I’ve been using the iOS Shortcuts app since it was first released in 2018, and one of the most useful features for me has been the ability to create automations that don’t require me to activate a trigger manually or open another application. Being able to run background automations has helped me to use my iPad more effectively, and has also helped with managing my screen time so I can avoid eye strain. Here are my tips for how to create personal automations with iOS Shortcuts, which is fully accessible with VoiceOver, Zoom, and supports Dynamic Text/large print.
What is Shortcuts?
Shortcuts is a free app that is pre-installed on all Apple devices running iOS 13.1 or higher and allows users to complete one or more actions using an application on their device. In this context, an automation is a type of shortcut that’s activated by an event, rather than manually, and does not require any additional input from the user. Users can add or edit automations in the Automation section of the Shortcuts app.
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Types of automations
There are two types of automations within the Shortcuts app, personal and home automations. Personal automations are localized to the device and run on a user’s iPhone or iPad, while home automations can be used by everyone in the home or with Apple’s smart home devices. Personal automations are backed up to iCloud, but are not synchronized to any other devices.
Automations can be triggered with the following items:
Event triggers are run at a specific time of day. Settings supported with the events trigger include:
- Sunrise/sunset, including a time delay for 15 minutes-4 hours before or after these times. This is determined by location services
- Time of day- specific time
- Repeat- daily/weekly/monthly
- Alarm settings
- Sound recognition (sound recognition must be turned on)
Travel triggers are run based on a user’s location. Settings supported with the travel trigger include:
- Location- set to a specific area
- Time/time range
- Leave- activates trigger when leaving a given location
- Before I commute- activates trigger when someone typically starts a commute as listed in the address set as home/work in the user’s contacts
Communication triggers are run when a user receives an email or message. Settings supported with the communication trigger include:
- Subject contains
- Account- settings by email account
- Message contains
Settings triggers are run when the user changes a setting on their device. Settings supported with the setting trigger include:
- Airplane mode
- Low power mode
- Battery level
Actions for automations
There are many different actions that can be associated with Automations, including changing settings, opening applications, and more. The website iMore has a comprehensive list of all actions that are available within the Shortcuts app that I have linked below- I recommend using a simplified reading display such as Immersive Reader, Pocket, or Reading View to read this page.
How to set up a personal automation with iOS Shortcuts
Adapted from the iOS Shortcuts guide on Apple Support.
- Open the iOS Shortcuts app
- Tap Automation, then tap in the upper-right corner.
- Tap Create Personal Automation.
- Choose a trigger
- Select the options for the trigger, then tap Next- an empty automation appears in the automation editor.
- Tap Add Action, then browse available actions in the Categories or Apps list, or search for a specific action by tapping and entering a search term.
- To add an action to your automation, touch and hold an action in the list, then drag it to the position where you want it in the automation editor. You can also tap an action to add it to the bottom of the action list in the automation editor.
- Add as many actions as you need for your automation.
- Tap Next- a summary of your automation appears.
- Tap Done. The new automation is added to the Automation screen.
Running automations automatically
By default, a notification will pop up asking a user if they want to run an automation before running it, though some automations can be run without a notification. This can be done by opening the Automation and turning off the Ask Before Running option, tapping Don’t Ask, and then Done.
Triggers that do not support this feature include:
- Before I Commute
Examples of personal automations I use on my iPad
I have a few different personal automations enabled on my iPad, including:
- Set WiFi and Bluetooth to turn on/off at specific times. When I was having trouble sleeping, I found that automating my iPad to turn WiFi and Bluetooth off for a few hours helped me to avoid mindlessly scrolling in the middle of the night and impacting my sleep schedule
- Moving emails from a specific sender to a folder. This is really helpful for college students who are looking to organize their inbox more effectively- I started keeping folders for classes so I could more easily organize course materials. For example, any email with the subject “CDS 205” or “Agent-Based Models” would be moved into a dedicated folder for that class.
- Set a reminder/alarm on a weekly or monthly basis. This is helpful for medication that isn’t taken on a daily basis, or that requires refills to be submitted on a certain date/time
- Reading screenshots from a friend. Whenever my friend sends me a message with the word “screenshot” in it, I have an automation that automatically extracts the text from an image and copies the text to the clipboard, so I can paste it into another app or into Messages so I can read it more easily.
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Additional resources for iOS Shortcuts