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How Siri Shortcuts work in iOS 12

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Siri Shortcuts will make Apple's assistant more useful.
Siri Shortcuts will make Apple’s assistant more useful.

Image: brittany herbert/mashable

Siri may not be getting the major update in iOS 12 that some had hoped for, but Apple still added a powerful new tool to the voice-activated assistant’s wheelhouse: Shortcuts.

Siri Shortcuts is a standalone app that lets you set app-specific shortcuts to use with Siri. The feature will take a bit of work to set up, but it should make it much easier to use Siri with all the apps you’re already using. 

It’s an important update for Apple. Siri’s lackluster third-party app support has long been one of the assistant’s biggest drawbacks, and Siri Shortcuts gives users a level of customization that hasn’t been possible up until now. 

How it works

At a basic level, Siri Shortcuts lets you automate the tasks you perform every day when you use apps. This can be one-step actions, like ordering a cup of coffee, or multi-step processes that involve several different apps.

One simple example Apple used onstage was accessing hotel reservation info from the Kayak app. Instead of having to launch the app and search for that info, you can use the new “add to Siri” functionality. 

Once added to Siri, you just record a shortcut — the phrase you want to use with Siri to trigger the action (in the Kayak example, it was “travel plans”). Once enabled, using that phrase with Siri will bring up the information directly from Kayak without launching the app. 

The power of Shortcuts

But these shortcuts can be much more powerful. If you’ve ever used the Workflow app, then you have an idea of just how helpful it can be to chain multiple apps together into a single process. 

We only got a brief look at the Siri Shortcuts app — it’s not part of the initial developer beta, according to early testers — which looks very similar to Workflow, the automation app Apple acquired last year.

Apple's upcoming Siri Shortcuts app.

Apple’s upcoming Siri Shortcuts app.

Like Workflow, the Shortcuts app will use a drag and drop interface so you can create very specific triggers. For example, you could set up a shortcut for your daily commute that will bring up directions, send a text message, adjust your thermostat, and start playing your radio station just by telling Siri “I’m going home.” 

Again, it’s worth repeating that this a huge amount of flexibility compared with Siri’s integration with third-parties in iOS 11. Instead of only working with a handful of specific types of apps, Shortcuts will make it easy to access just about any app using Siri. 

Shortcuts will still require a bit of work from developers to fully take advantage of the feature, but it should be welcome 

Siri Suggestions

Creating custom shortcuts via the app is the most powerful way to leverage the new feature, but it also requires a bit of work to set up, which is not something everyone will want to take the time to do. But even if you don’t go through the process of manually creating your own shortcuts, you’ll still benefit from the feature thanks to another one called Siri Suggestions.

Like Shortcuts, Siri Suggestions automates common tasks you do inside of apps without going to the trouble of having to actually launch the app. But instead of having to ask Siri yourself, the assistant will suggest the action right on your lock screen based on your prior behavior.

For example, if you always open a meditation app after waking up, or put your phone on Do Not Disturb mode while at the theatre, iOS 12 will be able to proactively send you notifications to do these things. 

So whether you use the Shortcuts app or just rely on Siri’s new Suggestions feature, Apple’s assistant should be making your life at least a little bit easier in iOS 12.

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