App Extensions Are Not a Replacement for User Automation

Sal Soghoian, writing for MacStories (there’s a byline I never expected to write — it’s going to take a while to get used to Sal as a civilian):

Here’s a thought experiment. Let’s imagine that Apple decided to combine their engineering resources to form app teams that delivered both iOS and macOS versions of applications.

In such a scenario it may seem logical to retain application features common to both platforms and to remove those that were perceived to require extra resources. Certainly Automation would be something examined in that regard, and the idea might be posited that: “App Extensions are equivalent to, or could be a replacement for, User Automation in macOS.” And by User Automation, I’m referring to Apple Event scripting, Automator, Services, the UNIX command line utilities, etc.

Let’s examine the validity of that conjecture, beginning with overviews of App Extensions and User Automation.

It’s a great article, and I think Sal’s case is very strong. App extensions are great, but they’re no replacement for automation. His conclusion:

But let’s take a step back, and think about this topic differently. Why not have both?

Perhaps it is time for Apple and all of us to think of User Automation and App Extensions in terms of “AND” instead of “OR.” To embrace the development of a new cross-platform automation architecture, maybe called “AutomationKit,” that would incorporate the “everyman openness” of User Automation with the focused abilities of developer-created plugins. App Extensions could become the new macOS System Services, and Automator could save workflows as Extensions with access to the Share Menu and new “non-selection” extension points. And AutomationKit could even include an Apple Event bridge so that it would work with the existing macOS automation tools.

Must-read piece for anyone who cares about the Mac as a power user platform. I’m OK with the current situation, where the Mac has these automation capabilities and iOS does not. I’d prefer to see iOS gain serious automation capabilities — even if it’s an altogether new technology. But I’m dreadfully afraid of a future where MacOS is devolved to iOS’s state, with no supported automation technologies.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017