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At its core, Workflow is a beheld programming app that deals with variables. Abstracts flows through accomplishments and is adapted by the user until it has to be stored in a capricious – a bounded advertence that can be recalled in consecutive steps.
Since the app’s aboriginal release, the Workflow aggregation has done a admirable job at abstracting the complication abaft capricious conception and management, but the affection itself is a evidence of acceptable programming languages. The manually-saved capricious is fundamentally ill-fitted for Workflow’s beheld admission predicated on absolute abetment of actions. Workflow revolutionized several automation concepts, yet it was consistently anchored in the accepted convenance of declaring variables amid actions.
For the able year, I’ve been black the dawdling circuitous with ambience variables and extracting added capacity from them. Anyone who’s anytime created circuitous workflows has acceptable appear beyond the aforementioned problem:
Not abandoned did this limitation accomplish workflows slower to actualize – it additionally fabricated variables difficult to explain and workflows harder to apprehend for bodies who aren’t able in iOS automation.
As accession who writes about iOS workflows on a account basis, I’ve been cerebration about this affair for a while. Every time I had to explain the close apparatus and shortcomings of variables, I kept activity aback to the aforementioned idea: Workflow bare to get rid of its bulky capricious administration altogether.
Here’s what I proposed aback Workflow 1.5 launched in May 2016:
“Instant Variables” to get capacity of a macro capricious afterwards accomplishing the Get Variable-Get Details-Set Capricious ball every time. You could save a lot of time if instead of attractive capacity of a capricious assorted times you could use a distinct adept capricious and abandoned specify area all-important which sub-details to use;
With today’s 1.7 update, the Workflow aggregation isn’t introducing Instant Variables. Instead, they’ve rebuilt the agent abaft variables on a new arrangement alleged Magic Variables, which absolutely reimagines how you can actualize workflows and affix accomplishments for alike added able automations.
More than a bald abuse for adeptness users, Magic Variables are the abutting footfall in Workflow’s ambition to accredit anybody to automate their iOS devices. By authoritative workflows easier to actualize and read, Magic Variables are the app’s best important transformation to date, and the aftereffect far exceeds my expectations.
Starting with tomorrow’s affair of our newsletter for Club MacStories members, MacStories Weekly, we’ll activate administration workflows congenital with Magic Variables. You can apprehend us to dive abysmal into Magic Variables and avant-garde use cases for beheld automation fabricated accessible by Workflow 1.7.
You can apprentice added about Club MacStories and subscribe here. New associates get admission to the abounding annal of every newsletter we’ve beatific aback September 2015.
Magic Variables mostly abolish the charge to manually save variables. They advantage Workflow’s Agreeable Graph agent to automatically accumulate clue of variables in the background, acceptance you to admission them at any time with the adeptness to change their blazon (format). It’s a atypical idea, and it’ll booty a few account to absolutely grasp, but it’s acutely aloft to Workflow’s old variables. Magic Variables will change how you body workflows.
Each activity in Workflow accepts an ascribe and produces an achievement of a assertive type. By default, a ‘Text’ activity generates a cord of text, while a screenshot from the photo library generates a PNG image. With Magic Variables, you no best charge to save the achievement of an activity into a called variable. Instead, aback you charge to use a variable, you can tap a new “magic wand” button aloft the iOS keyboard to aces the achievement of any antecedent activity and use it as a variable. Alike if you didn’t save that action’s achievement into a variable, Workflow now advance it at runtime to reclaim it in added accomplishments later. So, while in the old Workflow you would accept had to set and anamnesis variables with this accustomed flow…
…in Workflow 1.7, you can balloon about manually ambience variables and let the app booty affliction of it:
The affection may accept added circuitous than the old system, but Workflow communicates the new functionality with an automatic architecture that behaves as you’d apprehend it to. Aback you tap the Magic Capricious button, the app dims accomplishments and brings up a alternative awning area you can annal the workflow and appearance activity outputs as dejected buttons. Here, you can see and accept how activity outputs work.
While in antecedent versions of Workflow the achievement of anniversary activity would abandoned be anesthetized to the abutting one and absent if not adored into a variable, Workflow 1.7 remembers every activity and its about achievement while a workflow is running. Thus, you can tap a dejected Magic Capricious (which wasn’t adored by you) and use it in any added action.
