Apple's quiet update to Siri Shortcuts brings the niche tool into the mainstream

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in General Discussion
You're either a Siri Shortcuts fan, in which case the new features will absolutely delight you, or you've never looked at it. In which case, Apple wants to help you find out how useful Siri Shortcuts are for you.




One of the most memorable highlights of WWDC 2019 is something that wasn't even mentioned on stage in the keynote. Siri Shortcuts is going to have several significant changes for iOS 13 and the first is that Apple is bringing this superb automation tool to more people. Siri Shortcuts will be installed by default on every iOS 13 and iPadOS device.

And if you already use Siri Shortcuts, the second change is enough to make you spill your coffee. Siri Shortcuts will do more, it will do more in the background and it will do more without you having to find and launch the shortcuts you want.

New users start here

Siri Shortcuts already lets you automate repetitive things you do on your iPhone or iPad. If you are always converting large photos into thumbnails to post on Twitter, Siri Shortcuts can turn many steps into one, for instance.

If you often text a partner to say you're on your way home, Siri Shortcuts could just send them a text. However, you can also have it figure out where you are now, check the traffic conditions, and automatically send that text message with a precise ETA.

Left: a tiny selection of our ever-growing number of Shortcuts. Right: how you build one up.
Left: a tiny selection of our ever-growing number of Shortcuts. Right: how you build one up.


And you can set up Siri Shortcuts so that all this happens just when you say "Hey, Siri, heading home now" or any phrase you want. This isn't Siri interpreting what you said and parsing the sounds to get meaning it can act on, it's Siri comparing what you say now to a list of what you've said you want to start shortcuts with.

It's an amazing thing to have on your iPhone and iPad, and the odds are that you've either amassed hundreds of shortcuts -- or you've never even looked into it.

That's because despite make more fuss about Siri Shortcuts last year than it did this, Apple actually did not make all of it part of iOS 12. We got Siri suggestions offering to create shortcuts based on what we do, but that was half brilliant and half aggravating. You'd send one email to one person and Siri would be offering to make you a shortcut to do that again, but you'd email the same person twenty times and it wouldn't.

You could fix that and make your own shortcut by writing it -- but you had to write it in the separate Siri Shortcuts app. So first you had to know about that, then you had to download it, then you had to learn how to write the shortcuts in it.

With iOS 13 and iPadOS, at least some of that is over. Now everyone will have Siri Shortcuts installed on their iPhones and iPads and there's no need to download anything else.

You can't make someone use Siri Shortcuts, but including it in iOS 13 and iPadOS means more people will see it and more people will try it.

That's good for them as Siri Shortcuts is exceptionally useful, but it's also good for all of us who are already into this. As more people use Siri Shortcuts, so Apple will keep developing it further.

Old users start here

Apple is doing just fine at the moment with developing Siri Shortcuts. One advantage of it not having been part of iOS 12 was that we didn't have to wait for operating system updates, we could and did get periodic and sometimes very significant updates to Siri Shortcuts itself.

Writing and editing your own Siri Shortcuts remains easier on the iPad
Writing and editing your own Siri Shortcuts remains easier on the iPad


Nonetheless, the updates that are coming with iOS 13 are the biggest that Siri Shortcuts has had and they are these coffee-spilling improvements that will delight every existing user.

Up to now, you have had to positively choose to run a shortcut. Maybe you told Siri, maybe you tapped on a widget or an icon, or maybe you opened up the whole Siri Shortcuts app and hunted through that very long gallery view. Whatever it was, you had to set it running.

Not any more.

From iOS 13, you will be able to have shortcuts run themselves automatically. For example, we've got one shortcut that we need to run around 11am each day to retrieve certain information. At the moment, we have OmniFocus pop up to tell us it's time, then we run the shortcut.

With the smallest of changes, we're going to able to rewrite that shortcut so that it launches itself at 11am. We can do that rewrite in the current beta version of iOS 13, but in our experience Siri Shortcuts is not the most stable part of the system. And as it is a beta, we're sticking with iOS 12 for our production machines.

From an Apple developer video, this is showing the many different ways you can call a shortcut
From an Apple developer video, this is showing the many different ways you can call a shortcut


Nonetheless, when we can move over to iOS 13 for everything, this is one of the reasons we will run to it.

Just being able to set a specific time for a shortcut to run itself is useful, but that's far from all. In a very similar way to how the Home app does automation, you can also tell a Siri Shortcut to run at sunset or when you arrive home.

A shortcut can now be triggered when switch Airplane Mode on or off, when you connect or disconnect to CarPlay. Or when you launch a particular app.

