How Apple is improving Siri Shortcuts in iOS, iPadOS

Towards an Apple VoiceOS...

Apple, iOS, macOS, Siri, Siri Shortcuts, Voice control, voice automation, Mangrove, AR glasses

Apple understands that the greatest benefits technology provides can only be realized when technology becomes accessible and easy-to-use. That’s why the company has taken giant steps to improve Siri Shortcuts in iOS 13.

Automation for the people

Workflow begat an Apple acquisition which itself begat Siri Shortcuts, and while the original solution had passionate adherents, the opacity of the terms used in the Workflow/Shortcuts creation dialog mean lots of people just didn’t use it.

This meant it just wasn’t approachable enough.

That's a problem, because (as digital transformation experts warn), if you build it they do not come unless you make sure you build it for them.

The bottom line is that people need the tools they use to be as intuitive and obvious in use as a hammer or a nail.

That’s just how humans are.

And also why Apple's Human Interface Guidelines continue to influence the entire industry.

Now those guidelines are coming to voice. 

Apple in iOS 13 has made it much easier and clearer to build Shortcuts than before.

Commands are now described in natural language, rather than assuming you already know what some of the phrases mean. This should make it much easier and clearer for us to build new Shortcuts.

Support for new apps

Apple has also introduced support for new apps into Siri Shorcuts. These extend to its own apps, and also enables more third-party apps to create Shortcuts using newly-introduced developer APIs. In other words, Shortcuts is becoming capable of handling more tasks.

Here’s a few highlights:

Apple’s Home app now has a host of Automation triggers (see below). You can even create shortcuts that trigger when particular family members return or leave home. You can also configure shortcuts so they act differently in response to the weather.

Third party apps will introduce their own shortcuts over time.

Automatic triggers

Making things happen without interaction is one of the promises of automation.

The idea is that as you travel through your day your devices can adjust connected systems around you to meet your productivity targets and comfort needs without any kind of action from you.

To meet this need, Siri Shortcuts in iOS 13 introduce support for automatic triggers for shortcuts.

These will be invoked in the background – your lights may go on when you are parking your car in your garage, for example, or your device may enter Do Not Disturb mode once you arrive at your meeting.

Here is a list of automatic triggers (and a little description) you’ll find in iOS 13 at this time. (This is in the beta, what appears in the final version may be more or less extensive than this):

Triggers for Settings

  • AirPlane Mode – make things happen when you enable or disable this mode.
  • Bluetooth: Perhaps you want your Apple Music to play through your Bluetooth speaker when it is paired.
  • Do Not Disturb.
  • Low Power Mode – other things that happen when you enable or disable this mode.
  • NFC
  • Open App – perhaps opening one app should set a bunch of other things off.
  • Wi-Fi

Event related triggers

  • Alarm – what to do when an alarm takes place.
  • Apple Watch Workout – you could set up am automation to order you a pizza once you complete your workout, though I’m not sure that’s going to help.
  • Time of Day – set these down to the hour.

Triggers for travellers

  • Arrive: You can stagger these – as you drive into your garage the lights may go on, and 5 minutes later perhaps the lighting and music start in your front room and your central heating goes on.
  • Before I leave: Things to do before you go-go.
  • CarPlay: What happens when you connect or disconnect.

One of the funniest ways I saw to think about using these new additions saw some wag invent a Shortcut that did this:

Arrive home, check if no one else is home and set custom lighting up in the den. The shortcut then pairs the HomePods to the Apple TV wakes the TV and opens up your choice of singalong track, along with the lyrics. Once you’re ready, say “play music” and sing loudly along until you feel better.

I rather imagine people will come up with a few more useful ones.

These automated triggers also gain support for a wide collection of new actions.

What Siri can do is extending

We’re expecting a range of third-party app-related actions will appear once the next edition of iOS ships, but Apple has introduced many that may be of interest to you – particularly improved control over Settings.

These include things like Zoom, LED Flash, Magnifier, Text Size, Transparency, Voice Control and more.

You’ll also find new actions to help you control media on your device, including an automation that will play your content through your choice of output and actions for podcasts and more.

One improvement enterprise workers may like is a newShow Reminders List action, which makes it easier to place new reminders into the appropriate list (used with Voice Over and I guess you’ll be able to initiate these commands with your AirPods or any other set of mic-connected headphones, or other screen-free devices).

Another useful thing: Many of your Shortcuts can also be mapped to swipes, taps, mouse or braille commands, which makes them a deeply useful tool for accessibility. It is also possible to add important Shortcuts to your Home screen.

Up next?

These useful improvements in Siri Shortcuts aren’t the end of the road, just a stage on the journey Apple is taking with voice and voice control.

Where is that journey going?

In a report, Mangrove Capital Partners claims:

“Apple’s launch of SiriOS in 2020 will unleash huge innovation in the voice economy, which will be worth $1 trillion by 2025.”

One day you’ll wear your Mac. 2020 may be quite interesting...

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Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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