Apple has released a new feature alongside iOS 12. It's called Siri Shortcuts, and it's supposed to speed up actions you take in apps, and it lets you add those actions to Siri. There's also a dedicated Shortcuts app, so you can create and manage multiple actions across multiple apps.

Add it all up, and this feature promises to bring huge advancements to iOS, making it simple for you to get done things on a daily basis. But, more importantly, you'll be able to do more with your iOS devices, while - hopefully - using your device less. If any of this sounds familiar, it's because Siri Shortcuts is based on Workflow, the app that Apple acquired and essentially transformed into Siri Shortcuts.

Siri Shortcuts primarily lets you assign custom trigger phrases to apps so you can quickly get to the things you need. Siri will also suggest an action at just the time you need it, via Siri Suggestions. Late for a restaurant booking? Siri will suggest you call the restaurant. Have a coffee from Starbucks every morning at the same time? Siri will order it for you. There's a lot more to Siri Shortcuts, including a new app.

So, let us explain exactly what the new feature is and what it can do.

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What are Siri Shortcuts?

Siri Shortcuts are a new feature within iOS 12 that lets you get things done with your apps, with a tap or by asking Siri.

They're essentially quick actions across your apps on iOS. They can perform an action automatically within an app in the background, or they allow you to dive into an app to get something done, all with a simple trigger phrase. In addition to running shortcuts, you can use the new Shortcuts app to create custom shortcuts, simplifying everyday actions by combining steps across multiple apps.

So, you can do things like tell Siri you’re “going to bed” and the digital assistant will switch your phone to do not disturb. Several app developers are also launching their own custom Siri Shortcuts. Citymapper, for instance, is adding Siri Shortcuts support, so that you can create a shortcut to ask “when’s my next train”, and then you'll get related updates, platform information, and more.

Shortcuts appear in three main places on an iOS device: As suggestions (via the lockscreen or Spotlight, proactively display shortcuts to actions from apps based on your usage); in Siri, triggered by your own custom voice commands; and the new Shortcuts app in iOS 12. Siri Shortcuts will also appear on Apple Watch devices via the Siri watch face with the new WatchOS 5 software update.

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Shortcuts vs Actions: The difference

Shortcuts

According to Apple, a "shortcut" is a quick way to get one or more tasks done with your apps.

The new Shortcuts app lets you create your own shortcut with multiple steps. For example, you can build a “going for a run” shortcut that grabs the weather report, gives an ETA of your usual route, and launches your exercise music playlist. Shortcuts can automate a wide variety of tasks - from getting directions, to the next event on your Calendar, to moving text from one app to another, to generating reports, etc.

Actions

According to Apple, an "action" is the building block of a shortcut. It's a single step in a task. You can mix and match actions to create shortcuts that interact with the apps on your iOS device, as well as with content and services. Each shortcut is made up of one or more actions.

For example, a shortcut that posts an animated GIF to Twitter might contain three consecutive actions: Get Latest Photos grabs the latest photos that you took on your device; Make GIF uses those photos to build an animated GIF; and Tweet posts the GIF to your Twitter account.

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Examples of Siri Shortcuts

Tile, the Bluetooth connected key fob, is a good example of how Siri Shortcuts can work with connected hardware. When you open the Tile app for the first time, you'll get a button that says "Add to Siri". If you click this button and then record a custom phrase, such as "I lost my keys," and you'll be able to run that command just by talking to Siri. It's great and we've already used it to find the car keys without even having to worry about finding the app, opening it, and then pressing a button. It's things like this that deliver. It really is a good shortcut. 

Because Siri is baked into iOS, it knows your calendar events, including any meetings you have at work. Siri can also know that you're running late for work, based on your location and what time your meeting starts. If it detects something like this, it will now automatically suggest you send a message to the organiser of the meeting telling them you'll be late, or if possible, will suggest you call into the meeting.

Siri already learns your habits and will offer navigation directions based on places it knows you regularly visit. That capability is improved with Shortcuts and iOS 12. For example, it can learn that you visit the same coffee shop every morning on the way to work and, if the shop supports it, you can pre-order your drink before you arrive. Siri will learn this and automatically suggest you order your usual before you leave the house.

Siri suggestions will also appear in search results when you use the on-device Spotlight search in iOS 12.

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What is the Shortcuts app?

You can download Siri Shortcuts from the App Store. There’s an entire gallery of templates to get you started building routines and Shortcuts.

All you need to realise is that the Siri Shortcuts app enables you to create your own shortcuts. If you know about IFTT (If This Then That), you know that it enables you to create mini programs - an output based on an input called a recipe. For example, say you want to receive a reminder about something when you get to work. In this instance, your phone will know when you get to work based on location.

The Shortcuts app lets you create recipes for various apps, based on different scenarios. If you're going home from work, you can tell Siri "Heading Home" - again, this is a custom phrase - and it will then activate the shortcut you created. This can include getting navigation directions to home based on your current location, and sending a message to your mum or roommate telling them you're on your way.

It can even adjust the temperature of a HomeKit thermostat so your home will be nice and toasty when you get in. The Shortcuts app comes with over 300 suggestions to get started in the Gallery view, while there's an Editor view to add or modify your shortcut. You can also combine several Siri Shortcuts into a single "multistep workflow". The Library view lets you to see the shortcuts you've created.

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How to create and use a custom shortcut

To create a custom shortcut, open the new Shortcuts app, create a new shortcut in the Library view, then add actions in the Shortcut editor view, and finally, run your new shortcut to test it. Go here to for step-by-step instructions. The Shortcuts app's Gallery also features a curated collection of handy shortcuts. You should explore the gallery to find shortcuts and to see how they’re built.

When you find a shortcut you like, you can add it to your Library view with a simple tap and then customise it to suit your needs or preferences. After you add shortcuts from the Shortcuts app's Gallery, or after you create your own shortcuts, you can easily launch them in the Shortcuts app itself or from the iOS Today View or from your iOS Home screen or by simply asking Siri.

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Third-party Siri Shortcuts you can try

While Apple offers pre-made shortcuts, third-party app developers are also launching their own. Here are some examples:

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Need more help?

See Apple's Shortcuts User Guide for more instructions. Workflow developer Matthew Cassinelli also has this useful overview video.