In the quest for simple to use platform automation Apple has a golden opportunity
Our devices store our most important and personal information often acting as neural prosthesis, help coordinate our social activities with friends and family , and to some even act as pseudo-surrogate partner. But in the background our devices have super powers we never see. They tick away diligently checking our email, managing our safety, and reacting to our needs before we know we need them.
This is all done through the miracle of automation. Tireless code that counts the microseconds and responds appropriately by performing a task that both simplifies and enhances our lives. Automation is here to stay, and more and more people are discovering the surprise, delight, and frustration of automation in their lives.
In the early months of 2017, Apple acquired a small startup company called Workflow.
Workflow wasn’t revolutionary in its concept to bring user-created automation to a smart phone, at this point Android users had quite the luxury in the form of Tasker which enabled a person to build complex automation rules that would run right on their device.
But Workflow opened the door to in-platform automation for the iPhone and iPad, bringing the concept of user automation to Apple’s ecosystem.
Fast-forward to Apple’s release of iOS 12 in September, 2018 and the re-imagined Workflow app was rolled onto every new and updated iPhone in the form of Siri Shortcuts, initially to much fanfare of existing Workflow app users. User-centric automation was finally in the hands of iPhone/iPad users, and tech–focused sites exploded with tips, tricks, and tutorials how to best leverage the new feature to enhance your life.
But what about the rest of the Apple ecosystem? Where is Siri Shortcuts for macOS?
Anyone who has already walked the path of in-platform automation on Mac OSX/macOS will already be quite familiar with Automator.
Automator has been around since Mac OSX Tiger (10.4) was first released in 2005 and since then hasn’t seen many tangible updates outside of third-party vendor support and additional OS version updates.
Platform automation on a Mac has always been a conundrum for most end-users, and Automator is no exception.
It’s required mix of drag-and-drop code blocks, archaic AppleScript knowledge, and CLI shell script development to build sometimes the simplest of automation is beyond the average computer user, and often confounds more advanced users with its quirky operation and bespoke features.
This is where Apple could leverage Siri Shortcuts.
Beyond coders (of which I count myself among their number) who’ll use more advanced tools and languages to achieve the automation they require, Siri Shortcuts could bring simple, easy to configure macOS automation to Mac desktop users.
Given its strength of adoption and simplicity for a user to operate, it’s easy to see that Mac owners could seriously benefit from the inclusion of Siri Shortcuts on the desktop.
Where Siri Shortcuts (and Workflow before it) succeeds is by providing a ‘shortcut store’ model where users can peruse a catalog of existing Apple and user built and promoted automations that can easily be adopted and put to work with minimal effort on the end-user.
The ‘shortcut store’ isn’t unique to Siri Shortcuts. The well-known cloud automation tool IFTTT was one of the first to offer the same model for their ‘applets’, and indeed competitors to the IFTTT platform like Zapier and Microsoft Flow both offer the same feature in their respective platforms.
Simple adoption, ease of use, and a comprehensive store of automations makes Siri Shortcuts a no-brainer to bring to macOS.
Will it replace Automator? I’d like to think in time it would, even for the power users and coders.
The latest versions of Siri Shortcuts brings with it more options for coders with if/then/else statements, loops (known as repeats), and other more traditional scripting concepts to make it powerful.
Add in even more support for third-party apps and it will be the go-to desktop automation tool for macOS.
I hope Apple is listening…