One of the new features of iOS 12 that has not received much attention are shortcuts. Shortcuts are automation routines that you can run on iPhone or iPad, making complex tasks as easy as pressing a button or giving a command to Siri. Shortcuts are not so easy to create, but you can find many pre-made shortcuts and use those that are or customize them to your needs. Here's a primer on using shortcuts for iOS.
What are shortcuts?
One reason that many iOS users do not know about shortcuts is that the shortcut app is not part of iOS; You must download it manually from the App Store. Once you've done this, touch the app icon and check it out. You see two sections: Library and Gallery. The library section contains shortcuts that are available as a default to get started and any others you download. The Gallery section is a kind of App Store for shortcuts to show you a variety of tasks and categories that you can use, allowing you to download shortcuts.
The screen above shows the shortcuts in my library. You'll see one called Apple Frames; I used it to make an iPhone frame around the screen. This shortcut is quite complicated; It takes some screenshots, either from an iPhone, iPad or Mac, and according to the size it sets a frame around the type of device where it was shot.
I did not create this shortcut myself; I downloaded it from MacStories Shortcuts Archive, which is full of useful and sometimes complex shortcuts.
How do shortcuts work?
If you are familiar with AppleScript or Automator on Mac, you will understand how shortcuts work. (Learn about Automator in this article and this article on the Intego Mac Security Blog.) Shortcuts can do many of the things these other tools can do, but since they run on iOS, they offer many other opportunities. Your iPhone knows where you are, for example, and can run shortcuts based on where you are. You can use Siri to launch shortcuts that make them easy to use at any time.
Let's face it; Shortcuts look scary. That the shortcut to Apple Frames has more than 100 actions (one action is one step in the automation routine), and it retrieves data from a web server to provide the frames it uses.
But there are many easier shortcuts in the Gallery. For example, in my first screen above, see Directions Home. I click this and Apple Maps opens and shows how to get home. Or Play Genre Radio; If I press this, ask which genre I want to listen to, and then start a radio station on Apple Music. Cut article for notes takes a URL you have copied to the clipboard on your iOS device, copy the text of the article, and add the article, link, and date to Apple Notes.
How do I add shortcuts?  Browse the Gallery and find a useful shortcut. There are sections like Great Shortcuts for Siri, Essentials, Morning Routine, Apple Music and more. Touch a shortcut in Gallery and you will see what it does and what programs and services it works with.
Touch Get Shortcut and it is added to your library. When you add shortcuts to the library, they sync over your devices via iCloud. To learn more about how a shortcut works, click View Actions. What you see below is just the beginning of the shortcut actions; scroll down to see that there are dozens of actions with embedded if-so-sentences and more.
Viewing existing shortcuts is a good way to find out how to make your own, but I do not expect most people to want to do this. This is programming and you need some basics about how programs are made to do more than just the simplest tasks. Apple has some guidance in the shortcut user guide, but I do not think they expect most to make their own. Use Gallery or MacStories Shortcuts Archive to find useful shortcuts. Many shortcuts in both locations depend on specific third-party applications like OmniFocus, Evernote, etc., and if you use these programs, you can find them useful.
Shortcuts are a very useful new feature in iOS and you should check them out. Unless you are already familiar with encoding – or scripting with AppleScript or Automator – you probably will not create your own. But the presence of the gallery and other archives means that you can find some great ways to save time through automation.
About Kirk McElhearn
Kirk McElhearn writes about Mac, iPod, iTunes, Books, Music and more on his blog Kirkville.
He is co-host of Intego Mac Podcast, The Next Track and PhotoActive, and a regular contributor to The Mac Security Blog, TidBITS and several other websites and publications.
Kirk has written more than twenty books, including Take Control books about iTunes, LaunchBar and Scrivener.