This Changes Everything!

Siri Shortcuts could be the answer to fully automating my workflow.

iOS 13 and iPadOS are fantastic updates. They immediately made my devices quicker and of course, dark mode is a dream. I am pleasantly distracted by Apple Arcade which offers a wide variety of gaming at about R75 ($4.99) a month. I even bought a recently made compatible, Sony PlayStation DualShock controller to enjoy the games, and it’s awesome.

But amidst all these distractions, lies what to me is the most important part of this particular update. Shortcuts is a way of combining a number of clicks you may need to do to complete a task, in one click. This makes your life a little simpler than continuously repeating the same tasks. I’m a programmer, so I look for every opportunity to automate things.

Workflow was the brilliant app which eventually became Shortcuts when Apple acquired the company.

I knew Shortcuts was important even when it was called Workflow and was not yet acquired by Apple for an undisclosed sum. I had downloaded and paid for the app and even attempted using it for some simple routines.

The most often used one was the tip calculator. My tipping has never been fairer because of it. Yet, I struggled. Programmer and all, figuring out how to make that technology work for me was difficult and I finally gave up. I kept the app out of guilt but it got mostly ignored in my productivity folder.

Apple aquires Workflow

So, when Apple announced that it had acquired Workflow; which they renamed to Shortcuts; I was redeemed. They would offer it for free and Shortcuts would work with Siri offering suggestions based on your activities.

I started using some of the default shortcuts, the tip calculator amongst them, and all was right with my world. The app found a place in the very limited four-place dock on my iPhone and lives there still.

An app has to be really important to find a place on anyone’s iPhone dock.

Yet, something felt missing. It seemed like I had a very powerful tool just laying there. Surely it could do more. I subscribed to Christopher Lawley’s, The Untitled Site and promised myself I’d watch his shortcuts videos someday. Christopher is a YouTuber and podcaster who uses his iPad Pro for all his work and I was interested to see how Shortcuts helped increase his productivity.

So what made iOS 13 different? Why did I finally get really into Shortcuts? Well to start with, the app came loaded on the new iOS 13 as a default app. Which means that Apple really wants people to experience it. And I noticed it. And then finally took the leap.

The Shortcuts User Guide on Apple’s Support website.

Learning Shortcuts

That leap came in the form of watching an hour-long YouTube stream by Matthew Cassinelli. I had subscribed to his channel after watching some of Christopher Lawley’s videos. Christopher recommended learning Shortcuts from Matthew because he had worked on the workflow team and subsequently for Apple when they bought the company. This obviously makes Matthew an expert, but it was nice to learn that he is not a software engineer. I feel that this makes his approach to using Shortcuts seem more doable.

Matthew has since left Apple but he still loves using shortcuts and his passion comes across in his videos. He also has a very relaxed demeanor and explains things very well. Add this to the fact that the shortcuts app has been redesigned to make it easier for the average consumer to understand, and you have a sure-fire way to success.

ChemCal and student numbers

The first useful shortcuts I made this week was Student Numbers and ChemCalc. With Student Numbers, I can find out the total number of students for a particular course. I can choose the course by picking it from a menu. When the shortcut is accessed via voice using Siri, the virtual assistant will then read the menu options for me.

This video demonstrates my first implementation of ChemCal which is a subset of ChemCount.

With the ChemCalc shortcut I want to know volume of a chemical I need to prepare by giving in order; the dispense volume (in milliliters), the number of students, the group size and scaling factor. This then gives the calculated volume I ought to prepare. These shortcuts are great because I can use Siri and thus not have to handle my phone in the laboratory.

It is however not foolproof, as voice inputs can be misinterpreted leading to nonsensical output. I want to read the Shortcuts guide and see if I can find a workaround for this. It may mean constructing a longer shortcut in order to ensure data integrity.

All in all, I think learning more about shortcuts will definitely improve my productivity at work and at home, as it can be used in conjunction with many apps I already possess. Also, I love putting the actions together and figuring out the logic. I think this will really bring introductory programming to many people and hopefully, something similar will be on most phones in the future.


Picture Credits:

The featured image is the Shortcuts app icon which is owned by Apple.

The Workflow screenshot is from the site which now redirects your to download the Shortcuts app on iOS 13.

The Shortcuts screenshot is from Apple’s Shortcuts Guide for iOS. I have given the link above in the second last paragraph of the main post.

All other pictures or videos are from my devices.