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Linked by Jason Snell

Shortcuts coming to the Mac?

Guilherme Rambo of 9to5 Mac brings news of another possible addition to macOS 10.15—Siri Shortcuts and, more interestingly, the Shortcuts app:

It’s also likely that the Shortcuts app - a result from the acquisition of Workflow - will be available on macOS, the inclusion of system-wide support for Siri Shortcuts on macOS 10.15 strongly suggests it. On iOS, the Shortcuts app is not bundled with the system, users have to download it from the App Store. It’s possible that the same will be true for macOS: users will download a Marzipan version of Shortcuts from the Mac App Store.

Supporting the feature on macOS is important so developers of iPad apps can more easily port their Shortcuts-enabled apps to the Mac, with the new SDK becoming available at WWDC. According to sources, only Marzipan apps will be able to take advantage of the Shortcuts support on macOS. Engineers are also working on bringing the assistant on macOS closer to its iOS counterpart by porting over features such as the ability to set timers and alarms and ask about air quality, currently unavailable on the Mac.

Unfortunately, the wording of this report is a bit unclear, since it says that Shortcuts coming to the Mac is “likely” or “strongly suggest[ed]”, and then says more certainly that “only Marzipan apps will be able to take advantage” of it. How likely is likely? The existence of inside “sources” suggests that the project is actively being worked on, which goes beyond just inferring its existence from the plan to bring Siri Shortcuts to the Mac. What I’m saying is, it’s hard to gauge just how likely this scenario is.

Automation on the Mac is in danger of becoming a real mess. Automator and AppleScript haven’t changed much over time, and probably won’t ever be able to control Marzipan apps. Bringing over Shortcuts as the macOS automation tool of the future sounds good to me, but if it’s limited to Marzipan apps only, things get weird. The Mac would end up with two entirely different classes of apps, each with their own automation system, both walled off from the other.

I have to hope that Apple will provide some way for the developers of “classic” macOS apps to add support for Shortcuts into their apps. To not do so would be pretty ridiculous. And what’s Apple going to do for its own apps, assuming they won’t all make the move to Marzipan?

In the long run, Shortcuts for macOS needs to be able to access all sorts of low-level Mac features that its iOS counterpart can’t do, via support for shell scripts and AppleScripts. (The ability to run scripts is really Automator’s killer feature.) I hope it will happen some day, but the first step should be to let any Mac app support Shortcuts, not just the ones brought over from iOS via Marzipan.