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.
Over the past several years, Federico has built hundreds of shortcuts that are sprinkled throughout the stories he’s written. Last spring we debuted the MacStories Shortcuts Archive, a one-stop destination that collects all of those shortcuts organized by topic, so readers can find them easily.
There’s no better way to learn how to build your own shortcuts than by downloading someone else’s, which is what makes the Archive such a valuable resource to readers and one of MacStories’ most popular features. Still, it can be hard to pick up best practices and patterns or other tips and tricks from experimentation and tinkering.
That’s why today we are introducing a new series on MacStories called Shortcuts Rewind to add context to the shortcuts in the Archive. Periodically throughout the year, we will pick a few shortcuts from the Archive that we think would benefit from a further explanation, whether that’s to help new Shortcuts users learn the basics, to illustrate a particular technique that can be used across multiple shortcuts, or to automate a task that you might not have thought was possible.
Tying Shortcuts Rewind together is a new graphical approach to explaining shortcuts. As you’ll see, we’ve created a system that dispenses with distracting UI elements and breaks shortcuts into logical sets of actions. The approach allows us to simultaneously provide step-by-step instructions alongside commentary that we hope will help readers achieve a deeper understanding of Shortcuts and assist them in building their own automations.
Let’s get started.
For this first installment of Rewind, I wanted to start with a trio of relatively simple shortcuts that illustrate the power of Shortcuts’ ability to streamline the transformation of one type of content into another. All three shortcuts can be found in the Text section of the Shortcuts Archive, but there are also links to them below. The foundation of this process is the Content Graph, a core part of Shortcuts dating back to its origins as Workflow. The idea is a simple but powerful one that eliminates complexity for the user, handling much of the data compatibility and conversion chores behind the scenes with little or no effort on the part of the user.
At the heart of the three shortcuts discussed below are transformations between plain text, rich text, and URLs. Thanks to the Content Graph, Shortcuts has the flexibility to create powerful text and link handling functionality.
The Color set is a brand new version of MacStories Shortcuts Icons.
After working on this for months, I’m thrilled to announce the second product released under the MacStories Pixel brand: today we’re launching MacStories Shortcuts Icons (Color), a different version of our icon set that features multi-color glyphs and two background options.
Here’s the gist of today’s launch: MacStories Shortcuts Icons (Color) are a new, separate set available for $14.99 here. What makes the Color set different: while the Classic set comes with monochrome glyphs, the Color version features multi-color glyphs with white or pure black backgrounds.
Developed by Adam Tow, LaunchCuts is the latest entry in a series of meta-utilities designed to extend Apple’s Shortcuts app with new functionalities. Unlike Toolbox Pro and Pushcut, however, LaunchCuts is the most peculiar and niche I’ve tested insofar as it doesn’t provide Shortcuts with exclusive actions nor does it come with its own web service to deliver rich push notifications; instead, LaunchCuts’ sole purpose is to offer an alternative view for your shortcut library with folders and powerful search filters. If you have less than 20 shortcuts installed on your iPhone or iPad, you’re likely not going to get much benefit out of LaunchCuts’ advanced organizational tools; but if you’re like me and use hundreds of different shortcuts on a regular basis, and especially if your library has grown out of control over the past few years, you’re going to need the assistance of LaunchCuts to make sense of it all.
Like the aforementioned Shortcuts utilities, LaunchCuts was born of its developer’s frustration with the lack of folders in Shortcuts – a basic feature that is still bafflingly absent from the app in 2020. As I keep pointing out in my iOS reviews, I find Apple’s continuing reliance on a crude, one-level-deep grid for shortcuts perplexing at best – particularly when the app is so very clearly employed by professional users who want to accomplish more on their iPhones and iPads.
LaunchCuts was originally created by Tow as an advanced shortcut that let you tag and organize your shortcuts from within the Shortcuts app itself. I remember playing around with the original version of LaunchCuts and, although technically remarkable, I didn’t find much utility in it since it was limited by the UI constraints of Shortcuts; LaunchCuts was begging to become a fully-fledged app with a custom interface to take advantage of Tow’s original concept. Now that it’s a native app, LaunchCuts can fulfill Tow’s vision for taming cluttered and disorganized Shortcuts libraries in a way that wouldn’t have been possible as a shortcut – all while taking advantage of new features in iOS and iPadOS 13.
For the past several months, I’ve been working on a shortcut designed to be the ultimate assistant for Apple Music. Called MusicBot, the shortcut encompasses dozens of different features and aims to be an all-in-one assistant that helps you listen to music more quickly, generate intelligent mixes based on your tastes, rediscover music from your library, control playback on AirPlay 2 speakers, and much more. I poured hundreds of hours of work into MusicBot, which has gained a permanent spot on my Home screen. Best of all, MusicBot is available to everyone for free.
I’m a happy Apple Music subscriber, and I love the direction Apple has taken with the service: fewer exclusive deals, more human curation, artist spotlights, and playlists updated daily. However, I believe the Music app for iPhone and iPad leaves much to be desired in terms of navigation and fast access to your favorite music. While Music gets the job done as a gateway to a streaming catalog, I find its interactions somewhat slow when it comes to playing my favorite playlists on shuffle or getting to albums I frequently listen to. Some of Music’s most interesting mixes are only available by asking Siri; additionally, getting to certain sections of the app or tweaking specific settings often takes far too many taps for my taste.
