iOS 12 is a more subdued update than many we have seen over the years, with most of the changes being subtle and the improvements under the hood and out of sight. Because it is decoupled from the OS itself, it is easy to overlook just how big a shift in philosophy that Shortcuts represents for Apple’s mobile OS. When you think about how guarded they typically are with iOS and its user experience, allowing users this much access under the hood and behind the scenes is a really big deal.
There is no shortage of articles about different things you can do with Shortcuts and how to get started. However, one area that I think hasn’t been emphasized enough is the power they can give users to bypass Apple’s default apps. Even as Apple has opened up and added more power and flexibility to iOS, with features like true multitasking and app extensibility, users still don’t have the ability to choose preferred systems apps, such as the browser, email, calendar, and contacts. Even mapping and music are still locked to Apple’s house brand, and probably always will be.
For those who want to bypass these apps, Shortcuts finally opens the door to make it happen. To be clear, this is more potential than reality today, as only a few alternative options are supported at this time. However, if developers get on board (and I absolutely believe that they will), then we will be able to perform pretty much any task imaginable in the app of our choice.
If you want to try this out today, mapping alternatives are already supported. I have already created a few examples that let me choose my mapping program for different requests, based on what I am doing. First off, I have a Shortcut to give me directions to my next events:
I am pulling my next 5 events, and have filtered out a few Calendars that I don’t need.
Using the Show Directions element, Apple actually gives us the ability to choose our mapping software. In this case, I picked Google Maps because it reads address fields better and has good traffic monitoring. When I run this Shortcut and choose my event, Google Maps opens right up, and I have my route. It’s fast and easy.
Next up, I have a Shortcut for Work and Home directions. I use this pretty much every day to scope out traffic, accidents, and construction before I head to work or back home.
As you can see here, this one is a little different. Shortcuts also gives me the option to choose my mapping app as part of the request. I really appreciate this flexibility, because I like to use different apps at different times.
As you can see here, I can select between Maps, Google Maps, and Waze when I run this Shortcut.
I actually prefer the interface and look of Maps, so if I don’t think there will be crazy traffic or construction, I’ll use it. If I am headed home at rush hour, or if I know there will be traffic or construction, I’ll use either Google Maps or Waze. If I see traffic up ahead, I will switch to Waze and use it to find out what’s up. What I really like is the built-in flexibility to choose and go. I don’t have to set up three different Shortcuts. I don’t have to go back and edit. It works like I want it to work.
Last up, I have a Shortcut set up for voice dictation of a location for use while I’m driving.
Sure, I could just do this with Siri. However, this doesn’t rely on Siri parsing the query, and it also isn’t locked to using Maps. As long as the voice dictation is close (and I have better success with that than full queries and questions to Siri), then you can bypass Siri and send the request to Google instead. Add a voice trigger to make this a Siri Shortcut, and you have just redirected Siri to allow you to send voice searches to Google Maps. Power users have been BEGGING for this capability for years. Now we have it.
The key here is for developers to bake Shortcuts compatibility into their apps going forward. Some have already jumped on board, as I am already able to use a Siri Shortcut to voice dictate a Trello card to a specific project, and then choose the list it will land in inside of that project. I can’t tell you how hand that is when I remember something that I need to note while I am driving or out and about.
Several other power apps like Drafts and the Omni apps are already supported. As other developer come on board, we will eventually be able to do things like send voice queries directly to Chrome or Firefox for a web search, fire off emails by voice using Spark or Gmail, or set calendar events and tasks in Pocket Informant. It is just a matter of time before all of this is available to us. The mapping options above are just the beginning.
If you have a killer idea for a Shortcut that isn’t possible today, reach out to the developer of the app or service in question or let them know. The more people who are asking them for Shortcuts capability, the faster they will get to it. I know Fanatic, the company behind Pocket Informant, already has it on their roadmap. Still, even if they do, if you want a feature, let your voice be heard. The faster developers roll this out, the more power we will have at our disposal.
If you are rolling your eyes at this article and thinking, “I’ll never use Shortcuts. It’s too complicated,” just download the app and give it a shot. The Gallery has a lot of great free examples that fit all kinds of categories and use cases. Start there. Then, go into the settings and take a look at how the sausage is made. Some of them are complicated, but many are surprisingly simple. Just by playing around a bit, you may find yourself becoming an expert in basic automation before you know it.
I will be posting a few Shortcuts that I find handy from time to time here at the site as Tips and Tricks. If any of you have any Shortcuts requests that you don’t see in the Gallery or don’t find elsewhere online, let me know and I’ll see if I can help you out. I would also love to hear from anyone already using Shortcuts to make their digital life easier. Hit me up in the Comments section below, on Flipboard, our Facebook page, on Twitter, or on our new Instagram account.