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Apple Shortcuts are challenging

I like the idea of Apple Shortcuts, which are kind of a visual way of building a set of instructions to automate a task on your Apple devices (iPhone, iPad, Mac, Watch).

I like the concept particularly for my iPad, which I use how many people use a personal laptop, but also for my phone. I enjoy consuming articles, music, podcasts and movies on these devices, but also using them to get things done. Shortcuts should have the ability to make getting things done a bit more efficient. Let the device do the work!

I took a look at Shortcuts a while after they first appeared, I think they showed up with iOS 12 in 2018), but struggled to know what to do with them and they also felt limited. Applications need to make functionality available to Shortcuts for it to be used in a script/automation. The end result was I used Shortcuts very little and mostly to trigger Siri to do a few steps in an application. Largely, that has been the extent of my Shortcut efforts until very recently.

What I needed to get a little deeper into Shortcuts was a mini-project or end goal I was trying to achieve. A good automation possibility came to mind recently when I was playing Wordle. As you are probably aware, Wordle is an online word game now owned by the New York Times. I’ve been playing it daily for the last couple of years and I generally play it on my iPad. What probably makes me different from most Wordle players is that I like to keep track of my guesses in my games and I also have some notes, built up over time, to assist me.

What this means is that when I sit down in front of my iPad to take on the day’s Wordle, I have a little routine where I load up Safari and Notes position then 50-50 in split view and open the NYT Wordle site and start a new note with some basic information like which game number.

Doing the same thing everyday – sounds perfect for automation – right?

When I realised that, I decided to revisit Shortcuts. I’m not going to go into the details of the Shortcut I built, but share my conclusions:

  • The interface to build a Shortcut seems much better than I remember.
  • There appear to be many more ‘steps’ available from both Apple and 3rd party applications to enable richer Shortcut building.
  • Error messages exist, but don’t appear to tell you much that helps you solve the problem – “Notes error 222”.
  • Working with windows gave me challenges, as I didn’t appear to have enough control over what was happening. For example sometimes I seemed to get a new Notes window but it wouldn’t be the one used in split view.

My Shortcut for Wordle preparation works well enough to save me time everyday, but I’m still very much in the learning phase. I suspect I need to find some good tutorials and additional reference material.

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