Monthly Archives: September 2018

Siri Shortcuts

I’ve been using the public betas of iOS 12 since July and right off something I noticed about the suggested Shortcuts were that the specificity made them mostly useless. Why would I want to resend a message to my sister which I sent 30 minutes ago? No thanks. No, I’ve already viewed that website, I don’t need it suggested again for a voice controlled command. Another pitfall is the repeated suggestion that I can call my brother or another recently called contact. I can already do that with Siri simply by saying “Hey Siri, call my brother.” Why would I bother creating a Shortcut? During the beta period I failed to find a single suggested Shortcut that would be useful. They were all duplicates of something Siri already handles or they were far too specific to a previously done action to be useful. But I had hope that with the release of the updated Shortcut app and new apps designed to take advantage of the new system we would get some useful voice commands.

We’re only a couple days in so it’s too hard to say. There’s a lot of excitement in the Apple nerd community but I will say that I think this is going to take some time. Of the apps currently offering recordable Shortcuts, my favorite is Carrot Weather which offers several very easy to set-up voice commands. This Shortcut makes sense to me as it allows me to get my weather via voice. I can listen and be done. What makes less sense to me are the recorded shortcuts for apps that I’m likely to be interacting with on-screen. Two examples are Drafts and Things which also offer Shortcuts.

Mixing up the inputs: Visual and Audio
What we have with Shortcuts in iOS 12 is a merging of visual and audio computing. We’ve had a taste of the audio for the past few years with Siri. This is Apple’s attempt to mix it up a bit and it will be interesting to see how it pans out. Frankly, in these early days I find it a bit confusing as do my devices.

When I’m at a screen, usually the iPad, sometimes the iPhone, I will use the occasional Shortcut created by the Shortcut app. For example I’ve got one that I’ve used consistently to convert pdfs into jpgs with cropping and resizing as steps. Very handy for turning pdf flyers into jpgs for posting to client websites. I’ve also got Shortcuts for opening or creating file archives which can be handy and nice to be able to do this without third party apps. Various shortcuts for blogging such as one which takes the url and rich text from web pages and copies the combination for pasting into Drafts or iA Writer.

Another, this one used from iPhone, is a mileage calculator that I use to append text to a plain text file stored in iCloud. I get gas then run shortcut which appends the date, gallons, miles and mpg to the text file. Just a tad easier than tapping the text into Notes which is what I used to do.

Speaking of Notes, I’m surprised and disappointed that Apple has done nothing to connect Notes and Shortcuts. If they expect third party developers to take advantage of Shortcuts they should do the same. As of this moment the only Shortcut step for Notes is to create a new note. Why not let me do more? I don’t use the Bear notes app but those that do have access to at least six built in Shortcut functions. I’d love to be able to use a Shortcut to append to a note, for example,the above mentioned gas and mileage log. I’d rather keep it in Notes.

Another log that I keep is for heating and cooling my sister’s vacation cabin. We share a utility line so in the hot and cold months I keep track of the heating and cooling so that I can better estimate our shared utility bill. I’ve set-up a Shortcut that lets me simply say “AC Log On” or “AC Log Off” whenever I’ve turned her A/C on or off. At the end of the month I have a much better idea of how much her bill is. That will also come in handy during the winter when I run her heater. This also goes to a text file when it could be stored in Notes. This difference between this and the mileage log is this is one I trigger just using my voice. I wanted something super convenient because I do this action often and it is indeed very easy to do! I can use this via iPhone, iPad or HomePod. I should also be able to activate via the AppleWatch but currently get an error.

Over the coming weeks I’ll be exploring Shortcuts a bit more. Will they live up to the hopes and dreams of the Apple Nerdery? Will they prove useful for average users? Also, how do they fit into personal and work life? I’m looking forward to finding out.

September 19, 2018

Spent the day, the whole day, at least 8 hours, trying to learn more about how to save time with iOS Shortcuts. Not sure I’ll ever come close to getting this 8 hours back. As with all time saving automations, learning takes time.

Shortcuts User Guide

At the moment I’ve just about finished up a post about Shortcuts. Nothing too extensive, just a few thoughts about using it. I’ll be giving Apple’s Shortcuts User Guide a thorough read-through soon.

Shortcuts in iOS 12 let you get things done with your apps, with just a tap or by asking Siri. In addition to running shortcuts available on your iOS device, you can use the Shortcuts app to create custom shortcuts, simplifying everyday tasks by combining steps across multiple apps.