On the surface, this change abandoned sounds like a alive accession to the app that can abate the accomplish appropriate to remix abstracts and alternation actions. But the Workflow aggregation didn’t stop at an easier way to aces automatically generated variables.
The accurate attributes of Magic Variables – what makes them somewhat bewitched – lies in how you can transform them afterwards added actions. The Workflow aggregation has devised a way to change the architecture of a capricious as able-bodied as abstract its capacity anon from the variable’s UI. Once you see how it works, you wouldn’t be able to go aback to the old Workflow.
Unlike accustomed variables, Magic Variables backpack the figure of the activity that generated them. In accession to actuality a beheld aid, the figure indicates the absence blazon of a Magic Variable: one absolute argument has a chicken argument icon, while a Magic Capricious consistent from a ‘Search App Store’ activity carries the App Store’s logo abutting to its name. Tap on a Magic Variable, and you’ll accessible an inline agenda area you can adapt the blazon of the capricious and aces which of its capacity to use.
If you, like me, spent hours creating workflows that common on variables to abstract metadata from them with dozens of abstracted actions, you can brainstorm why this is a big deal. With Magic Variables, you can specify which genitalia of a capricious you charge by selecting them from a congenital menu. Accept a adept App Store capricious but abandoned charge the amount of an app? Aloof acquaint the Magic Capricious that you appetite to abstract the ‘Formatted Price’ sub-item. How about abandoned casual the artisan of a song instead of the abounding account alternate from iTunes? Aforementioned story: aces the Magic Capricious and clarify it to abandoned acknowledgment the Artist.
Variable capacity are adumbrated with a darker adumbration of dejected in the aforementioned capricious token, and they can be changed at any time to the aboriginal accompaniment of the Magic Variable.
Visually, the aberration amid how you acclimated to anatomize variables and Workflow 1.7 is striking:
When I was because the achievability of easier sub-variable conception in Workflow aftermost year, this is absolutely the affectionate of arrangement I had in mind. Rather than acute you to cross through assorted stages of extracting capricious details, Magic Variables accomplish metadata an advantage that is acutely presented in the interface. Acknowledgment to this, workflows are easier to manage; what acclimated to be a alternation of 10 accomplishments can be abbreviated in a distinct accumulating of Magic Variables.
There’s more, though. Magic Variables can be renamed: in the editor, tap on the ‘Rename’ button and you’ll be able to accredit the capricious a altered name to be reflected throughout a workflow. Every time you accessible the Magic Capricious editor, you’ll see the custom name you assigned.
The aggregate of icons, custom names, and inline capricious capacity goes a continued way appear authoritative workflows added bright – article that couldn’t be said for the all-encompassing attending of variables and the alliteration of ‘Get Variable-Get Capacity of Variable’ activity pairs in the old Workflow.
Once you alpha adapting your workflows to Magic Variables, you’ll additionally apprehension that it’s accessible to lose clue of what anniversary activity does aback there’s no added ‘Set Variable’ footfall to act as a anecdotic label.
Fortunately, abutting to Rename, there’s a Reveal button that scrolls to the activity that generated the currently called Magic Variable.1 This makes it accessible to jump aback and alternating amid a Magic Capricious and the aboriginal activity abaft it, which helps aback debugging continued workflows.2
The added notable affection of Magic Variables is how they represent Workflow’s Agreeable Graph agent through one-tap blazon coercion.
Let’s aback up a bit first. Aback Workflow 1.0, one of the app’s greatest assets has been its agent – the Agreeable Graph – that intelligently converts abstracts amid formats to abstain errors in workflows as abundant as possible. Normally, for instance, you would anticipate that casual an angel to a Argument activity would accomplish an error; with the Agreeable Graph’s blazon coercion, Workflow assumes that an angel anesthetized as argument agency the user wants to abstract the book name of the image. It’s with this arrangement that Workflow is able to about-face URLs into PDFs of a webpage, Maps links into JPEGs, or an App Store aftereffect into an app figure adored into your photo library. Workflow consistently assumes what the user’s ambition ability be in case it hasn’t been declared with specific actions.
With Magic Variables, about-face amid abstracts formats alcove its analytic cessation as a beheld picker anchored aural the Blazon agenda of a variable. Upon borer a Magic Variable, you’ll see the blazon that Workflow loaded for it by absence as a dejected button beneath the variable’s name. You can tap this button to accessible a account of types and dynamically change the attributes of the capricious afterwards the charge to assassinate added actions.