Say you always seem to get phone calls the moment you start to watch something on Netflix. Tell Siri Shortcuts that when you launch Netflix, you want Do Not Disturb to be switched on and that's what will happen.

Let's talk

Siri Shortcuts, and its predecessor, the third-party Workflow app, have also always had a limitation that is now being addressed. It's easy to launch a shortcut with your voice, but thereafter if the shortcut needs you to make a choice, you have to tap a button or pick from a menu.

Now there are what Apple is calling a conversational shortcut. We'll need to see just how effective it is as we continue to test iOS 13 and iPadOS, but the aim is that your shortcut will be more interactive.

And speaking of speaking, there are third-party audio apps such as Spotify and the many different podcast players. This is being promoted as a general feature instead of a Siri Shortcuts one, but iOS 13 will be there is the way that Siri could now control these other apps.

The makers of these other apps will now have more tools courtesy of Apple's improved SiriKit, but this is going to help Shortcuts too. You'll be able to automate HomePod, for instance, and have it automatically start playing when you arrive home.

Left: Siri Shortcuts is now included in iOS 13 rather than being a separate download. Middle: the newly redesigned gallery of your shortcuts. Right: the new Automation tab
Left: Siri Shortcuts is now included in iOS 13 rather than being a separate download. Middle: the newly redesigned gallery of your shortcuts. Right: the new Automation tab

Deep background

There is one more thing. If you tell it to, a Siri Shortcut will now truly run in the background.

In iOS 12, regardless of whatever you're working on when you start the shortcut, when you launch a shortcut you are switched over to the Siri Shortcuts app while it runs.

Not only does this interrupt your other work, but it also just looks ugly. If you've ever been put off programming, seeing Siri Shortcuts slowly go through many steps is not going to entice you into learning how to do it.

And when you are a programmer or you've become very familiar with Siri Shortcuts, then what you see on screen makes this feel like a workaround. Rather than an inherent part of the iPhone or iPad, it feels like fragile trickery.

Whereas from iOS 13 and iPadOS, that's gone. Our 11am Siri Shortcut will just run at 11am and we won't notice until it emails us some details at the end.

That Netflix trick with Do Not Disturb won't make a big show of swapping to Siri Shortcuts and then back to Netflix, it'll just do it.

You will still get a notification saying "Running your shortcut," but you won't be interrupted and you won't have to watch the thing going.

New and old

We'd have liked to see Apple talk about this at the 2019 WWDC keynote because Siri Shortcuts has always felt a little vulnerable. It's not for everyone, so unless enough people use it, Apple's going to have less cause to keep it around.

Still, including it as a regular part of iOS 13 and iPadOS is going to help raise the profile of Siri Shortcuts. And we are going to have such a good time rewriting our existing ones or creating entirely new shortcuts to take advantage of the improvements too.



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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 29
    I love the idea of the app, but ever since 12.1 it's been broken for me, I am on an iPhone 6 that's on it's last legs, but it's really irritated me for say, trying to activate a playlist in my car, I have either just reverted to using the standard Siri command "Play my Quick Tunes playlist *pause Shuffled) or doing it manually before I start driving. if they can fix it great, but damn it's been an app that actually is more than just a nuisance because if it fails in the car, I have actually pulled over once to fix it, others may try to pull out their phone and fix it while driving
  • Reply 2 of 29
    seanismorrisseanismorris Posts: 1,028member
    Time for a poll:
    Siri disabled 
    Siri Shortcuts (active user)
    Siri Shortcuts (didn’t know it existed)
    Siri Shortcuts (to much trouble)

    +1 Siri disabled 
    williamlondon
  • Reply 3 of 29
    dougddougd Posts: 269member
    I always turn Siri OFF.  No use for this nonsense
    williamlondonurahara
  • Reply 4 of 29
    slurpyslurpy Posts: 5,173member
    Time for a poll:
    Siri disabled 
    Siri Shortcuts (active user)
    Siri Shortcuts (didn’t know it existed)
    Siri Shortcuts (to much trouble)

    +1 Siri disabled 
    dougd said:
    I always turn Siri OFF.  No use for this nonsense

