Workflow looks to have long future at Apple, but users face short-term changes

Posted:
in iPhone edited April 2017
Despite the long-term benefits Workflow will reap from Apple's acquisition, existing users have already seen features disappear. AppleInsider assesses the pros and cons of the buy.




Apple's deal with Workflow set into motion a number of changes. The day after news of the purchase broke, the app itself was made free and had an immediate update.

Workflow 1.7.3 was released with the euphemistic words "this update includes compatibility requirements" and a list of a few significant changes.

Apple has removed one of the barriers to people buying Workflow, the iOS automation app: they've made it free. But, it's not as if $2.99 was going to get your bank manager calling concerned about fraud. Making it free lets more users give it a whirl.




That already sounds like Apple -- giving the people tools everyone can use. However, what's also very much like Apple is the stripping away of features.

Without delving too deeply into specifics, as that's a big topic for another day, this has all happened before. In the name of a redesign, Apple has in the past abruptly stripped out features that users rely on in favor of ultimately making something easier to use.

Most of the time, those important features do come back. Final Cut Pro X is once again a full professional tool, for instance. However, Pages has yet to regain the outlining feature it lost in 2013 and you'd need to be betting with someone else's money before you put any cash down on when Workflow's features will come back.

This time, what's been affected is chiefly related to Google software or Messages. If your existing workflows don't happen to use those, you won't see a difference. If you're a new user setting out to try Workflow, you'll never even know what you're missing.

Workflow, in a nutshell

What Workflow does is string together a bunch of different apps or services. So, for instance, you can make a Workflow that with one tap asks you what your latest expense is and then saves that data to a list in Evernote. The reason is speed and convenience: set this up once, never have to fiddle with finding where your expenses Evernote note is.




In very much the same way, you used to be able take any audio someone sent you over WhatsApp and have Workflow save it to Dropbox. In this case the reason to do it was that WhatsApp just won't play nice with any other software so you couldn't easily get the audio out of it. For a while there, you could and you could do so easily with a Workflow.

Now you can't because WhatsApp isn't supported by the new version of Workflow.

Similarly, Google Maps and Street View are no longer supported. Again, if you're new, you'll never know that and can just get on with using the nearest equivalent features in Apple Maps. If you already had a workflow that did use Street View, then this is what you see the first time you try to run it:




If you press that Contact Support button, incidentally, iOS just opens Mail with a new message addressed to [email protected]

Workflows run as soon as you tap on their button in the Workflow app, by the way, or in the Today widget but you can also go into one and press the Play button at its top. If you do that now in a workflow using features that are no longer supported, you get the equivalent of, "Seriously, weren't you just listening? Nope."

Other missing elements have to do with the Chrome browser -- because it's by Google, naturally -- and also the Read It Later app Pocket. Uber is out of luck, and so is Telegram.

Somewhat more people use Google Translate than Telegram, but they now won't hear of it through Workflow. Instead, Workflow now requires you to use Microsoft Translate.

There will be others that we don't know of yet because our own stash of workflows don't happen to use them. Like we've addressed, you can be quite certain that the entirety of Google software and services will no longer be controllable with Workflow but after that it's a bit more pot luck.

Our Evernote workflows still work fine. So do our OmniFocus, Day One, Fantastical, and Dropbox macros. They're all fine and Workflow remains extraordinarily useful across so many apps and services.

For the most part, if you're an existing Workflow user you're most likely to just have to do some fiddling. You make all workflows by dragging options in to a list you're building up so you may have to just drag Apple Maps in rather than Google Maps.

That's not trivial if you have a lot of workflows. It's also far from trivial if your favorite ones relied on services or apps that are no longer supported.

So the cut features are not gigantic as they don't dramatically reduce Workflow's usefulness, and they were predictable. Apple buying Workflow wasn't predicted by anyone, and the speed of the new release meant no one really had time to do any guessing about what would go.

What fans of the software have been guessing about is whether Apple bought Workflow to bring it into iOS or to kill it off. The fact that Apple instantly reworked it to work with iOS apps and services is a sign that it's the former.

We hope so. Workflow seems like an impenetrable app at first, but not entirely because of its complexity. Instead, it takes you a time to think of what you might want it to do. When you've got a need, you'll find Workflow makes sense to you and you will quickly go from one workflow to dozens or hundreds.

