Complementary Apps – Take Control of Shortcuts

Complementary Apps

Thankfully for us, Shortcuts is popular—this means there are several apps out there that give us more actions, and those in turn let us automate more things. I’ve listed these apps in order from “easiest to use” to “most complex.”

Toolbox Pro

Toolbox Pro exists to add actions to Shortcuts. With it you can set and retrieve global variables—to use in more than one shortcut, check if your device is on charge, find emoji, and more. If you can’t find an action in Shortcuts that you think ought to exist, there is a good chance this app has it. You don’t need to configure anything, or write a script to use this app—just install it, look at the samples, then open Shortcuts and use the actions!

For example, if you want to check whether audio is playing, you can use the Toolbox Pro action Is Audio Playing (see Figure 60).

Figure 60: Hand playback to your HomePod if audio is playing.

You can also Get Connection Status, an action that tells you whether you are connected to the internet.

Pushcut

Similar to automations, Pushcut sends notifications to let you run shortcuts. Alone, this doesn’t sound impressive, but combined with other services and the unique triggers, it is very powerful. For example, you can extend the Meeting Time & Notes to send you a notification at the scheduled end of the meeting—and when you open that notification, it can run a shortcut to send the notes to the attendees.

Pushcut also integrates with Zapier and Integromat. These are web services which integrate with a lot of other web applications and allow you to hook them to one another. With these connections you can set up web-based triggers, and in the app itself you can create location-based triggers. So for example, when a record changes in Airtable, Zapier can tell Pushcut to send you a notification, and you can use this to run a shortcut—perhaps to provide more input, or to send a customized email.

Another trick you can perform with Pushcut is using a shortcut to schedule a notification. When I clock in at work in the morning (which I do with Shortcuts!), I tell Pushcut to send me a notification to clock out in eight hours. When this notification arrives I tap it, and Shortcuts opens and runs my Clock Out shortcut for me.

You can also trigger Pushcut in the same way as an API—with Get Contents of URL (see Work with REST APIs for more details on how this works). This lets you trigger it a part of a Home automation (so when you arrive home, Pushcut notifies you instead of Shortcuts). You can use this approach to give yourself a menu of HomeKit scenes to choose from instead of the lights always doing the same thing.

Create a notification in the Pushcut app and copy the URL. In your shortcut (any kind), add a get contents of URL action, and paste in the link from Pushcut. Now when the shortcut runs it will send a call to the Pushcut servers which in turn virtually “poke” your device and your notification will show up!

Jayson

Jayson is a play on the word JSON. It is a service designed to help you view anything in a JSON format, and gives you a much easier way to view and understand these.

If you create a complex dictionary or work with APIs, then you need to be able to see the data in a clear and easy-to-use format. I find with Jayson and Shortcuts in split-screen on my iPad, I can work with dictionaries and JSON files much more easily.

Scriptable

If you are hankering for an action that you can’t find anywhere else, then Scriptable probably has the functions to let you script it. It is an app that lets you write JavaScript to control your device—the scripting itself is beyond the scope of this book, but between good documentation and the user forums even a novice scripter can accomplish many simple tasks. A good example of something Scriptable can do that Shortcuts cannot is creating a Reminders list.

Here is a script for Scriptable to find (and create if not found) a Reminders list with a specific name:

Calendar.findOrCreateForReminders(args.shortcutParameter);
Script.complete()

Two whole lines of code! I called this script “Find Reminder List,” and in Shortcuts I can use the Scriptable action Run Script to run it, and set the Parameter to the name of a reminders list (Figure 61).

Figure 61: Run a script in Scriptable with a variable (args.shortcutParameter) as the input.

Drafts

When you hit the limitations of what you can automate with Shortcuts and Notes, take a look at Drafts. Drafts was originally designed as “the place where text starts”—back in the days where our iPhones (there were no iPads) didn’t even have Copy and Paste actions. Nowadays this is less of a problem, but Drafts is still an excellent note-taking app and has evolved significantly. It has functions such as unlimited dictation (the dictate button on your keyboard stops after a minute or so), and a whole directory of actions. You can install these actions in Drafts and then through Shortcuts use them on text or a note you create in Drafts. In addition, the core functions are wider reaching than those of Notes. We can prepend to a draft, as well as append (the latter is available in Notes). One of my favorite features is the ability to open a specific Draft. Use the Open Draft action, and then tap the Draft variable to open it—much easier than the “Find Note” and “Open Note” combination I showed you in the Meeting Time and Notes shortcut.

Toggl

Time tracking has had a recent surge of popularity in certain circles, and it is something that definitely works best if you can automate it. A handy web service where we can do this across all platforms is Toggl. Combine the actions to start and stop timers with your existing shortcuts, such as Meeting Time and Notes, and use them with automations like the Open App trigger.

PCalc

Shortcuts can do a lot of calculations and conversions itself. However, if you want or need more, such as currency conversion, or to calculate a formula you frequently use, PCalc is your app. This is much more convenient than a 20-step shortcut to “Round to Nearest,” and we can save numbers to a Register in PCalc to access again later, either in Shortcuts or directly in the app.