First year with an Apple Watch: A few hits, a few misses

First, a bit of context. When I purchased the Series 3 last year I was already in pretty good health. I was averaging about 9,500 steps for the year based on the Pacer app on my phone. My weight was about 176 which has been my usual for most past 15 years and about right given my height of 5’10". Dropping to 168 might be ideal, I just haven’t pushed for that. I started tracking steps and diet in 2014 because I had a few life changes at the time that led to dietary changes that led to a gain of about 22lbs over just a few months. I got that under control, lost 15lbs and then eventually lost the remaining 7. As of March 2017 I’ve hovered at my historical normal of 176.

Also, at the time I purchased the Apple Watch I had not been a regular watch wearer. Not for many years. My primary reasons for purchasing were Siri/Homekit, health tracking and for using with AirPods. In this latter intent, using for playback with AirPods it’s been perfect. It’s super nice to be able to playback music from the watch itself or control playback that I might be streaming from my iPhone. And now it’s not even just playback on the AirPods that can be controlled but also streaming from the iPhone to the HomePod. Siri has been excellent on the watch too. I expect all of this will be even better with the upcoming watchOS update.

My main gripe has been activity tracking. Overall it seems to track well. But it’s not without some problems. I’m 49 years old and have had a bad knee since I was a teen. It was better for a while then not so much. I’m not someone who can cycle or run. But I can walk and if I’m really careful I can handle a gentle jog. But my ideal is a vigorous walk. Within the first week with the AppleWatch I learned that I was walking to slow. Not surprising to me as my walking was more for enjoyment than working out. Yes, I considered it exercise and a part of being healthy but I didn’t consider it a workout. And the AppleWatch confirmed that. My green rings didn’t move much when I went out for my 2 daily walks which usually consisted of 2 miles each. During the first week with the watch I would look at the end of the day with 4 miles walked and I might have 10 minutes on the green ring. The red rings were closing based on the initial default of 420. So, I picked up my walking pace. I went from a casual dog walk to a brisk walk and without much trouble could close the green ring with just one 2 mile walk. Then I’d take it easier with my second walk.

At also learned that I could get a more accurate account by using the Outdoor Walk workout if I was cutting grass or walking the dogs because often in that case my arm was not moving back and forth as it normally would during a walk. But over the past few months I’ve been taking note of a few things that bug me.

In April, for the 2nd time in my life, I came down with the flu. My 7 month streak came to an abrupt end and my rings went unclosed for 2 weeks. I later learned that it’s possible to do the “Other” workout and close the rings. Would be nice if Apple enabled some sort of option for sick days. Along those same lines, for those of us that don’t have access to home exercise equipment or a gym, days of bad weather can be a problem. Again, I know now that I can use the “Other” workout on those days but I only learned about that workaround by accident. Maybe Apple does document it more obviously and I missed it? But maybe just a better way to handle sick and bad weather days and the occasional rest day?

Another problem I have is that nearly a year in to closing my rings every day (except for the sick days) and I’m now noticing that even a brisk walk 2 mile walk often does not close my green ring. I guess my cardiovascular system is healthier (obviously a good thing) and so I need to go faster to get my heart rate to the point at which the green ring will close. But as I said, with my knee I’m not able to run and I have to be very careful even with a gentle jog. I’d guess this sort of thing might be an issue for quite a few people with knee or other joint problems. It would be helpful if Apple could allow for a manual setting of some sort. If my brisk walk is now only getting my heart to 110bpm then I should be able to set 110 as the point at which my watch counts green ring minutes. I don’t want to risk damage to my knee so that I can close my green ring.

One last observation. Sometimes the watch just seems a bit crazy. I’ve had days where I’ve gotten 10 minutes of green ring credit for no reason at all. Today while walking I ended the workout half way through the walk. I just wanted to compare the green ring accounting during workout and out of workout. For the walk back I just tapped every so often to calculate the heart rate. When walking at a brisk pace that would normally have me in the 110 to 120bpm range I got 63. I tapped again and 63. Again and 63. Finally it jumped up to 123 which is what I expected. Once it jumped up to 200 which was obviously wrong. In short, sometimes it seems wildly inaccurate.

Overall I consider the watch a good addition to tracking fitness but looking around online it seems many other folks have similar issues. Apple offers a an excellent overview of how the rings work but it seems many people are still confused. Clarification on closing rings and perhaps options for manual settings would be helpful far many.