Our only wish for Workflow has been that it would work a bit more smoothly. It would be great if you could tap a button to start a workflow and then be able to get on with something else. As it stands, you tap that button and unless you put your iOS device down, you're stuck watching it work through the steps in app.

It's fast enough, but it looks a bit kludgy, a bit ugly, a bit "early iOS app." Workflow always looks like a bit of a workaround lacking a real graphical identity more than those just culled from Xcode defaults.

If Apple were to make it as much a part of iOS as AppleScript is for macOS Sierra, then there could be a truly excellent future for Workflow, and for iOS.
abedosscornchip

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 17
    WhatsApp support wasn't dropped...
    you can still forward an audio using workflow (or any other app in the share sheet)
    the problem is the file, is only playable on VLC since it's an opus file...
    before 2016, WhatsApp audio files were playable because they were aac...

    you can also send any file through workflow using WhatsApp, which is also supported which means workflow did NOT stop support for workflow...

    on the other hand, google chrome, street view, Uber, pocket and some others are no longer supporter because as Marco Arment specified, previous to the acquisition news, devs were sent a one page permission to sign in order to keep their app supported by workflow (something Apple always does to protect its back) which he (Arment) did...

    And chances are, companies like google, Uber and pocket didn't bother to do so...

    but considering WhatsApp is still supported as much as it was before, not more nor less, it means they did sign the agreement...
    edited April 2017 abedosscalislprescottpscooter63emoellerjony0SoliDeelronredefilerargonaut
  • Reply 2 of 17
    crowleycrowley Posts: 5,606member
    fletchy said:
    WhatsApp support wasn't dropped...
    you can still forward an audio using workflow (or any other app in the share sheet)
    the problem is the file, is only playable on VLC since it's an opus file...
    before 2016, WhatsApp audio files were playable because they were aac...

    you can also send any file through workflow using WhatsApp, which is also supported which means workflow did NOT stop support for workflow...

    on the other hand, google chrome, street view, Uber, pocket and some others are no longer supporter because as Marco Arment specified, previous to the acquisition news, devs were sent a one page permission to sign in order to keep their app supported by workflow (something Apple always does to protect its back) which he (Arment) did...

    And chances are, companies like google, Uber and pocket didn't bother to do so...

    but considering WhatsApp is still supported as much as it was before, not more nor less, it means they did sign the agreement...
    It was a pretty silly move of Apple/Workflow to not include the choice information that Apple was acquiring Workflow on the permissions slip. That would've got the attention of the companies that otherwise filed that permission slip and forgot about it. 

    Apples obsession with secrecy shooting themselves in the foot to no obvious advantage.
  • Reply 3 of 17
    redefilerredefiler Posts: 323member
    fletchy said:
    WhatsApp support wasn't dropped...
    you can still forward an audio using workflow (or any other app in the share sheet)
    the problem is the file, is only playable on VLC since it's an opus file...
    before 2016, WhatsApp audio files were playable because they were aac...

    you can also send any file through workflow using WhatsApp, which is also supported which means workflow did NOT stop support for workflow...

    on the other hand, google chrome, street view, Uber, pocket and some others are no longer supporter because as Marco Arment specified, previous to the acquisition news, devs were sent a one page permission to sign in order to keep their app supported by workflow (something Apple always does to protect its back) which he (Arment) did...

    And chances are, companies like google, Uber and pocket didn't bother to do so...

    but considering WhatsApp is still supported as much as it was before, not more nor less, it means they did sign the agreement...

    So... what your saying is that an entire chunk of this article is conflating known app version changes and basic App Store clerical details into fantasy software dev team motivations?  Sounds less rumor site, and more fan fiction.

    edited April 2017
  • Reply 4 of 17
    abedossabedoss Posts: 14member
    It was a pretty silly move of Apple/Workflow to not include the choice information that Apple was acquiring Workflow on the permissions slip. That would've got the attention of the companies that otherwise filed that permission slip and forgot about it. 

    Apples obsession with secrecy shooting themselves in the foot to no obvious advantage.

