Five-Year Anniversary of Apple’s Acquisition of Workflow, Which Is Now Shortcuts

Matthew Panzarino, five years ago today:

Apple has finalized a deal to acquire Workflow today — a tool that lets you hook together apps and functions within apps in strings of commands to automate tasks. We’ve been tracking this one for a while but were able to confirm just now that the ink on the deal is drying as we speak. [...]

The app was made by a small team that includes Ari Weinstein, a former iPhone jailbreaker. I’ve been following his efforts since the iPod Linux days and covered his very useful DeskConnect app a few years back.

Workflow has been around for a couple of years and we’ve covered it and its updates. It shares some similarity with the service IFTTT, in that it allows people to group together a bunch of actions that can allow them to perform complicated tasks with one tap. It had built up a sizeable number of users and downloads over the past few years.

I was reminded of this anniversary via John Vorhees, who linked to this prescient piece by Federico Viticci written shortly after the acquisition. Viticci was far ahead of his time in seeing the potential for Workflow/Shortcuts.

I’m of two minds about the current state of Shortcuts. First, Shortcuts seems to be improving at a faster pace than ever before. The biggest improvement, of course, was bringing it to MacOS this year, with cross-platform compatibility with iOS wherever it makes sense, but also enabling Mac-only actions like executing AppleScript and shell scripts. Until Apple showed that they were committed to Shortcuts post-acquisition, there really was no system-wide automation story for iOS. It’s very encouraging that Shortcuts isn’t just alive at Apple, it’s alive and seemingly thriving.

But there’s a part of me that thinks Shortcuts as a first-party automation technology should be even further along than it is after five years inside Apple. My recent look back at the origins of the iPhone and iOS in particular, and thinking about how much that relatively small team accomplished in just two years, has lowered my overall patience for platform advancements.

Tuesday, 22 March 2022