Shortcuts Wishlist

Shortcuts has gained plenty of features and functionality over the years, especially after Apple’s acquisition of Workflow, but how shortcuts are created and organized has remained almost unchanged since the app first launched back in 2015.

As a result, creating shortcuts like Mocktail is a painstaking and frustrating process. The app simply hasn’t scaled with the increasingly complex uses for shortcuts and the interface is still skewed towards simple shortcuts made up of only a few actions.

After spending what felt like an eternity updating Mocktail, I’ve come up with a wishlist of ten improvements I’d love to see in Shortcuts.

Copy actions

Shortcuts desperately needs a way to copy and paste actions across shortcuts—it’s almost criminal that it doesn’t have it already. There’s simply no way to reuse a set of actions from one shortcut in another or even just duplicate actions within the composer.

Copy action mockup

As I rewrote parts of Mocktail, I made use of a separate iPad to view a set of actions I had created in another shortcut, then manually add them to the shortcut I was working on.

Backup and versioning

There’s no way to easily back up shortcuts, which feels like a regression and something that was possible with Workflow (i.e., saving workflows as files). iCloud syncing helps keep devices in sync but it’s not a backup tool. I often duplicate shortcuts at various stages of development (Mocktail 1, Mocktail 2, Mocktail 3, etc.), all of which clutter the app.

This is even after I cleaned out older copies

One workaround is to create a shortcut that contains the Get My Shortcuts and the Get Link to File actions to create an iCloud link for every shortcut. This is time consuming as a new iCloud link is generated every time it’s run and the more shortcuts you have, the longer it takes.

A feature I’d really like to see is a macOS Time Machine approach to backups that supports versioning. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve started to make changes to a shortcut, only to realize I want to revert some of my changes. I can’t do that and, unless I’ve duplicated the shortcut at a specific point in time, it’s too late. Being able to create a snapshot of a shortcut—or more easily back it up without the need to create an iCloud link—is something that’s sorely needed.

Versioned shortcuts mockup

Share shortcuts as files

As I mentioned above, Workflow previously supported sharing workflows as files. I used this extensively and it made hosting my workflows on GitHub possible—I didn’t have to rely on web links to share them. This also made it easy to back up workflows. At one time, I had a very simple workflow that would create a timestamped folder of all my workflows on iCloud Drive.

Shortcuts, however, cannot be shared as files and the only option is to create iCloud links. I understand the security concerns here and, honestly, I don’t see this feature ever returning. Nonetheless, it still something I wish it supported… again.

Revamped organization of shortcuts

Despite Shortcuts and Workflow improving significantly over the years, the way shortcuts are organized has barely changed. The most notable improvements I can think of were the addition of search and the ability to tap the Shortcuts button to jump to either the top or bottom of the list.

No way of grouping or organizing shortcuts is a significant user experience problem, one that gets worse the longer you use the app. Many of us seasoned Shortcuts users can easily have over 100 shortcuts, especially if you’re duplicating because there’s no versioning or backup support. Some form of navigable grouping, whether through folders or tags, for example, would improve things significantly.

Subroutines

Shortcuts technically supports this in some fashion as a shortcut can run another shortcut within itself by using the Run Shortcut action. But to do this, another shortcut has to exist. This is problematic for two reasons:

  • You can’t share just the main shortcut, you have to also share any other shortcuts it references or else it won’t work.
  • It’s not something that scales well. The more shortcuts you create like this, the more cluttered Shortcuts becomes (there’s a theme about organization developing here).

I have a few shortcuts for image manipulation and each one runs additional shortcuts to resize and optimize the images (using TinyPNG) passed to it. I’d much rather have a subroutine for optimizing images with TinyPNG than a normal shortcut that isn’t used independently.

Subroutines could be mini-shortcuts that don’t exist within the standard set of shortcuts, instead they could be accessed like actions. Sharing a shortcut should also include a full copy of the subroutine. This type of reuse would, I think, be highly useful.

Breakpoints

There are times during shortcut development that I’d like to stop or pause a shortcut at a particular place. I currently do this with the Show Alert action but would prefer an option to do this without having to tap cancel.

Beyond this, having the ability to pause a shortcut, see what the input and output of the previous action, and even changing subsequent actions before resuming would rapidly speed up my work.

Sandbox

Sometimes I just need a shortcut for a one-off task or I want to try something out. This slowly results in a litter of untitled shortcuts that are either empty or were needed only once. Although Shortcuts does provide an option to either save or delete shortcuts that haven’t yet been named, I wish there was a sandbox for these quick one-off needs instead of creating a new shortcut first. Once I’m finished, I could then choose to save the shortcut or just clear the sandbox.

Improved dictionary support

Dictionary support is pretty good in Shortcuts but it’s hindered by limited functionality and a lack of flexibility. I’d like to see things like:

  • a collapsible tree view for nested dictionaries.
  • the ability to copy and paste keys and values.
  • an option to populate or load a dictionary from a JSON file.

Exit to home screen

The Exit Shortcut action is limited to stopping the current shortcut and then dismissing it. This is fine but sometimes I run a shortcut and would prefer an option to exit the app entirely and return to the Home screen.

Don’t show in Widget by default

Oh boy, do I hate this behavior. I’ve stopped using the Widget entirely because it’s full of duplicate shortcuts. Perhaps this wouldn’t be so bad if there was a better way to back up and version shortcuts?

4 thoughts on “Shortcuts Wishlist”

    1. This is an interesting workaround. How were you able to specify SpringBoard as the app to open? It doesn’t seem possible so it’s only something that can be used if one has this particular shortcut installed?

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  1. Is it possible to create a shortcut to text my wife when I arrive at work that I’ll be home in nine hours (actually calculate and put the time in the message)?

    Like

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