    You guys are so edgy and awesome, just on another plane of humanity. Let me know how I can subscribe to your newsletter. 
    SnickersMagooTuuborchasmAppleExposedcornchiproundaboutnowRayz2016williamlondonuraharabeowulfschmidt
  • Reply 5 of 29
    techsavytechsavy Posts: 34member
    I just never really used siri beyond jokes or the first week i had it.
    williamlondonurahara
  • Reply 6 of 29
    toysandmetoysandme Posts: 215member
    While driving I often use Siri (legally) to text my staff that I will be arriving soon. This gives everyone the chance of putting their clothes back on before I get to the office. 
    chasmAppleExposedbeowulfschmidtnetmageStrangeDaysFileMakerFellerwatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 7 of 29
    Siri is really helpful if you let her....After getting a new iPhone every year for the last 10, except I'm still on an X because the XS was no different, I just learned that you can say "Hey Siri...and then immediately ask her a question, without waiting for her to say Hello what can I help you with...the whole thing happens so quickly...I am always asking her sport related questions that she answers in a snap! Now if she could ever integrate with Roon, my music fantastic (streaming) player, I would be in heaven!!!
    chasmAppleExposedwatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 29
    seanismorrisseanismorris Posts: 1,028member
    slurpy said:
    Time for a poll:
    Siri disabled 
    Siri Shortcuts (active user)
    Siri Shortcuts (didn’t know it existed)
    Siri Shortcuts (to much trouble)

    +1 Siri disabled 
    dougd said:
    I always turn Siri OFF.  No use for this nonsense

    You guys are so edgy and awesome, just on another plane of humanity. Let me know how I can subscribe to your newsletter. 
    Slurpy... so you’re saying you’re a Siri user?

    I’d consider using Siri for long trips into the unknown.  But, I still have a warning to ‘finish setting up my iPad/iPhone’ and frequently get prompted to enable it, along with Apple Pay, and WiFi.  I hate nannyware!!! If I wanted it enabled I’d do so...  (I do have Apple Pay enabled on my phone)

    Apple is probably pulling that same crap with kids... ‘mommy I need your credit card’ Like that’s a good idea....
    williamlondon
  • Reply 9 of 29
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 685member
    Time for a poll:
    Siri disabled 
    Siri Shortcuts (active user)
    Siri Shortcuts (didn’t know it existed)
    Siri Shortcuts (to much trouble)

    +1 Siri disabled 
    Siri was silly until the last few updates. Within the last year I've started to use it a fair amount. I also am beginning to dictate things more and more. Siri is working fine. On the other hand I've never found a use for Siri Shortcuts. Maybe I just don't do the kind of repetitive things they're talking about but I haven't found a place that it might be useful. I created one to practice, but I never use it. SS reminds me of AppleScript. That was a great, powerful tool as well. But I found I never used it because it was more hassle to program something to just do it.
    edited June 7 mike1flyingdp
  • Reply 10 of 29
    macplusplusmacplusplus Posts: 1,888member
    DAalseth said:
    Time for a poll:
    Siri disabled 
    Siri Shortcuts (active user)
    Siri Shortcuts (didn’t know it existed)
    Siri Shortcuts (to much trouble)

    +1 Siri disabled 
    Siri was silly until the last few updates. Within the last year I've started to use it a fair amount. I also am beginning to dictate things more and more. Siri is working fine. On the other hand I've never found a use for Siri Shortcuts. Maybe I just don't do the kind of repetitive things they're talking about but I haven't found a place that it might be useful. I created one to practice, but I never use it. SS reminds me of AppleScript. That was a great, powerful tool as well. But I found I never used it because it was more hassle to program something to just do it.
    Yes. Because it has a horrible user interface. If you haphazardly launch a half-baked product at the gunpoint of the Marketing, then system engineers struggle to turn it into a truly working product in the next major OS update. At its present state Shortcuts is just a proof of concept marketed falsely as a “system feature”.
    williamlondon
  • Reply 11 of 29
    TuuborTuubor Posts: 40member
    With these iOS 13 updates like scheduling a time for a shortcut or having it run automatically when launching an app or doing something else and not having to watch it switch to the Shortcuts app, this is going to be huge. Might actually start using the feature. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 29
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 685member
    DAalseth said:
    Time for a poll:
    Siri disabled 
    Siri Shortcuts (active user)
    Siri Shortcuts (didn’t know it existed)
    Siri Shortcuts (to much trouble)

    +1 Siri disabled 
    Siri was silly until the last few updates. Within the last year I've started to use it a fair amount. I also am beginning to dictate things more and more. Siri is working fine. On the other hand I've never found a use for Siri Shortcuts. Maybe I just don't do the kind of repetitive things they're talking about but I haven't found a place that it might be useful. I created one to practice, but I never use it. SS reminds me of AppleScript. That was a great, powerful tool as well. But I found I never used it because it was more hassle to program something to just do it.
    Yes. Because it has a horrible user interface. If you haphazardly launch a half-baked product at the gunpoint of the Marketing, then system engineers struggle to turn it into a truly working product in the next major OS update. At its present state Shortcuts is just a proof of concept marketed falsely as a “system feature”.
    I hope that's the case because I can see the potential of SS. So far though in practice it just doesn't live up to it.
    edited June 7 williamlondon
  • Reply 13 of 29
    Hey, William, you mentioned that Shortcuts will be able to run when I arrive home. I currently have a Shortcut that I activate when I leave school after pickup that sends my SO a text with my current location and the estimated commute time home. Would I be able to have that triggered automatically when I leave the school? That would be quite handy.  