    I think that @fletchy said that previous to the acquisition news, devs were sent a one page permission to sign in order to keep their app supported by workflow.
  • Reply 5 of 17
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,729administrator
    redefiler said:
    fletchy said:
    WhatsApp support wasn't dropped...
    you can still forward an audio using workflow (or any other app in the share sheet)
    the problem is the file, is only playable on VLC since it's an opus file...
    before 2016, WhatsApp audio files were playable because they were aac...

    you can also send any file through workflow using WhatsApp, which is also supported which means workflow did NOT stop support for workflow...

    on the other hand, google chrome, street view, Uber, pocket and some others are no longer supporter because as Marco Arment specified, previous to the acquisition news, devs were sent a one page permission to sign in order to keep their app supported by workflow (something Apple always does to protect its back) which he (Arment) did...

    And chances are, companies like google, Uber and pocket didn't bother to do so...

    but considering WhatsApp is still supported as much as it was before, not more nor less, it means they did sign the agreement...

    So... what your saying is that an entire chunk of this article is conflating known app version changes and basic App Store clerical details into fantasy software dev team motivations?  Sounds less rumor site, and more fan fiction.

    I think you're reading a bit too much into the text of the article.
  • Reply 6 of 17
    Hey Mike Wuerthele, here is the Twitter link to Marco Arment's tweets about why Google apps are no longer supported by Workflow: 

    If I had not read Marco's tweets nearly two weeks ago I would have thought Apple dropped Google app support because it was Google as you had written. Others will just take your writing as truth and blame Apple due to not having a clearer understanding of why app support was dropped. Maybe an update to this article could be provided to clear up what occurred.
    repressthisjony0irelandirelandDeelronddawson100jdwargonaut
  • Reply 7 of 17
    "However, what's also very much like Apple is the stripping away of features." SO TRUE! And generally they are features that I've come to rely on. Example:  iPhoto to Photos - stripped away Batch Rename (now you have to do that in the finder before adding images to Photos)! Choosing an external editor, like Photoshop - GONE! Fortunately there is a App called External Editors for Photos in the App Store. When I bought it, it was 99¢, and worth so much more than that. Now I can select External Editors (it's at the bottom of the edit window in Photos - a circle with three dots in it) that makes most photo editing software on your computer accessible for external editing, so it's actually a step above selecting a single App in iPhoto's preferences. 

    This is just one example of Apple stripping away features on which many of us have come to rely! But I guess when you only have 10,000 or more hardware/software engineers - it's tuff to allocate these resources to improve functionality rather than compromise it. i.e., Apple - get your act together! 

    Now that Apple has become a consumer only company (I call it the iPhone/iTunes company), we pros are screwed. Even though Cook talks about the professional space not being ignored "wait and see", that's a total crock! Does anyone really believe we'll see an updated MacPro? 😂 Are you holding your breath for it. Be prepared to turn blue and die. I'm even dubious about them coming out with an iMac that is truly powerful enough to do extreme heavy lifting - the sort of processing power we need! Look at the new MacBook Pro - it's a prime example of the complete opposite of good design, which is "Form follows function". Apple (likely Ives) is completely "Function follows form" - i.e., make it smaller and thinner and screw you if you don't like our direction.
  • Reply 8 of 17

    Workflows run as soon as you tap on their button in the Workflow app, by the way, or in the Today widget but you can also go into one and press the Play button at its top. If you do that now in a workflow using features that are no longer supported, you get the equivalent of, "Seriously, weren't you just listening? Nope."
    This paragraph was difficult to read. 
    redefilercoolfactorargonaut
  • Reply 9 of 17
    k2kwk2kw Posts: 1,405member
    "However, what's also very much like Apple is the stripping away of features." SO TRUE! And generally they are features that I've come to rely on. Example:  iPhoto to Photos - stripped away Batch Rename (now you have to do that in the finder before adding images to Photos)! Choosing an external editor, like Photoshop - GONE! Fortunately there is a App called External Editors for Photos in the App Store. When I bought it, it was 99¢, and worth so much more than that. Now I can select External Editors (it's at the bottom of the edit window in Photos - a circle with three dots in it) that makes most photo editing software on your computer accessible for external editing, so it's actually a step above selecting a single App in iPhoto's preferences. 

    This is just one example of Apple stripping away features on which many of us have come to rely! But I guess when you only have 10,000 or more hardware/software engineers - it's tuff to allocate these resources to improve functionality rather than compromise it. i.e., Apple - get your act together! 

