There are many creative Shortcuts out there that accomplish a wide variety of different tasks, though sometimes a regular Shortcut doesn’t accomplish everything that you want it to. For the third part of my Shortcuts series, I will be sharing a tutorial on how to create custom iOS Shortcuts to solve specific problems that users may face.
Quick recap- 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.
Why you should create your own custom shortcut
There are many reasons to create your own custom shortcut. Maybe you want to have information from a website easy to access, send a pre-written message to a contact, or perform calculations with ease. This tutorial is written in plain English so that anyone can create a simple Shortcut in thirty minutes or less, and can be adapted to fit user needs with ease.
Do I need programming experience?
Creating a Shortcut does not require writing code or any knowledge about coding or programming, though having knowledge about these things is helpful. Some basic terms I will use in this post include:
- Input- how information is gathered, whether it is by saying a specific term, typing something, choosing from a menu, or similar
- Output- the desired end function of the app, whether it is making a call, sending a text, accessing a web page, or similar
- Processing- the steps between giving input and receiving output, used for drafting a skill
- If/then- If one option is selected, do this. If another option is selected, do something else.
- RSS feed- A way to keep up with new information added to a website or blog
What skill should I create?
In order to decide what skill to create, ask yourself what would make things easier for you in your day-to-day life. I’m purposefully making this post very open ended so people can figure out what skill works best for their needs. Write out what skill you want to create and a brief summary (1-2 sentences).
First, outline the skill you want to create
In all of the programming classes I have taken, my professors have recommended that once we have read through instructions, we should create a chart that shows the input, processing steps, and output of our program. This is tremendously helpful so that I’m not just staring blankly and wondering how to start writing an algorithm or program. Write out what input is needed, how the device should process said input, and then what the program should output.
Next, create a basic outline of the steps
What are the steps to creating the program in your own words? Write out the steps that the program will take to produce the desired output. Think of it like a recipe or a road map to get the desired effect or product at the end. After outlining the steps, use test data to see if the outline makes sense and produces the desired output
Start “translating” the steps to code
Now that you’ve written out what you want to do, let’s start coding! Go into the Shortcuts app, click on the box on the home screen that says “create shortcut,” and start “translating” the instructions you wrote into code. This may seem difficult, but it’s more time consuming than anything else. Here is a summary of translations. This is not all-encompassing, but does feature the most common skills.
- Ask for input- display a dialog box asking for user input. This can be text, numbers, URLs, or dates
- Choose from menu- choose from a list of options that all perform different actions
- Get Clipboard- retrieve data that was copied
- Get latest photos/videos- retrieve most recent photos/videos
- Record audio- self explanatory, records audio with microphone
- Get weather- retrieve data about weather
- Add new event/reminder- add new data to calendar
- Calculate- perform common number operations
- If/then- when a certain condition is met, do a specified action
- Add to reading list- Add websites to reading list in Safari
- Get distance- figure out distance from given point
- Copy to clipboard- add input to clipboard to paste into other apps
- Repeat- repeat actions until a given condition is met
- Format date- format date and time into text
- Count- count how many items have been input
- Generate QR code- generate QR code from text input
- Speak text- read imported text
- Translate- translate imported text
- Make PDF- make a PDF file out of the input
- Share- share input with a third party app, like Twitter
- Send message- sends message in iMessage or SMS
Put it all together
The interface of the Shortcuts app is a drag-and-drop programming interface. Users can see steps for a skill in a flow chart. Simply tap items in the left-side menu to add them to the list, and type in information as needed. There are lots of prompts that make this easy to do.
Customizing a pre-existing skill
What if you want to improve or customize a pre-made skill to fit your needs? Users can modify skills by clicking the three dots on the top right side of each square and using it to open the programming interface and changing the program as needed. This can mean changing the input method, apps used, what information is displayed, location, and more.
I like to make a copy of skills before I modify them for two reasons. One is so I have a backup, and the other is so I can use the same skills in different settings/contexts. An example of this would be copying a location-based skill so I could use the same skill at more than one location.
Sharing your skill
Congrats on making a Shortcut! Skills are private by default and only available on the iOS account of the person who created it. If desired, skills can be shared through iCloud links and posted on the internet so anyone can download them, but make sure to remove personal data such as phone numbers before doing so.
Creating an iOS Shortcuts skill is a lot of fun and allows users to explore the basics of programming with ease. I highly recommend using these steps to create your own custom iOS Shortcut that solves a problem in your everyday life.