I inserted myself into a thread on Mastodon where Matthew Cassinelli was chatting with some internet folks about Shortcuts improvements and issues. I started typing a list in Mastodon, but quickly ran into character limits and the realization that I have a blog on which I never write. So here we are…
Screenshot of Mastodon Post
In no particular order, here are some of the ways that Shortcuts can be improved. Keep in mind this is coming from a digital media Product Manager, so consumer software is not my expertise. I have lots of years of user interaction/user experience under my belt, so these suggestions are coming from my experience in that.
Name variables when you create them. Allow the user to tap/click on the title of a block (“Text”) and rename it. This name would then carry on down the line as the Magic Variable name, eliminating the current frustration of a list of variables called “Text”.
Let me name these blocks, please.
Create proper sub-routines. I have many 3-4-step shortcuts that do very specific things. They are used as “sub-Shortcuts” and don’t do anything on their own. I have some that get the input and save a file to a particular place. I have some that get calendar events and send them forward to another shortcut, some that connect to a server. All of these are cluttering up my Shortcuts Library. Ideally, we could save a Shortcut as a sub-routine and it would disappear from the Library and appear as a block in the Actions List. Then, I could just drag a block called “Get Work Calendar Events” into a flow without having to do the whole “Run Shortcut” dance.
Improved editing UI. I get the UI on an iPhone. A big list of actions, top to bottom. It makes sense. It does not make sense on an iPad or Mac. Shortcuts should be more spatial, like Make.com’s UI
Shortcuts analytics. One thing I would love to do is sort my Shortcuts by “last date run” or “number of times triggered”. As someone with a lot of Shortcuts, this could be super useful to cull the herd of the ones I never use.
Inline action toggle. Allow the user to toggle an action on or off without removing it. I do this in Keyboard Maestro all the time. Sometimes I’m testing a new flow and want to skip a step. Sometimes I want to build a single Shortcut that may have multiple input or output options depending on my mood. I jump around task managers occasionally and have a Shortcut that grabs tasks out of my Obsidian note and sends them to OmniFocus or GoodTask, depending on which task manager I’m using. Now, it’s a convoluted “If” statement. It would be great to just jump in and turn the OmniFocus block on and the GoodTask block off.
Block and group color coding. Another feature of Keyboard Maestro that should be everywhere. Just tinting the background of an action block or a group of actions makes things so much easier to read.
While on the subject, let’s talk grouping. Let me group multiple actions. I cheat on this now by grouping things under a “Repeat” action, with the repeat count set to 1. This allows me to collapse the group and move it around, but it is a messy hack.
For troubleshooting, inline testing would be invaluable. Let me tap one action to try it, without running the whole Shortcut.
And when we’re testing, give me the option to see a readable log of the flow. I know the Logger app exists, but I shouldn’t have to put dozens of extra actions into a Shortcut just to see what’s breaking.
Improved copying of actions between Shortcuts. If I copy an “If” block and paste it into another Shortcut, it loses all the connections to other actions. It’s unusable. Also, support drag and drop copying of actions and groups of actions between Shortcut windows.
Since it’s 2023, we can’t not talk about machine learning/artificial intelligence. I should just be able to tell Siri to “Make me a Shortcut that gets all the events from my Work calendar for today and puts the details of each in a text file.”
User-selectable display of actions. I don’t use Apple Books. Yet, every time I type “PDF” into the action search bar, the “Add PDF to Books” action is there. Allow me to turn off actions, or entire apps, from the Action List. I love Default Folder X, but I will literally never write a Shortcut using its actions.
A proper Archive folder. Let me put Shortcuts in an Archive so they don’t show up in search or in the UI of actions like “Run Shortcut”, but are not deleted. This would be great for demo or seasonal Shortcuts.
Finally, fix the bugs. I can’t count the number of times I’ve dragged an action and it ends up somewhere far away from where I dropped it. Editing variables to format dates or name them (see above, we shouldn’t be naming them from the pop-up!) is very hit-and-miss on Mac. Sometimes the pop-up never opens, and sometimes the edits don’t stick. It’s a mess.
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Shortcuts. Having all of these criticisms and suggestions is only because I use the app many times a day, and have hundreds of Shortcuts in my library that I’ve built for myself and others. I was on the Workflow beta back in the day and was a little worried things were going to go to 💩 when Apple bought the app. I was very happy to see it be even more integrated into all the systems and get regular year-over-year improvements. I see Shortcuts and Siri (both were acquisitions…) being the foundation for Apple’s ML-based automations and improvements in the future.