    Also, I usually run that Shortcut from the Widget. When I do it that way Shortcuts doesn’t open, there’s just a progress bar. Same goes for a couple of other Shortcuts. So some open the Shortcuts app and others don’t, for me anyway. In any case, having them run in the background will be a nice improvement.

    Interesting that HomePod is a Shortcuts target now. Any chance that AppleTV is, as well? I know a few people that are excited about being able to add HomePod to Scenes and Automations in Home. Are there differences with what is possible with HomePod in Shortcuts and Home or did Apple just put in some redundancies?

    @seanismorris, et al, I don’t understand the point of your posts. The whole article is on Siri Shortcuts but apparently you came to this thread just to post that Siri is disabled on your device. Why does that matter to anyone? I don’t go to articles about Logic, for example, and then post “Never use it.” Your posts don’t really add to the conversation so, again, what is the point?
    edited June 7 AppleExposedwilliamlondonjdb8167netmageStrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 29
    chasmchasm Posts: 1,643member
    I’m a very active dictation, Siri, and Shortcuts user. I don’t have an enormous amount of repetitive tasks that I do each day, but I do have a few — and while yes, setting them up took (gasp) a few minutes each, a simple phrase executes multiple steps far faster than I could manually do them, so overall they have saved a lot of time.

    Two of the simpler examples: I often visit a coffee shop near my partner’s workplace, so I have short passphrase that 1) gets my current location, 2) sends a short message to let them know I’m at that location now, and 3) opens my loyalty card for that coffee shop. It takes about three seconds to run.

    The second example is one called “play one and random.” Again a simple phrase (“car music”) has Siri ask me for a song I want to hear, does so, then after that it plays a random playlist.

    I have some business-oriented ones as well, to send off quick “thank you for the meeting” type personalized emails and such. I use Siri a lot, especially on my Watch, to send messages, get directions, tell me the next appointment/destination/task on my calendar, where’s the nearest [type of business], and so on.
    I use dictation almost exclusively for my emails and texts on all my devices, even the ones with hardware keyboards. I’m a quick typist, but never as fast as dictation.
    fastasleepwatto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 29
    ivanhivanh Posts: 372member
    Siri is counter-productive. Waste a minute, try it yourself.
    williamlondon
  • Reply 16 of 29
    AppleExposedAppleExposed Posts: 1,381unconfirmed, member
    ivanh said:
    Siri is counter-productive. Waste a minute, try it yourself.

    Works for me.
    fastasleepnetmageStrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 29
    ihfihf Posts: 1member
    Workflow (now Shortcuts) used to be my most used app on the Apple Watch. Apple should bring it back so that it is possible to run and interact with shortcuts WITHOUT Siri. 
  • Reply 18 of 29
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 3,089member
    ivanh said:
    Siri is counter-productive. Waste a minute, try it yourself.
    I use Siri and Shortcuts every day, it works great. Not sure what the point of advertising to the world that you’re intentionally limiting the functionality of your iPhone, but you do you. Just leave us out of it. 
    roundaboutnowwilliamlondonnetmageStrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 29
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 3,089member
    I wonder how many of you know that you can go into Settings > Siri & Search and see a ton of suggested Siri Shortcuts based on common actions or ones that you perform regularly, assign a voice trigger for it in a second, and have a new Shortcut set up? You don’t even need to mess with the workflow stuff in the app at all. It’s great.
    WgkruegerwilliamlondonStrangeDaystoysandmewatto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 29
    jcs2305jcs2305 Posts: 789member
    ivanh said:
    Siri is counter-productive. Waste a minute, try it yourself.
    I find her ( I use the Australian female voice )  quite useful while driving.. Ask her to play something I would like works quite well I have yet to be disappointed with the song selection.. or to initiate a text or a text response.  I am not a big Siri user but in the vehicle I find it to be a great tool so that my attention stays on the road where it belongs. 
    netmagewatto_cobra
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