacStories team had to complete a specific, Mac-only task. In a way, the limitations of the iPad taught me the importance of delegation – a lesson I was forced into. As a result, for the first couple of years, the constrained nature of the iPad helped me be more creative and focused on my writing; before the days of Split View and drag and drop, the iPad was the ideal device to concentrate on one task at a time.
Over the following couple of years, I learned how to navigate the iPad’s limitations and started optimizing them to get more work done on the device (I was also cancer-free, which obviously helped). This is when I came across the iOS automation scene with apps such as Pythonista, Editorial, Drafts, and eventually Workflow. Those apps, despite the oft-unreliable nature of their workarounds, enabled me to push iOS and the iPad further than what Apple had perhaps envisioned for the device at the time; in hindsight, building hundreds of automations for Workflow prepared me for the bold, more powerful future of Shortcuts. Automation isn’t supposed to replace core functionality of an operating system; normally, it should be an enhancement on the side, an addition for users who seek the extra speed and flexibility it provides. Yet years ago, those automation apps were the only way to accomplish more serious work on the iPad. I’m glad I learned how to use them because, at the end of the day, they allowed me to get work done – even though it wasn’t the easiest or most obvious path.
When Apple announced the iPad Pro in 2015, it felt like a vindication of the idea that, for lots of iOS users – myself included – it was indeed possible to treat the iPad as a laptop replacement. And even though not much has changed (yet?) since 2017’s iOS 11 in terms of what the iPad Pro’s software can do, the modern iPad app ecosystem is vastly different from the early days of the iPad 3 and iOS 5, and that’s all thanks to the iPad Pro and Apple’s push for pro apps and a financially-viable App Store.
We now have professional apps such as Ulysses, Agenda, Things, Keep It, and iA Writer, which, in most cases, boast feature parity with their Mac counterparts; we have examples of iOS-only pro tools like Pixelmator Photo, LumaFusion, Shortcuts, and Working Copy, which are ushering us into a new era of mobile productivity; and both from a pure iPad-hardware and accessory standpoint, we have more choice than ever thanks to a larger, more inclusive iPad lineup, remarkable Pro hardware, and solid options to extend the iPad via keyboards, USB-C accessories, and more.
Seven years after I started (slowly) replacing my MacBook Air with an iPad, my life is different, but one principle still holds true: I never want to find myself forced to work on a computer that’s only effective at home, that can’t be held in my hands, or that can’t be customized for different setups. For this reason, the iPad Pro is the best computer for the kind of lifestyle I want.
However, the iPad is not perfect. And so in the spirit of offering one final update before WWDC and the massive release for iPad that iOS 13 will likely be, I thought I’d summarize seven years of daily iPad usage in one article that details how I work from the device and how I’d like the iPad platform to improve in the future.
In this story, I will explore four different major areas of working on the iPad using iOS 12 system features, third-party apps, and accessories. I’ll describe how I optimized each area to my needs, explain the solutions I implemented to work around the iPad’s software limitations, and argue how those workarounds shouldn’t be necessary anymore as the iPad approaches its tenth anniversary.
Consider this my iPad Manifesto, right on the cusp of WWDC. Let’s dive in.
Shortcuts 2.2, the second major update to Apple’s automation app following October’s 2.1 release, has been released on the App Store today. The new version of Shortcuts, which has been available to developers for testing via TestFlight for several weeks now, brings a variety of smaller refinements and bug fixes; more importantly, it extends Shortcuts’ integration with one of Apple’s most popular built-in apps: Notes. Additionally, Shortcuts 2.2 builds upon the existing ‘Get Travel Time’ action (based on the Apple Maps framework) with new Magic Variables well suited for shortcuts that integrate with Siri.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been building advanced shortcuts that take advantage of the new actions for Notes and Maps, which I’m going to explain and share in this article. The new shortcuts are also available through the MacStories Shortcuts Archive, which now features a dedicated Apple Notes section as well. Let’s dive in.
Like the best origin stories, this article comes from humble beginnings. A few weeks ago, I had the idea of adapting my shortcut to save webpage selections from Safari (see Weekly 151, 152, and 153) to make it work with Keep It rather than a JSON file. Simple enough, right? Given a text selection in Safari, I wanted to see if I could create a shortcut to append rich text to an existing document in Keep It without launching the app.
As Club MacStories members know, Keep It is the app I’ve been using for the past several months to hold my research material, which played an essential role in the making of my iOS 12 review (see Issues 135 and 144) of MacStories Weekly). But then I remembered that Keep It’s integration with Shortcuts was limited to URL schemes and that the app did not offer Siri shortcuts to append content to existing notes1. That was the beginning of a note-taking vision quest that culminated in this column, even though I’m not sure I reached the destination I was originally seeking.
After several months of work, I’m pleased to announce the MacStories Shortcuts Archive – the official repository for shortcuts I’ve created over the years (including when they used to be called “workflows”) and which have been updated, tested for the Shortcuts app, and collected in a single place.
You can find the archive at macstories.net/shortcuts. In this first version, the archive contains 150 shortcuts, but more will be posted over time. Each shortcut was created and tested by me and the MacStories team; all of them have been categorized, updated for the Shortcuts app, and marked up with inline comments to explain what they do.
Even better, they’re all free to download and you can modify them to suit your needs.