Why Shortcuts for the Mac Will Be Amazing

More power, automation, and capabilities

Key Takeaways

  • macOS Monterey will run iOS Shortcuts on your M1 Mac. 
  • Your existing iOS Shortcuts should run just fine.
  • Shortcuts will even import your old Automator workflows, and run AppleScripts.
A MacBook Pro with the Shortcuts Gallery displayed on the screen.

Apple

Shortcuts is about to drag Mac automation back into the future. 

In macOS 12 Monterey, Apple brings the iOS automation system Shortcuts to the Mac. You’ll still be able to use good old AppleScript and bad old Automator, but from now on, automating apps on your Mac will be all about Shortcuts.

This is fantastic news for pretty much everyone. So, what makes Shortcuts so good, why is Apple adding an iOS feature to the more powerful Mac, and what will you be able to do that you couldn’t before?

"The main problem for Mac is that Automator and AppleScript feel old-fashioned and adrift, unlike the constantly updating iOS Shortcuts app. Shortcuts is the logical successor to Automator and already does more and better than [Automator]," Andrei Novikov, iOS tech lead at Orangesoft, told Lifewire via email. 

Shortcuts, Now on the Mac

Shortcuts is a way to automate your iPhone and iPad, and soon your Mac. You do so by dragging blocks to a timeline. Each of those blocks is an instruction, and they are executed in order. You end up with a little homemade app, and it can be run from a home-screen icon, from the share sheet, and more. 

A MacBook computer.

Wes Hicks / Unsplash

A shortcut can be as simple as asking for some text, then using it to send a message to a favorite contact. And it can be as complex as you need. For example, I have a shortcut that takes a bunch of screenshots, wraps them in a frame that looks like an iPhone or iPad, and then combines them into a grid of images. 

You also can run home automations and have them trigger when you arrive or leave. In short, Shortcuts is powerful, easy to use, and very useful. 

And now, Apple has created the entire Shortcuts experience on the Mac. It’s so close that many of your iOS shortcuts also will run on the Mac, with no modifications. For people who have held off switching from the iPad to the M1 Macs because they didn’t want to lose their favorite and/or most essential shortcuts, that barrier is gone. 

Mac Differences

The Mac is a more open, more powerful platform than iOS. It is also more complex. Apps have windows, for example, and apps can save and read files from anywhere. In addressing these differences, Apple has opened up shortcuts on iOS, too. For example, previously, Shortcuts only could save files in its own Shortcuts folder in iCloud Drive. Now, both Mac and iOS can save them anywhere.

And the Mac already has all kinds of automation tools. There are Apple Script and Automator, but you can also run all kinds of code, from Shell Scripts to Javascript to Python and more. The good news is that Shortcuts now runs these automations. 

The Shortcuts icon.

Dimitri Karastelev / Unsplash

You can just add a "Run AppleScript" step to your Shortcut and paste in the script. Or, if you open an Automator workflow, Shortcuts will attempt to translate it into a shortcut. 

Also new are the ways you can trigger a shortcut. One of the handiest might be using a shortcut as a Quick Action. These are the actions that appear in the rightmost pane of the Finder when you select one or more files. Built-in Quick Actions include turning a selection of images into a PDF or marking up images. In Monterey, you’ll be able to put shortcuts there, and they will act on any selected files. 

Developer Support

This is all pretty amazing stuff, and not just for people who like automating tasks. You’ll be able to share and download shortcuts with no work necessary. But this all relies on developers adding Shortcuts support to their apps.

If you look at the number of more recent Mac apps that support AppleScript or Automator, the list is short. Even first-class Mac apps from top-tier developers don’t show up.

The good news is that many of these apps, like the writing app Ulysses, do have good Shortcuts support. Perhaps this is because Shortcuts is more popular than the older methods, or perhaps it’s easier to support it. The fact is, M1 Macs can run iOS apps, and if those apps already have shortcuts,

A screenshot of the Pixelmator Shortcuts action on the Mac.

This momentum incentivizes developers. Because Shortcuts is popular, users demand that apps support it. And many already are. Pixelmator Pro, an excellent image-editing app for Mac, already is adding extensive Shortcuts support. One example is that you can just select a folder of images in the Finder and run a shortcut that uses Pixelmator Pro to watermark them all. 

Automation has limped along on the Mac for years, but Shortcuts is about to jerk it back to life. We can’t wait.

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