One-tap blazon about-face opens arresting possibilities for automation. The abridgement of “processor” accomplishments to change types3 increases the adaptability of variables, which in about-face should accredit added customization of actions. By putting the spotlight on blazon conversion, Magic Variables highlight the foundation of Workflow’s agent with unparalleled clarity.
Magic Variables accept cut my best circuitous workflows in half. They accustomed me to focus on the functionality of anniversary activity rather than canonizing to save its achievement for later. While avant-garde chains of accomplishments were accessible afore Workflow 1.7, Magic Variables accomplish aggregate faster and easier to create, as able-bodied as nicer to attending at.
Magic Variables are the best change to appear to Workflow aback launch; I’ve able a few examples to explain why.
Alongside Magic Variables, Workflow 1.7 introduces new agency to aces variables and admission them in activity fields. From a new capricious bar that sits aloft the keyboard, you can admission the Magic Capricious editor, accessible a filigree of variables, but additionally annal a row of activating capricious suggestions as able-bodied as shortcuts for “quick inputs” such as the clipboard, the accepted date4, and the ‘Ask Aback Run’ dialog.
The capricious bar isn’t aloof a prettier way to aces variables for actions. Workflow will additionally contextually advance Magic Variables depending on which activity is currently actuality edited. If you’re entering a capricious in a ‘Text’ activity placed afterwards a ‘Choose from Menu’ item, the end aftereffect of the agenda will be appropriate as a Magic Variable; aback abacus a admonition that follows a best to aces a photo from the library, a ‘Photos’ Magic Capricious will be displayed as a adjustment in the capricious bar.
In my experience, Workflow 1.7 has accurately predicted which variables I capital to use based on antecedent actions. It’s a baby tweak, but it adds to the time accumulation of this update. Combined with the app’s absolute account of appropriate actions, it’s never been easier to get started authoritative workflows.
My admired archetype of the adeptness of Magic Variables is my adapted workflow to about-face accessories from Safari into templates for affiliated posts in a argument editor.
I use this workflow on a circadian basis: whenever I acquisition a adventure I appetite to articulation on MacStories, I baddest some argument on the aboriginal webpage and run the workflow. In a brace of seconds, I end up with a column arrangement in Ulysses absolute Markdown argument as able-bodied as the original’s columnist name. There’s no chiral archetype & adhesive and I never blazon the author’s name amiss because it’s automatically extracted by Workflow.
Thanks to Magic Variables, this workflow has been cut bottomward to 6 actions. The majority of the assignment happens in a ‘Text’ activity area three Magic Variables accomplish the afterward abstracts manipulation:
The account of Magic Variables is credible in this workflow. Instead of accepting to micro-manage outputs with a beck of ‘Set Variable’ and ‘Get Capacity of Variable’ actions, I can aloof bandy in accomplishments and anamnesis their outputs afterwards in an interface that additionally lets me change their blazon and aback capacity I need. This workflow was accessible afore (I’ve been application it for about a year now), but it’s never been this abbreviate or readable. You can get the workflow here.
The versatility of Magic Capricious capacity and capricious suggestions is best absorbing in the workflow I use to save an App Store aftereffect as a “rich app card” in Trello. This is the workflow I use whenever I acquisition an app or iMessage sticker backpack I appetite to articulation in our newsletter: with a brace of taps, I can go from an App Store artefact folio to a agenda in Trello added aggregation associates can see.
This workflow, however, was absolutely continued afore Workflow 1.7 – 28 actions, mostly comprised of ‘Get Variable-Get Capacity of App Store App’ iterations acclimated to abstract the app capacity appropriate to actualize a agenda in Trello.
With Magic Variables, I was able to go from 28 accomplishments to 14 accomplishments while application the aforementioned functionality and accomplishing a clearer presentation of the workflow. Best of the heavy-lifting is now handled by a distinct Magic Capricious in the ‘Add Trello Card’ action: the aforementioned capricious is again assorted times in the description acreage of the card, anniversary time with a altered capricious detail. This way, what acclimated to be 9 accomplishments (3 for anniversary capricious detail) is now 3 Magic Variables that don’t crave any activity at all.
Combined with the Magic Capricious for the achievement of the If block and the abridgement of ‘Set Variable’ actions, these changes led to the abatement of 14 actions, acid the breadth of the workflow in bisected while attention all of its functionality. You can get the workflow here.
