Timed automations, Home automations that can run without anyone present, and even NFC stickers are now enabled.

shortcuts photo sticker

Jason Snell

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With Tuesday’s release of iOS 13.1, Apple’s included Shortcuts app takes a major step forward with the addition of automation triggers, features that let you control your iPhone, iPad, and HomeKit setup like never before. Of all the features added to Shortcuts in iOS 13, this one has the most potential. And for iPad users, Tuesday’s release grants access to a major Shortcuts upgrade that will make it easier to create and edit automations on iPadOS.

First, the big update

iPadOS 13.1 is the entryway to all of the new features that arrived last week on the iPhone in iOS 13.0. This includes some great additions to Shortcuts, most notably a revamping of how each individual item in a shortcut accesses previous items.

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Shortcuts items now more clearly define what data is being acted on.

Shortcuts automations work like a flow chart, with items cascading downward, every lower item acting on the previous one. That simple view could be helpful, but it also made performing tasks that have to act on different kinds of information unwieldy. There was a lot of setting of variables and getting of variables in order to put the right information in the right place at the right time—and all those additional items made Shortcuts automations hard to read.

In iOS 13, items in a Shortcuts automation are like sentences, complete with subjects and objects, so it’s always clear what data an item is acting upon. Single items end up containing phrases like “get contents of items from RSS feed”—a complete thought that makes it clear that it’s the RSS feed that’s being acted on. My Shortcuts automations are clearer and simpler because of it.

Another enormous step forward with iOS 13 is that individual apps can now choose how to pass information in and out of Shortcuts. In the past, app developers had invented clever workarounds to pass data, either involving putting that data on the clipboard or embedding it in a URL. Now there’s an official, Apple-sanctioned method of moving around data and letting Shortcuts automations specify exactly what they want from an app. As apps update to support this new format, automations will become vastly more powerful.

Finally, Shortcuts can now be fully interactive via Siri. You can trigger a Shortcut automation with your voice, answer a few questions, and have the automation change how it behaves based on your answers.

Triggers change the game

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A basic Home Automation queries for the local temperature and turns on a fan if it’s a warm day.

But as of Tuesday, the Shortcuts game has been changed even further thanks to the addition of the new Automation tab. This tab actually contains two different kinds of automations, Personal and Home.

Home automations aren’t new—they’re the kind of basic automations you’ve been able to create in the Home app for a while now. In iOS 12 these weren’t particularly sophisticated, but it still allowed a decent level of complexity. For example, in iOS 12 I built a HomeKit automation that turned on a bunch of lights in my house when my smart lock detected a late-night arrival of a member of my household. It means I could pull into the driveway after coming home from a late-night flight, and my indoor and outdoor entryway lights would switch on.

In iOS 13, Home automations can still be that simple—in fact, you’ll see all of those same automations in the Automation tab within Shortcuts. But they’ve been augmented by a new option, Convert To Shortcut. When you choose this option, you can move beyond changing the status of HomeKit items to performing other tasks using Shortcuts.

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The Convert To Shortcut link is a gateway to more advanced Home automations.

In a couple of minutes I created a Shortcut that turns off a bu