Saturday, June 2, 2018

Mac and iOS Automation History

Jordan McMahon:

As it turns out, Jobs was gauging the room to see who was passionate enough about their work to fight for it. Those were the people he wanted to keep. Soghoian passed the test.


As the CEO left the office, he saw Soghoian lingering and asked him what he wanted to talk about. Game face on, Soghoian told Jobs, “Automation, but for the rest of us.” They scurried into the conference room for a private demo. In the upper left hand corner of Automator’s window sat a grid of applications that worked with the program—you’d see things like Finder, Alarm, Mail, Pictures, Internet, and Music. Under each category was a list of all the functions Automator could make the apps complete. By selecting the functions one by one, you could string together as many commands as you wanted to build a little workflow. Anyone with a mouse could change the typefaces in a folder full of Word documents or build a playlist out of their 100 most-listened-to tracks in iTunes, all without typing a word of AppleScript.


Once their work was done, Pierce opened x-callback-url up to any developer eager to try it out. "Without that, it would’ve just been a clever integration between Instapaper and Terminology," Arment says. Instead, it became the de facto standard for getting apps—even big ones like Google Maps and Evernote—to share information with each other and process stuff in tandem.


In 2014, after Apple announced a ton of new tools for apps to work together in iOS 8, Barnard and Youens started brainstorming ways these tools could make their app better. Their plan was to find a way to run x-callback-urls in succession to create script-like actions. They had effectively dreamed up Automator for iOS, but their fear of being burned again by Apple’s often convoluted and murky app approval process held them back from following through.

Previously: Thank You, Sal, Omni’s 2017 Plans.

Update (2018-06-03): See also: Hacker News.

Update (2018-06-04): David Barnard:

To be clear, @youens and I would never have built @WorkflowHQ or been acquired by Apple. My regret is that we spent the summer on Contact Center and hardly touched @LaunchCenterPro. Staying focused, even on “safe” LCP features, would have been smarter.

1 Comment RSS · Twitter

x-callback-url is an absolute atrocity at every level achievable: technical, capability, user-friendliness, security. Tunnelling arbitrary ad-hoc IPC through URL schema is just the kind of of classic hacker ingenuity that’s made the global blackhat industry over the last forty years. If Apple announces next week that they’re adopting x-callback-url as their new official cross-platform IPC going forward, instead of rightfully nuking it from orbit and putting in something that’s actually fit for purpose, I do trust both security wonks and tech press will have a absolute field day ripping them a giant fatal one.

As for me, I’ll be gladly counting the days till our industry shifts wholesale to Windows as the sole remaining professional platform, and then we’ve only one pile-of-ass system to worry about. Our product lives and breathes Apple events every day while gleefully wiping competitors a hundred times our size clean across the floor, but there’s a reason I architected the whole thing so I could rip out the AE code and replace it with DCOM inside a month.

(Oh, and I left a little something in the Wired comments too. *Very* bad of me—I have a PDF parsing language to finish for Monday, no pressure there!)

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