Computer Automation has been something that geeks have known about for a long time. The ability to create a script to run a backup at a particular time each day, pull down tagged information from a text file or database, or set up a template with customized information has been an incredible time-saver. Still, for all it’s possibilities, automation has not been something terribly accessible to the general computer using population 1.
Until now, that is – and on the iPad, of all places.
Workflow, an app currently listed at $2.99 on the iOS app store, is a wonderfully accessible way to automate tasks on an iOS device. It’s still a bit geeky, but it’s a lot of fun to play with.
I actually see Workflow as a great introduction to programming concepts for people interested in learning more about how computers work. 2 Each workflow is created much like a puzzle, and getting all the pieces to fit together to do something useful is a wonderful exercise. As skills are developed in the app, workflows can get more complex. All of these skills transfer over to straight programming.
Workflow, as stated above, is usable for even people who don’t necessarily want to play with the puzzle of automation. The apps creators have wisely created an in app gallery of workflows which can be downloaded to a users iPad. There are quite a number of useful workflows available for download which cover a number of useful tasks on an iOS device.
Each workflow can be set up as an action script, which can be accessed within other apps, or as an app which resides on a home screen. The flexibility of Workflows is extraordinary, and I’m only beginning to uncover what it is capable of.
Below is a video of two workflows in action, both of which I created. The first, called “Clipboard” takes the current contents of the clipboard and appends it in to a note in a specific Evernote Notebook. In this case, the Notebook is “Workflow,” and the note is “Notebook.” Each new item pasted into the note is placed on it’s own line. The second workflow is an app which scans the contents of the Clipboard Note, and creates a list dialog with the contents of each line in the note. The item selected is placed on the clipboard.
The two workflows, when used in conjunction with one another, create a simple multi-item clipboard within iOS. This is a helpful solution for me when I’m prepping presentations. Whenever I find a specific image I want to use 3, I can copy the URL, append it to my Evernote Clipboard, and then later retrieve the information when I need it. Yes, in iOS 8 Evernote has the ability to create notes from information in a workbook – but the ability to append a note is a significant feature for me. The ability to access the information later with two taps is equally as important.
It’s rudimentary, and it is currently limited to text-only, but it’s a good way to demonstrate the types of tasks which can be automated with Workflows.
- You might hear some Mac aficionados screaming about Automator right now. Do not be alarmed, it’s only to be expected. Automator, while amazing, is still extremely geeky – normal people don’t use it. ↩
- Yes, I said Workflow was for “normal people,” it is. Geeks, however, have to come from somewhere. ↩
- Always Creative Commons, by the way. ↩