    Now that Apple has become a consumer only company (I call it the iPhone/iTunes company), we pros are screwed. Even though Cook talks about the professional space not being ignored "wait and see", that's a total crock! Does anyone really believe we'll see an updated MacPro? 😂 Are you holding your breath for it. Be prepared to turn blue and die. I'm even dubious about them coming out with an iMac that is truly powerful enough to do extreme heavy lifting - the sort of processing power we need! Look at the new MacBook Pro - it's a prime example of the complete opposite of good design, which is "Form follows function". Apple (likely Ives) is completely "Function follows form" - i.e., make it smaller and thinner and screw you if you don't like our direction.
    I totally understand where you are coming from.   Maybe the one thing that may keep their MacPro manufacturing and assembly plant going ( and see a Refreshed model) is Trump.   They may not want to deal with the negative political consequences of shutting down the mac.
  • Reply 10 of 17
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,729administrator
    Hey Mike Wuerthele, here is the Twitter link to Marco Arment's tweets about why Google apps are no longer supported by Workflow: 

    If I had not read Marco's tweets nearly two weeks ago I would have thought Apple dropped Google app support because it was Google as you had written. Others will just take your writing as truth and blame Apple due to not having a clearer understanding of why app support was dropped. Maybe an update to this article could be provided to clear up what occurred.
    I read it. I tried to verify his account of what went down, and there's no real way to -- and Apple's not talking.
    edited April 2017
  • Reply 11 of 17
    redefilerredefiler Posts: 323member
    redefiler said:
    fletchy said:
    WhatsApp support wasn't dropped...
    you can still forward an audio using workflow (or any other app in the share sheet)
    the problem is the file, is only playable on VLC since it's an opus file...
    before 2016, WhatsApp audio files were playable because they were aac...

    you can also send any file through workflow using WhatsApp, which is also supported which means workflow did NOT stop support for workflow...

    on the other hand, google chrome, street view, Uber, pocket and some others are no longer supporter because as Marco Arment specified, previous to the acquisition news, devs were sent a one page permission to sign in order to keep their app supported by workflow (something Apple always does to protect its back) which he (Arment) did...

    And chances are, companies like google, Uber and pocket didn't bother to do so...

    but considering WhatsApp is still supported as much as it was before, not more nor less, it means they did sign the agreement...

    So... what your saying is that an entire chunk of this article is conflating known app version changes and basic App Store clerical details into fantasy software dev team motivations?  Sounds less rumor site, and more fan fiction.

    I think you're reading a bit too much into the text of the article.
    Well from the exact words you wrote, looks like your take on this aspect was way out in conspiracy theory land.

    Weird that you tried to verify with Marco, but then came up with what you did.  Seems like there's enough to write about with Apple and Workflow without the off base editorializing. 
    edited April 2017 irelandlolliver
  • Reply 12 of 17
    redefilerredefiler Posts: 323member

    Hey Mike Wuerthele, here is the Twitter link to Marco Arment's tweets about why Google apps are no longer supported by Workflow: 

    If I had not read Marco's tweets nearly two weeks ago I would have thought Apple dropped Google app support because it was Google as you had written. Others will just take your writing as truth and blame Apple due to not having a clearer understanding of why app support was dropped. Maybe an update to this article could be provided to clear up what occurred.
    I agree.  The false negativity Mike cast on Apple has already spawned several cliché 'monkey-see, monkey-do' pile-ons here in the comments. 

    Sloppy.
    edited April 2017 irelandlolliver
  • Reply 13 of 17
    polymniapolymnia Posts: 893member
    redefiler said:

    Hey Mike Wuerthele, here is the Twitter link to Marco Arment's tweets about why Google apps are no longer supported by Workflow: 

    If I had not read Marco's tweets nearly two weeks ago I would have thought Apple dropped Google app support because it was Google as you had written. Others will just take your writing as truth and blame Apple due to not having a clearer understanding of why app support was dropped. Maybe an update to this article could be provided to clear up what occurred.
    I agree.  The false negativity Mike cast on Apple has already spawned several cliché 'monkey-see, monkey-do' pile-ons here in the comments. 

    Sloppy.
    It makes perfect sense why all this was hush-hush, and it isn't anything anti-Google or Apple-always-does-this or some other such conspiracy.

