Wednesday, May 1, 2024

The Joy of Shortcuts

Jarrod Blundy:

I love building shortcuts. I have 579 of them in my personal library at the moment, and I’d guess that I built or modified about half of those at some point or another. Between my HeyDingus Shortcuts Library and my old home on RoutineHub, I’ve shared over 40 of them publicly, thinking that maybe someone else will find these little tools helpful.


But mostly, it just lights up my brain in a way that few other things do. […] And I enjoyed every second of getting them just right.

Via Federico Viticci:

For me, despite the (many) issues of the Shortcuts app on all platforms, the reason I can’t pull myself away from it is that there’s nothing else like it on any modern computing platform (yes, I have tried Tasker and Power Automate and, no, I did not like them). Shortcuts appeals to that part of my brain that loves it when a plan comes together and different things happen in succession.

I love automating things and have used many utilities to do so, going back to classic Mac OS. These days I mostly rely on AppleScript and shell scripts. For whatever reason, Shortcuts just does not fit my brain. I found Automator intuitive but limited. Shortcuts, not being language-based, is also limited, but it’s seemingly much more powerful than Automator. However, I find it confusing to use, the app’s interface doesn’t feel right for a Mac app, and I wish shortcuts were saved as files.

It’s also a pity that some functionality—e.g. HomeKit—is not available from AppleScript or shell tools, only via Shortcuts.

Joe Rosensteel:

I love Shortcuts. I love WiFi device names. I love conflict resolution when I didn’t edit the Shortcut on either of those dates.


13 Comments RSS · Twitter · Mastodon

Shortcuts can be pretty neat, but as someone who comes from a traditional programming background, I would love to see Apple come up with an official text-based way of writing Shortcuts as well. I can't imagine how someone like Federico Viticci manages to write Shortcuts with hundreds of actions in them and still say sane.

I got a little nervous when Apple called Shortcuts the future of automation on the Mac. I once wrote some elaborate AppleScripts to automate catalog generation in Adobe InDesign and trying to do something like that in purely block-based environment like Shortcuts would be a nightmare.

I use Shortcuts, a lot. On top of being a major time saver, I also see myself in the “joy” Jarrod mentions. But one recurring annoyance is how buggy Shortcuts on macOS is. I wish Apple would put a bit more effort into quality control for the macOS version.

I'm still using KeyQuencer on System 7. Even Keyboard Maestro doesn't do it for me like KeyQuencer does.

The Shortcuts interface is bad on all platforms. It's way too fiddly and there's a lot of hidden stuff that I can never remember how to get to (like changing what things a shortcut accepts). Automator's interface is far more robust.

I don't know which bums me out more — Shortcuts's limitations, or its interface. These were understandable problems early on that become less understandable with each year they don't improve.

Grateful every day for Keyboard Maestro. I wish there was an equivalent on the phone because Shortcuts still feels like a program made by aliens who have never used a computer the way humans do.

Shortcuts is a SwiftUI app. Isn’t it the flagship SwiftUI app on macOS or has it been supplanted by the critically acclaimed System Settings?

Agree with Brad, the UI is the problem, irrespective of the power, which can be quite considerable esp. on iOS, of course. And yeah, sure, I do enjoy putting things together and making it run, absolutely, but it's brittle AF and not production quality. I prefer Automator on macOS as while it's a much blunter instrument it actually works.

AppleScript? Please can someone with a programming background explain how the f*** you are supposed to learn it? Because I'm a C man, and I can't figure it out! Surprised more don't use JXA really. I've no problem learning new stuff, I merely insist that it's sane!

Shortcut was started as an indy project in ios "walled garden". It is somewhat understandable the decision was made: not traditional language logic, interface, etc. After all it was a good job for small dev team

But when you are a "multigazillion dollar" first-party developer then probably you could do it better

@Sebby AppleScript: The Definitive Guide is really good. You still need to learn the underlying model even if you later choose to use the JavaScript syntax.

@Michael Tsai Thanks! Turns out I already have it and have already started reading it, guess I need to get back to the grindstone. And you're right, notwithstanding all the changes that happened since then, I certainly remember enjoying reading this book, while I was on holiday. Finding all the docs Apple scatters all over the place was something else. In my opinion the official docs are terrible, but sadly, necessary to figure out all the little changes Apple have added since, including syntax.

Yes, I think you would need to find the scattered documentation for AppleScript Objective-C, which is probably the most exciting thing added since that book.

In fact, shortcuts was a re-entry into programming for me (many years after C64). But it's extremely fiddly to keep track of things in this little spyhole of the app. Adjusting the variables is difficult. The translation of the actions into German is unnecessary and misleading (Dictionary = Wörterbuch, which let you think of a German-English dictionary).
I now use shortcuts as a frame to transport my shell, apple or ruby scripts, which I create outside the app.

I wanted to at least tolerate Shortcuts on macOS, but I have a handful of Automator things that are mostly just 10-line Perl scripts that I can't easily make work in Automator unless I'm willing and able to port them to JavaScript.

I use another Automator workflow to toggle between light and dark mode. I tried to recreate it in Shortcuts and it didn't work right, at least as of a macOS version or two ago.

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