Siri Shortcuts Explained: Automate (Almost) Everything on Your iPhone or iPad
You really should use one of the best hidden features of iOS.
For an OS that was routinely criticised for not being very flexible, iOS sure has come a long way. iOS still is not as customisable as people would like it to be, but that might change with iOS 14. iOS has a feature called Siri Shortcuts that allows you to automate several tasks. Yes, that’s right. iOS automation is a thing and a growing community of enthusiasts has been adding some essential features to both iOS and third-party apps using Siri Shortcuts.
If you’ve been a fan of apps such as Tasker on Android, Siri Shortcuts is an officially supported app of the same nature for iOS. I can already feel the stern gaze of those who use Automator on Mac. You guys are right too, Siri Shortcuts is for iOS what Automator is for macOS.
Having said that, I think we’re still in the early stages of iOS automation. This niche is only going to grow over time, and with each new version of iOS or as more apps add support for Siri Shortcuts, we’re going to see an increasing array of excellent automations for iOS. This is why we’ve decided to start writing about Siri Shortcuts here at Beautiful Pixels. We’re going to make this a regular feature of this website. Kicking this off on the eve of WWDC 2020 could be seen as auspicious or risky, depending on what’s in store for iOS 14. Let’s hope we hear some good news for Shortcuts tomorrow, but here’s a primer on Siri Shortcuts to get you started..
I’m going to talk about this in some detail a little later in this article, but for now there are three things you need to know about Siri Shortcuts.
- Siri Shortcuts can be used without Siri the voice assistant.
- You can create your own shortcuts or you can just download shortcuts others have created.
- You can create shortcuts without knowing how to code.
Siri may have started off as the voice assistant that almost everyone loves to hate, but now it is much more than that. Siri is an intelligent assistant for iOS that uses machine learning to suggest apps you should open or tasks you should execute. If you’ve seen a notification on the lock screen of your iPhone or iPad suggesting that you call or send a message to anyone you frequently contact, then you’ve seen Siri in action.
Siri Shortcuts takes this one step further by allowing you to create your own workflow actions. Siri Shortcuts lets you download YouTube videos to your photo library, or send WhatsApp messages to anyone without saving their number on iPhone. And this barely scratches the surface of what you can do with Siri Shortcuts.
The best part in all of this is that you don’t have to do anything except install an app, download the shortcut you need, and run it. If you want to make your own shortcuts, you can totally nerd it out. But if you don’t feel comfortable creating your own automations, you can just download them for free. That’s all there is to it.
Trust me when I say that using Siri Shortcuts is quite easy even if you don’t know how to code. Let’s go through the basics you need to start using Siri Shortcuts.
How to use Siri Shortcuts
Siri Shortcuts can be accessed via the Shortcuts app, which is developed by Apple. Shortcuts originated via an app called Workflow, which was acquired by Apple in 2017. Here’s how you can start using it.
- Download Shortcuts from the App Store.
- Tap the Gallery tab at the bottom in the Shortcuts app.
- Tap any shortcut from the gallery, scroll to the bottom, and tap Add Shortcut.
- To run this shortcut, tap the My Shortcuts tab and tap the shortcut you just added.
- You can even add shortcuts to the home screen to run them faster. You’ll see a three-dots icon in the top-right corner for every shortcut in the My Shortcuts tab. Tap this icon, and then tap the three-dots icon once more. Now you can tap Add to Home Screen.
How to create Siri Shortcuts
The next step is to create a shortcut of your own, and I’m going to show you how simple this is. For this tutorial, I’m going to show you how to resize any image from your photo library.
- Open the Shortcuts app and go to the My Shortcuts tab.
- Tap the + icon on the top-right.
- Tap Add Action.
- In the search bar at the top, type Photos.
- Now select Select Photos from the list of actions. Once the action is added, tap Show More and enable Select Multiple in case you want to resize multiple images in one go.
- Tap the + icon again and tap the x icon on the top-right. You’ll see the search bar mentioned in step 4. Type Resize Image in this search bar and select it from the list of actions.
- Now you can set the height or width, or both for resized images. I went with 600 pixels as the height and Auto Width. Tap Done.
- Tap Next (this button is on the top-right).
- This is where you name your shortcut and select an icon for it. Tap Done when you are ready.
- Now you’ll be back to the My Shortcuts page. Tap the shortcut you just created to run it. It’ll ask you to select photos and then automatically resize the images.
Once you try this, it’s really simple to use. The last thing I’d like to show you is how to use shortcuts created by others. First, you need to run any shortcut that’s created by you or available via the Gallery tab in the Shortcuts app. Once you’ve done this, go to Settings and select Shortcuts. Here you need to enable the setting labelled Allow Untrusted Shortcuts.
Now you can download shortcuts freely shared by others, such as this one (via Macstories) off the Internet and run them on your iOS device. We’ll be sharing more of these in the coming days.
Limitations of Siri Shortcuts
While I’d like to pretend that we live in a world where Siri Shortcuts can add all missing features to iOS and third-party apps, that is far from true. Siri Shortcuts gives you a large set of actions for automations, but it doesn’t give you everything you need. For example, you can’t automatically change your wallpaper on iOS because that action was removed for security reasons.
Actions are at the heart of every shortcut. If I asked you to boil potatoes without using any source of heat, you’re going to find it pretty difficult. Similarly, without the right actions, you’re going to struggle to create useful shortcuts. This is where we’re going to encounter the second limitation of Siri Shortcuts. If app developers don’t add actions for their apps in Siri Shortcuts, then creating useful shortcuts is going to be tough.
Every app has a set of actions that you can use to pull data from it. For instance, [Castro](https://castro.fm] allows you to pull the list of queued podcast episodes, but Overcast does not. This means you can’t use the list of queued episodes from Overcast in your shortcut. However, lots of developers have added support for Siri Shortcuts, so these limitations are not the end of shortcuts. We’ve also got lots of smart people finding workarounds to accomplish tasks that I never even thought were possible and the best thing about Siri Shortcuts is that you can just download those shortcuts and get your job done.
That covers the basics of Siri Shortcuts on iOS. This is the first of many articles on Siri Shortcuts and I’ll be showing you how to perform some complex tasks using shortcuts on iOS. Watch this space for more.