I created MusicBot for two reasons: I wanted to speed up common interactions with the Music app by using custom actions in the Shortcuts app; and I also wanted to build a series of “utilities” for Apple Music that could be bundled in a single, all-in-one shortcut instead of dozens of smaller, standalone ones.
The result is, by far, the most complex shortcut I’ve ever ever created (MusicBot spans 750+ actions in the Shortcuts app), but that’s not the point. MusicBot matters to me because, as I’ve shared before, music plays an essential role in my life, and MusicBot lets me enjoy my music more. This is why I spent so much time working on MusicBot, and why I wanted to share it publicly with everyone for free: I genuinely believe MusicBot offers useful enhancements for the Apple Music experience on iOS and iPadOS, providing tools that can help you rediscover lost gems in your library or find your next music obsession.
Black Friday and Cyber Monday are nearly upon us, and we’ve prepared something truly special to celebrate the occasion at MacStories: starting today through Monday, December 2, MacStories Shortcuts Icons will be available at 50% off the regular price.
For those not familiar with MacStories Shortcuts Icons, they’re a set of 350 custom icons for shortcuts added to your iPhone and iPad Home screen. You can read more about them here. Designed specifically with Shortcuts users in mind, these icons expand upon the options provided by Apple in the Shortcuts app, bringing glyphs for task management, calendars and files, AirPlay, home automation, and lots more. With MacStories Shortcuts Icons, you’ll be able to personalize your iOS and iPadOS Home screen by pinning shortcuts whose icons are representative of their purpose. If you use the MacStories Shortcuts Archive on a regular basis, you’ll be happy to know that every shortcut from the archive is represented in MacStories Shortcuts Icons.
You can take a look at what MacStories Shortcuts Icons have enabled our Ryan to do with his iPad Home screen in this article. And you can take a look at my own iPad and iPhone Home screens below – both are based on MacStories Shortcuts Icons.
My Home screens, powered by MacStories Shortcuts Icons.
Both Silvia and I are incredibly humbled by the amazing response to MacStories Shortcuts Icons since we launched them in September. For this reason, we want to take Black Friday and Cyber Monday as an opportunity to let even more people enjoy the benefits of a Shortcuts-based Home screen powered by MacStories Shortcuts Icons.
MacStories Shortcuts Icons will be available at 50% off through Monday, December 2 at 11:59 PM Eastern. Once again, make sure to use promo code bficons19 at checkout for the deal to apply. You can purchase MacStories Shortcuts Icons here or by tapping the Buy button below.
The new year approaches, and with it arrive dreams of being a more productive you – which of course involves choosing the perfect task management system for your needs.
In a timely move, Moleskine’s elegant task manager, Actions, was updated today with a new Reminders import feature, so you can instantly migrate any or all of your Reminders lists and tasks into Actions. The update also supports two new iOS 13 features: shortcuts featuring parameters and context menus.
When I covered the updated Shortcuts app in my iOS and iPadOS 13 review earlier this year, I argued how, thanks to parameters, Shortcuts actions provided by third-party apps could become native features of the Shortcuts app.
With his debut app Toolbox Pro, released today on the App Store, developer Alex Hay has taken this idea to its logical conclusion: Toolbox Pro is a new kind of “headless” app – a utility whose sole purpose is to complement and extend Apple’s Shortcuts app with over 50 new actions, providing a native implementation of functionalities that Apple hasn’t brought to Shortcuts yet. After having used Toolbox Pro for the past couple of months, not only is the app a clever idea well suited for Shortcuts’ parameter framework, but it’s also a must-have for anyone who relies on Shortcuts on a daily basis.
Update, November 7: The shortcut has been updated with links to all currently announced Apple TV+ shows. You can find the updated download link below and in the MacStories Shortcuts Archive.
I was listening to the latest episode of Upgrade, and, among several fair points about the shortcomings of Apple’s TV app for iPhone and iPad, Jason Snell mentioned an issue that stood out to me: if you don’t know where to look, it can be hard to tell where exactly the Apple TV+ service lives inside the Apple TV app. This sentiment was echoed earlier today in this article by Benjamin Mayo at 9to5Mac:
Apple has made very few changes to the TV app design and feature set to accommodate the TV+ launch. TV+ is shoehorned in as just another source of content with very little consideration. With other streaming services, if you want to commit to their world and explore everything they have to offer, you can just open the dedicated app and never touch the TV app. With TV+, that’s simply not possible.
There is a channel section of the TV app that is dedicated to TV+ content — but it’s far from perfect. Finding the TV+ section requires a lot of scrolling, meandering past several screens worth of Watch Now recommendations for everything in the iTunes catalog.
I’ve been watching The Morning Show over the weekend (which I surprisingly liked a lot; I’m going to start For All Mankind and See next), and even though I’m used to the TV app’s quirks by now, I recognize that its navigation should be improved. And in particular regarding the new Apple TV+ service, I do believe that it’s somewhat buried in the TV app experience – by default, Apple doesn’t offer a single, easy way to open a “page” with Apple TV+’s complete catalog. So, I had to figure out a solution on my own.