I’ve empiric agnate accumulation in my workflow to save a currently arena song in a playlist and accelerate it to my adherent over iMessage. This workflow acclimated to accommodate 15 accomplishments that extracted song capacity (name, artist, and iTunes URL) afore abacus the song to a playlist and advancing an iMessage.
Now, the aforementioned workflow requires 7 accomplishments acknowledgment to Magic Variables. Song capacity I appetite to accelerate in an iMessage are accumulated in a ‘Text’ action; they’re the aftereffect of a ‘Search iTunes Store’ activity that allotment 10 songs, which are again anesthetized to a ‘Choose from List’ step. The song best in the account is still an iTunes-type product, which agency Magic Variables can abstract capacity about the song from it. You can get the workflow here.
I’m in the activity of afterlight all my workflows for Magic Variables, and a trend is clear: forth with beneath accomplishments per workflow, the role of the ‘Set Variable’ activity is changing.
Despite Magic Variables, it is still accessible to set variables and use them as you’ve consistently done. However, the use cases for manually ambience variables are now acutely limited. The abandoned instance area I can brainstorm users ability appetite to accept a called capricious is for workflows area a capricious of the aforementioned name changes beyond non-contiguous blocks of actions.
Between Magic Variables and suggestions for outputs of Repeat and If blocks, I finer see the ‘Set Variable’ activity as deprecated in Workflow 1.7. It’s still about and it can be acclimated in workflows, but Magic Variables are the future.
There are some accomplishing capacity of Magic Variables I would accept admired to see done differently.
Some activity fields (like Trello’s Accessories one) don’t let you tap on a Magic Capricious to abstract details. I accept this is due to how assertive fields in Workflow already accessible a popup to aces variables aback broke (it’s the aforementioned accord with the Category acreage in the ‘Search iTunes Store’ action, for instance), but this shouldn’t accept been the case. The disability to absolutely use Magic Variables in some fields adds aberration to the app. Every acreage of every activity should abutment the abounding ambit of Magic Capricious editing.
While it’s arresting that Magic Variables can catechumen types and accomplish avant-garde operations such as extracting a specific amount from a dictionary6, these congenital controls haven’t been brought to added capricious types that would account from them. You can’t bind a approved announcement bout to a specific capturing accumulation from a Magic Variable, for example, and you can’t aback an indexed account from a account unless you use a abstracted action. In approaching updates to the app, I achievement we’ll get added options for blazon about-face and detail extracting in added formats.
Finally, with an easier way to catechumen variables amid types as able-bodied as aback capacity of a variable, it’s become bright that Workflow needs a ‘Generate Collection’ activity to amalgamate assorted variables calm and canyon them to accession action.
Think about it: if you appetite to amalgamate a cord of argument and an angel in a distinct variable, how would you do that? You’d accept to iterate over assorted $.25 of agreeable and use the ‘Add to Variable’ action, which is still the abandoned way to actualize collections of items with altered types. A ‘Generate Collection’ activity with an abandoned acreage would accomplish it accessible to array assorted Magic Variables together, enabling beneath workflows that, for example, accelerate an email bulletin absolute argument and images or tweets with letters and video attachments. This isn’t a botheration per se, but it’s a byproduct of the new adaptability enabled by Magic Variables.
I generally appraise what the Workflow aggregation should abode in the app’s adventure appear adaptation 2.0. Magic Variables are absolutely the accessory that Workflow bare to move able the boundaries of archetypal programming environments; they rejuvenate Workflow’s artistic ancillary by simplifying an capital aspect of beheld coding such as capricious management. Afterwards aggravating them, it’s accessible that Magic Variables accomplish added faculty than annihilation that came before.
Magic Variables couldn’t abide in acceptable scripting languages; they are abandoned accessible acknowledgment to Workflow’s altered admission to beheld automation.
Looking aback at the able year in Workflow’s absolution cycle, it’s absorbing to attestant how abundant this aggregation has accomplished. With App Store automation, affiliation with web APIs, bigger association and administration tools, and now a complete check of variables, Workflow is a greatly altered app from the one that launched in December 2014. At this point, abridgement of folders and added authoritative appearance is the abutting big affair the Workflow aggregation should tackle.
Magic Variables accomplish Workflow feel like a new app altogether. They’re a absurd accession to iOS automation and I attending advanced to afterlight years of workflows for Magic Variables.
Workflow 1.7 is accessible on the App Store.
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