Shortcuts, the iPhone and iPad automation suite, is now on the Mac, and it’s great—when it works.
In the initial release of macOS Monterey, Shortcuts is pretty flaky. The interface is glitchy, and several basic actions don’t even work. But despite this, Shortcuts is a big deal for the Mac. It makes it easy, almost trivial, to automate the apps you already use. Better still, many apps have already added Mac Shortcuts support just days after release.
“I still think Shortcuts will get there, and I believe Apple is committed to Shortcuts on the Mac, but the version of Shortcuts that has shipped with Monterey is still more a promise than a workable solution,” writes Apple watcher and podcaster John Vorhees on Mac Stories.
Mac users have had automation options for years, from AppleScript to Automator to pretty much any other programming language. But Shortcuts, born on iOS, is a more modern system that is much easier to use and, in many ways, more powerful than those older methods.
Whereas AppleScript requires that you type in (or paste) text, just like writing regular code, Shortcuts lets you drag and drop action blocks onto a blank canvas. These blocks can be tweaked to do exactly what you want, and then when you run the shortcut, the blocks are executed in order.
As a very basic but useful example, you could build a shortcut that accepts images from your Photos library. It would resize the image, strip out location data, and save it back to your library. It would look something like this:
The complexity and power increase from there. Unlike the previous attempt at drag-and-drop automation on the Mac—with Automator—Shortcuts already has excellent support from third-party developers. This is essential because, without it, there’s nothing to automate. And shortcuts don’t need to be fancy.
“[I] Turn the lights on/off via Menubar, so I don’t have to use the Home app on macOS,” software developer Patrick Steiner told Lifewire via Twitter.
Great Shortcuts Apps
It won’t surprise you to learn that most early Shortcuts-adopting apps on the Mac started life as iOS apps. But thanks to some extensive under-the-hood modifications, any Mac app can add its own shortcuts—not just apps ported from iOS.
So, let’s take a look at some of the best apps that you can get started with today.
Darkroom is an alternative to the built-in Photos app and even uses your existing iCloud Photo Library. It only has a few actions right now, but they let you perform basic operations and apply Darkroom’s powerful filters.
An even more impressive option is Pixelmator Pro, which packs in so many shortcuts actions that they wouldn’t all fit in this screenshot. And they’re powerful actions, too, including the app’s trademark ML resolution tool, which can scale up an image without losing quality.
In fact, this is a great point to mention batch automation. Shortcuts is good for two types of task. One is when you have to do a job often, and it takes a lot of effort to do manually. For example, I have an iPad shortcut that grabs the URL of the webpage I’m reading, adds it to Trello, then grabs the Trello link and adds it to Craft, along with a summary of the original article. Doing this manually is a real pain.
The other kind of shortcut is the kind that you might use for batches. For example, maybe you have a folder full of images that you need to resize, add a watermark, and upload to a server. That’s where Pixelmator Pro’s Shortcuts actions come in handy.
Drafts is one of the most useful apps on Mac and iOS. You type in (or dictate) some text, and then you act on it. Or not. Drafts can do pretty much anything to a chunk of text because it has its own automation system built-in.
Combining this with Shortcuts is powerful stuff because you can run one of Drafts’ actions from a Shortcuts action. You can use Drafts to do anything, from creating a reminder or note from your text to translating it to publishing a blog post to your WordPress. And now it works with Shortcuts.
Craft is another great text-based app, although this one is used for writing and organizing information and images. It, too, has a limited set of actions, but I’ve been using them on the iPad for quite a while, and they are more than enough to get the job done. This is another tip—a long list of actions is fine, but a small but well-picked set can be more useful, depending on the app.
Hopefully, this article has inspired you to check out Shortcuts. Just beware—the current state of the Shortcuts app on the Mac is not indicative of the usual