Why I (Already) Love Shortcuts for Mac

Not longer just for iOS

Key Takeaways

  • The iOS automation app Shortcuts is coming to the Mac in the fall.
  • The Mac will run compatible iOS shortcuts out of the box.
  • Shortcuts even work with AppleScript and Automator.
Shortcuts for macOS as they appear in macOS 12 Monterey

Apple

One place the Mac has lagged behind iOS for years is with automation. No longer—Shortcuts is coming to the Mac this fall with macOS 12 Monterey, and it looks amazing.

The Mac has way more power than the iPad and iPhone when it comes to automation. You can pretty much program it to do whatever you want. In theory. To use most of those tools—AppleScript, shell scripting, the supposedly user-friendly Automator—you have to be able to program. Shortcuts, on the other hand, is kind of like Legos for automation, in that anyone can pick it up and automate dull, repetitive tasks.

The Old Way vs the New Way

Automation is as old as the Mac itself. It kick-started computer use in the publishing industry, and played a big part in Macs becoming so big in design and publishing. In fact, if you go into a newspaper office, you might still find an ancient OS 9 Mac in the corner, automating some essential tasks. 

But while Mac automation was and still is very powerful, it has fallen way behind the iPad and iPhone. 

Shortcuts started life as a third-party app called Workflow. Apple bought it, turned it into Shortcuts, and has been making it better ever since.

"Automation might be the ultimate power-user feature, so it’s great to see it finally coming to the Mac."

The principle of Shortcuts is that you arrange a bunch of pre-built steps into a workflow, dragging them into order, one below the next. When you run the shortcut, it executes these steps, and gives you the result. It can be as simple as taking a screenshot, resizing it, and turning it into a JPG, or as complex as any other software. Apple provides the basic building blocks, the ones that tie into the deep levels of iOS, and developers can add blocks that let their own apps contribute to the automations. 

The neat thing is, ever since Shortcuts was launched, tons of third-party developers have added support. It’s a thriving ecosystem. I have hundreds of Shortcuts on my iPad, and dozens I use multiple times daily. And every time I go back to my Mac, I miss them. That’s why Shortcuts for Mac is such a big deal.

Shortcuts on the Mac

M1 Macs, like the new 2021 iMac and last year’s MacBook Air and Pro, can run iPad and iPhone apps. In macOS Monterey, these iOS apps will work fine with Shortcuts, as if they were running on their native machines. This means you should be able to run your old Shortcuts on the Mac, with no tweaking necessary.

Shortcuts for macOS editor

But Monterey also will add a lot of new Shortcuts features that are Mac-specific. For instance, you’ll be able to run those old AppleScripts and import Automator actions, putting them inside Shortcuts.

Another feature unique to the Mac (unless iOS 15 adds it, too) is the flexibility in ways to trigger shortcuts. You can still run them when using the share arrow, but you can also drop a shortcut into the Dock, then drag items onto it. That aforementioned resize-screenshot-to-JPG shortcut could work like this: drop an image, and it gets converted. 

Real Work

For years, critics have claimed that you couldn’t get “real work” done on an iPad. Meanwhile, iPad users enjoyed features like Shortcuts to automate all kinds of things that are just impossible on the Mac. Try getting your Mac to automatically save selected incoming emails as PDFs, for example. On the iPad, it’s easy–using Shortcuts. Automation might be the ultimate power-user feature, so it’s great to see it finally coming to the Mac.

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