Text and workflows by Federico Viticci
In the years I’ve spent covering iOS automation, I’ve often asked for a mobile version of Automator. Workflow, released today, tries to bring the deep system integration of Apple’s OS X utility to the iPhone and iPad, taking advantage of extensions in iOS 8 to make its automation features ubiquitous and compatible with any app.
Readers of MacStories and iOS power users may be familiar with Drafts and Launch Center Pro, the apps that kickstarted iOS’ small revolution with shortcuts and automated chains of actions that let apps communicate in ways the system didn’t provide out of the box.
In late 2012, Ole Zorn showed how native iOS functionality could be scripted with Python – a concept that he expanded in 2013 with Editorial. Zorn’s text editor (which became even more powerful with version 1.1) went beyond the typical feature set of a Markdown app, offering a comprehensive set of visual actions that could be combined in workflows highly reminiscent of Apple’s Automator.
In spite of the community’s best efforts to bring iOS automation to a broader audience, however, all those apps were ultimately limited to text, URL schemes, or third-party services (like IFTTT) that automated data outside of traditional iOS features.
Workflow – first teased by Ari Weinstein and team in January 2014 – takes another approach: instead of relying heavily on a specific functionality (such as text editing) or third-party apps and services (like IFTTT and Dropbox), Workflow is primarily aimed at automating native iOS apps and features.
Workflow can automate Calendar events and Reminders, it can parse and extract data from webpages in Safari, and it has full support for Photos and sharing services. It even works with iCloud Drive and extensions. Workflow’s first version lacks some obvious features like backup and sync, but what it does today is an extremely powerful proposition – from both practical and conceptual standpoints.
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