By Jason Snell
April 30, 2020 3:46 PM PT
Command performance: Shortcuts and Safari
As you might have gathered from my Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro review, I spend a lot of time writing on my iPad these days. The iMac Pro is my computer when I’m at my desk; the iPad Pro is my computer everywhere else.
I don’t want to use this space to debate the strengths and weaknesses of the iPad and the Mac. For a long time, I’ve been “Team Both”—someone who uses both devices to get work done and sees the strengths and weaknesses in both. But something that happened to me this week did remind me that those who suggest that it’s the Mac that has all the power and the iPad that’s wanting are definitely a few steps behind.
Since I do so much writing on my iPad, I’ve tried to build up some tools to make the process a bit easier. One of them, which I detailed back in 2018, lets me post directly to my ancient Movable Type blog system from within my iOS text editor.
While Dan and I are the only people likely to use that Movable Type shortcut (unless Daring Fireball’s John Gruber really gets into iPad productivity), another shortcut I built for my writing could be useful in a few contexts beyond my own.
I do most of my web reading on my iPad, and when I see a story I’d like to write about at Six Colors, I usually want to grab a juicy excerpt from the story to quote. So, inspired by a shortcut from Matthew Cassinelli, I built a shortcut that takes the text I’ve selected in Safari on my iPad and generates a new document in my text editor, formatted and ready to be converted into a post.
It works really well. The shortcut grabs the title of the webpage and makes it the title of the post—ready for me to edit it into whatever I want. It takes the selected text and makes it the body of the post, already converted to a blockquote in the Markdown formatting that I prefer. And at the bottom, it’s taken the URL of the page in question and formatted it as a named link, ready for me to reference directly when I write my story. (If you’d like to see what that Shortcut looks like, click here.)
I like this shortcut so much that I decided to replicate it on my Mac. And this is the surprising part: It was hard. The Mac will let you do anything, but it can sometimes take a lot of effort.
I ended up “solving” this problem by building a multi-step Keyboard Maestro marco that creates a new window in BBEdit, pastes the raw HTML I’ve copied from Safari, selects it, runs an HTML-to-Markdown converter service written by Brett Terpstra, selects the result, cuts it, closes the empty window, and pastes the result into my existing document. (I ended up simplifying this further by asking Bare Bones if they could add a “Paste HTML and select” command, since they offered both “Paste HTML” and “Paste and select” commends. They obliged in a beta version I got today, and they are awesome.)
What I’m saying is, this is the sort of automation that is possible on the Mac because the Mac really can do just about anything. And it’s true that even today there are sometimes you run into a brick wall on the iPad and there’s nothing you can do.
But in this case, the iPad and Shortcuts offer built-in functionality that handled this situation in a few easy steps, while the Mac demanded that I dig up third-party plugins or create complicated AppleScript scripts or automate a series of keypresses with Keyboard Maestro.
I did it. I have it. It works. But it really makes me grateful for the power of Shortcuts on my iPad, and makes me want a more modern take on user automation on the Mac side, too.