    Each Workflow-integrated company that signed the contract to explicitly allow Workflow access made Workflow more valuable to Apple. If one of those companies caught wind of the pending sale, they might insist on a licensing fee or some other fee as a condition of signing the agreement, knowing they had a lot of leverage to derail a deal that Workflow very much wanted to seal. Or they might have tried to derail the deal in other ways if they really hated the idea of Apple picking up this automation platform at pennies on the dollar (compared to developing in-house from scratch). There is no good that could come from either Apple or Workflow discussing which party knew what about who signed on, when and why.
    edited April 2017 cornchiplolliverpscooter63
  • Reply 14 of 17
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,729administrator
    redefiler said:
    redefiler said:
    fletchy said:
    WhatsApp support wasn't dropped...
    you can still forward an audio using workflow (or any other app in the share sheet)
    the problem is the file, is only playable on VLC since it's an opus file...
    before 2016, WhatsApp audio files were playable because they were aac...

    you can also send any file through workflow using WhatsApp, which is also supported which means workflow did NOT stop support for workflow...

    on the other hand, google chrome, street view, Uber, pocket and some others are no longer supporter because as Marco Arment specified, previous to the acquisition news, devs were sent a one page permission to sign in order to keep their app supported by workflow (something Apple always does to protect its back) which he (Arment) did...

    And chances are, companies like google, Uber and pocket didn't bother to do so...

    but considering WhatsApp is still supported as much as it was before, not more nor less, it means they did sign the agreement...

    So... what your saying is that an entire chunk of this article is conflating known app version changes and basic App Store clerical details into fantasy software dev team motivations?  Sounds less rumor site, and more fan fiction.

    I think you're reading a bit too much into the text of the article.
    Well from the exact words you wrote, looks like your take on this aspect was way out in conspiracy theory land.

    Weird that you tried to verify with Marco, but then came up with what you did.  Seems like there's enough to write about with Apple and Workflow without the off base editorializing. 
    Again, you've misinterpreted something I've said. Why would I verify with Marco, when I can talk to sources at Apple that I've used in the past?

    The false negativity and bogus conspiracy theories you have cast on this piece has already spawned several cliché 'monkey-see, monkey-do' pile-ons here in the comments. Sad.

    The other piece you and I butted heads on was a news piece. This one I actually wrote, and is not a news piece - it is an evaluation and discussion of the toolset post-acquisition. I shall editorialize in evaluation pieces, like this one, as I see fit - that's the whole point. Plus, what I specifically said was that Apple does remove features from products -- and that's irrefutable. At no point did I say that there was any malice behind the omission, or that Apple was trying to stick it to Google. 

    I also did say that Apple does sometimes return features to products, after a time.

    If you wish to continue the conversation in PM, feel free, but it won't continue here.
    edited April 2017 Solirepressthispscooter63argonaut
  • Reply 15 of 17
    crowleycrowley Posts: 5,606member
    abedoss said:
    It was a pretty silly move of Apple/Workflow to not include the choice information that Apple was acquiring Workflow on the permissions slip. That would've got the attention of the companies that otherwise filed that permission slip and forgot about it. 

    Apples obsession with secrecy shooting themselves in the foot to no obvious advantage.

    I think that @fletchy said that previous to the acquisition news, devs were sent a one page permission to sign in order to keep their app supported by workflow.
    Sure, that's what I'm referring to.  If that permission request had come on Apple headed paper, or with a reference to an imminent Apple takeover, then the recipients would have given it much more attention than if it just came from the original developers of Workflow.
  • Reply 16 of 17
    irelandireland Posts: 17,477member
    Sadly the "Imgur upload" workflow has a bug in it where it fails to work every time on the first launch and then will work in the app if u press play. It's quite annoying as the workflow for using this is very simple leading directly to a photo picker—if only it would work every time. Makes me tempted to re-download the more complex and slower but always reliable Imgury 
    edited April 2017
  • Reply 17 of 17
    coolfactorcoolfactor Posts: 1,325member
    The assumption that they are "short-term" changes is a reach. Look what Apple did to Pages back in 2013? Castrated it and then ignored user feedback for years. It's still a solid app, but some removed features are really missed. It's an insult to users when Apple does that without notice.
    argonaut
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