Monday, April 29, 2019

The Under-Appreciated Awesomeness of Apple Events (the Technology)

Brent Simmons (tweet):

That’s where automation — Apple events — comes in. It doesn’t get in the way of the UI, but if you can find your way to Script Editor (or a similar app: there are others), you can learn how to write any feature or workflow you can dream of (as long as it’s technically possible).

Part of the genius of this is that you’re scripting the apps you already use. You’re scripting these great GUI apps that you know and love. No command line, no piping/launching/closing. Just pulling information from apps and telling them to do things.


An outside observer might think Mac users just use pretty — and pretty simple — apps, and that’s the whole story. But that completely misses the power and genius of Macs.

I can’t think of another platform with the sheer level of automation power that OS X (now macOS) has.

Jon Gotow:

With Marzipan reportedly coming in macOS 10.15 this year, Apple is further de-emphasizing the cooperative nature of macOS apps, and will most likely not support Apple events in the “iPad apps adapted to run on the Mac” context of Marzipan.


And as Brent says (and as I detailed in an earlier post), many Mac apps use Apple events to directly integrate with other applications. They tie everything together for you, taking your Mac experience from ‘good’ to ‘great’. Just in my own apps, Default Folder X communicates this way with the Finder, Path Finder, ForkLift, Terminal and iTerm2 to give you seamless access to folders no matter where you need them. App Tamer uses Apple events to make sure it doesn’t interrupt iTunes and Spotify when they’re streaming music for you. And there are numerous other examples throughout the Mac ecosystem (and probably on your Mac right now).


Update (2019-05-02): Jason Snell:

I have a million questions about the future of user automation on Apple’s platforms, beyond just the scope of the changes in macOS 10.15. Are URL schemes really the future of inter-application communication, or is Apple working on a new system that’s a successor to AppleEvents that will offer a more robust pathway than a giant string of plain text? Is Shortcuts going to gain more low-level capabilities on both platforms? Will third-party automation utilities like Keyboard Maestro be able to control UIKit apps effectively?

In the end, I’m not as concerned with how user automation is preserved on macOS as I am concerned that it is preserved. Shortcuts is a remarkably powerful app, and even URL schemes can be richer than you might think—though they’re definitely inelegant.

They can do a lot more than you might think, but they’re definitely not a replacement for something like Apple events.

2 Comments RSS · Twitter

Been thinking about this a lot and discussing it over at Ars. If Apple plans to expand Siri to be more context aware and expand Siri intents, then either it has to reinvent something like Apple Events or utilize the existing Apple Event frameworks. The current solution of Shortcuts seems like a stop gap measure that simply won't scale. Of course Apple's historic big problem is the backend to Siri which is staggeringly inconsistent just with responses to the current capabilities. Trying to expand capabilities will require very good communication between the iOS/macOS teams and the Siri backend — something that reports fairly consistently fault as a problem.

@Clark Agreed, I’m kind of surprised they didn’t do more with the initial version of Shortcuts. It’s cool that it can do what it does, but it just doesn’t seem like a long-term foundation in the way that Apple events were.

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