iOS 12 introduced a new app called Shortcuts. It's used as a simple way to group a set of 'actions' and trigger them with Siri using custom voice commands.
Shortcuts works with most of the default iOS apps, such as Apple Music, Email, Messages, Calendar, Weather, HomeKit, FaceTime, and Photos. It can also use your location, interact with documents, search the web and run scripts.
Since Apple opened up Shortcuts to developers, hundreds of third-party apps also come with built-in support.
Which Apple devices support Shortcuts?
You can use shortcuts on the iPhone, iPad, HomePod, and Apple Watch by saying "Hey Siri". However, you can only create them using the app on the iPhone and iPad.
How are Shortcuts created?
Shortcuts are made using the Shortcuts app, available for both the iPhone and iPad. Pre-built shortcuts are free to download from the Gallery, available within the app.
Shortcuts are synced between all of your devices using iCloud. This means they can be used on your HomePod and Apple Watch, as long as any apps the shortcut needs are installed.
Many apps support creating shortcuts for you automatically, and may occasionally offer suggestions. If this happens, just tap on the Add to Siri button next to a shortcut you'd like to add.
Siri may offer to create shortcuts based on machine learning. For example, if you use a weather app at the same time each day, Siri may automatically suggest opening the app for you at the same time as you usually would.
How do Siri Shortcuts work?
A shortcut is primarily a container for Actions. There are a considerable number of available actions in the Shortcuts app, ranging from getting the current weather and playing apple music to taking photos and performing calculations.
A single action can pass its result onto the next, and several actions can be configured to run in sequence.
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For example, the first action in a shortcut could get the current weather, then the following action takes the weather data and inserts it into a text message.
A more complex example is a shortcut to check the traffic, tell you the weather forecast, plan the quickest drive home, then send a text message to say you're on your way. The shortcut could be trigger by saying:
Hey Siri, I'm on my way home
Shortcuts can be as simple or involved as you like.
When you open the Shortcuts app, you also get access to the Shortcuts Gallery, which contains a collection of the best Siri Shortcuts to get you started. The Gallery is accessed by tapping the Gallery icon at the bottom of the window in the Shortcuts app.
Once open, the Gallery screen offers shortcut suggestions generated by your app usage, suggested Automations, and the growing library of pre-built actions, ready to use or customize.
As well as being a helpful introduction to shortcuts, the Gallery offers an opportunity to look at how shortcuts are created.
How to trigger a Siri Shortcut
There are five ways to run a shortcut.
Ask Siri by saying "Hey Siri"
When you create a shortcut, Siri automatically recognizes it by the name you give it. So if you call a shortcut 'take a photo,' to run it just say:
Hey Siri, take a photo
Add the Shortcut to your home screen
On the shortcut details page (accessed by pressing the three dots in a blue circle next to the shortcut name), you have the option to Add to Home Screen. This will save an 'app' icon to your iPhone or iPad, so you can open and run it as you would a regular application.
Show in widget
The shortcut is added to the Shortcuts Widget, from where it can be triggered. The widget is useful as it displays your favorite shortcuts in the same easily accessible location.
Show in share sheet
This option will add the shortcut to the Share Sheet in apps of your choice. This is a good option if you use a shortcut to process something in a particular app, such as pasting text from Safari into an email.
The Share Sheet Types list allows you to select the apps you want to use the shortcut with.
Run an automation
The second tab in the Shortcuts app is called Automation. An automation is essentially a rule by which another action (such as a shortcut) is run.
In this example, we'll set an automation to run a shortcut when a wake-up alarm is stopped.
- Tap on the Automation tab in the Shortcuts app.
- Choose to Create Personal Automation.
- Choose the automation you want to use. In this instance, we'll select Alarm.
- Make sure Is Stopped has a check next to it and press Next.
- Tap on Add Action.
- In the search field, type in 'shortcut', and select Run Shortcut from the results list that appears below.
- Tap on the word Shortcut and select the one you want to run.
That's it. This automation could be used to trigger the display of a personalized weather report, or the morning traffic on your route to work the moment your morning alarm is stopped.
Looking at a Shortcut in detail
To demonstrate the power of shortcuts, we'll take a look at one that's available in the Gallery.
- In the Shortcuts app, tap on the Gallery icon
- In the search field, type Running. The 'Running Late' shortcut should appear on the screen
- Tap on the shortcut and then select Add Shortcut from the pop-up window.
- You will receive a notification that the shortcut has been downloaded and installed.
- Tap on the My Shortcuts icon at the bottom of the screen to see your new download.
- Tap on the three small circles at the top right of the shortcut to open its edit screen.
Now you'll see the sequence of actions configured to create the shortcut. Each action performs a task, then passes the results of that task on to the next.
Note: You may have to grant access to apps on your device for the shortcut to work. Tap Allow Access where requested.
Calendar – find all calendar events where
The first step in this shortcut is an action to grab upcoming events in a defined range.
Tap on any of the colored words, and you'll be presented with a list of filtering options, in this case, so you can select events that take place in a particular time frame. This particular shortcut looks for events taking place on the same day.
Maps – get travel time
This action will look at the location passed on from the previous step, and suggest the best route for driving, walking, or public transport, and calculate the journey time.
The default message can be entered here. This will appear in the message window when the shortcut runs.
The last part of this message is a variable that will display the estimated amount of time before arrival.
Messages – send text message
This action will display the message window on the screen when run.
Click on 'Done' to finish, then tap on the icon again to run it. The shortcut will check where your next event is, calculate how long it will take to drive there, then insert the ETA into a text message, ready to send.
Note: for this example to work, you'll need an upcoming event on the same day.
We've only skimmed the surface of what is possible with Siri Shortcuts. Many of you will be happy to use the shortcuts provided in the Gallery – which will only grow as more shortcuts for more apps are added – or you may relish the idea of creating complex, multi-step actions.
Either way, it's a feature that makes Siri far more powerful and far more useful.
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