This is post 1 of 3 on using the iOS Shortcuts app with vision impairment. Read part 2 on Shortcuts that help the vision impaired here and part 3 on how to create custom Shortcuts here.
In the latest iOS 12 update, a new app called Shortcuts was added to the list of stock apps that come with all new iOS devices. At first, I wasn’t sure what to think of this new app and spent several days playing around with it to figure out how it could help me, and I was pleasantly surprised with the large amount of features available. Here are my tips for using iOS Shortcuts with vision impairment.
First, what is Shortcuts?
Shortcuts is a new feature in iOS 12 that allows users to automate tasks across one app or multiple apps by using Siri or tapping the screen. Each shortcut is made up of one or more actions that interact with apps, content, and internet services to give the user information. It’s more than just asking Siri to open an app, it’s a way to make things easier on the user by automating tasks that normally involve multiple apps.
How to get the app
The Shortcuts app is free to use and available on devices that support iOS 12.0 and up. Compatible devices include iPhone (5s and later), iPad (iPad Mini 2 and later), and iPod Touch 6th generation- I’m not sure why, but Apple Watch isn’t on the list of compatible devices. While the Shortcuts app should automatically download with the software update, users can also get it on the iOS App Store here.
Shortcuts vs IFTTT
I’ve talked about IFTTT before as a way to connect web services and devices, such as with the Amazon Echo. Shortcuts is definitely not a replacement for IFTTT for me, since I use the service to connect my various devices across multiple operating systems, and Shortcuts doesn’t support all of the same web services as IFTTT does. The apps don’t seem to conflict with each other at all and I am able to use both with ease. Read more about IFTTT here.
The Shortcuts app home screen shows the library of skills that have been downloaded or activated by the user. The screen features large, colorful square tiles against a white background, with white text on the inside of the squares that lists the name of the skill. The gallery screen can be accessed by selecting the button on the bottom right corner and shows a collection of pre-made skills that are available for download. When a square is tapped, a pop-up box shows a description of the skill with the option to download it or view more information on how it is created. The app also looks great with inverted colors which may help with people who get eye fatigue. Read more about dealing with technology-based eye fatigue here.
I found the user interface very easy to navigate with my default large print accessibility settings. Shortcuts uses Dynamic Text, so the font sizes match the system font size that I chose for my iPad, which features large, bold text. VoiceOver also worked very well with the app and I was able to navigate the app with ease- it moved in a logical way across the grid of the screen. Read more about my iPad accessibility settings here and how to use VoiceOver for beginners here.
Skills are organized in the gallery based on tasks such as saving information offline, photography, staying healthy, and accessing the internet. There is no limit to the amount of skills that can be activated, so if a skill looks even remotely interesting, I recommend downloading it. Currently, there is no way to search through skills and users have to browse categories manually, so in the future I hope they will add a search bar of some sort.
Creating custom skills
One of the cool things about Shortcuts is the ability to modify existing skills and create new ones to fit the needs of individual users. I have a detailed tutorial on how to create and customize skills in part 3 of this post series.
How to open skills
Depending on the skill(s) you want to use, skills can be activated in different ways. Here is a brief summary:
- Location or timer-related skills do not require any user input and activate at a pre-determined time or location
- Web browser based skills can be activated by typing the “share” button in Safari
- Siri skills can be activated by opening Siri
- Other skills can be activated within the Shortcuts app
What I use it for
I have been using all sorts of skills to cut down on me switching between apps, and have been downloading skills from a variety of sources. There are skills I found in the gallery section and either kept as is or modified for my needs. There are other skills that I downloaded from other users on the internet or communities such as Reddit, and I also made some skills from scratch using the Shortcuts app. I have a list of my favorite skills in part 2 of this post series.
I really like the Shortcuts app and how it can help to automate tasks that previously would take several minutes or several apps to accomplish. While I don’t consider Shortcuts a replacement for IFTTT or any of my other digital assistants, it definitely is a great complement and can help users with vision impairment tremendously with using their iOS devices.