One of the new features in iOS 12 is Siri Shortcuts. Custom Siri commands that either appear based on actions you frequently do, or can be programmed yourself. When we first heard about Siri Shortcuts we were quite excited by the potential for the feature which seemed to promise that our phones would start predicting what we were going to do and doing it for us before we did it. But when iOS 12 arrived we were baffled by it.
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The first time you noticed a Siri Shortcut was probably when you pulled down on the top of the screen to search or to see Siri suggestions of apps you might want to use, and were confronted with a option to “Send a message” to someone you were conversing with. Maybe you saw a “Place a FaceTime call” option, or an offer to do something in a particular app.
This is a Siri Shortcut. Siri has recognised that you habitually do certain actions and is preempting this behaviour. Siri just got even more intelligent!
Having noticed this, you may be wondering “how can set up my own Siri Shortcuts?”. In this article we will tell you how to make Siri Shortcuts so that you can automate actions on your iPhone (and other Apple devices including the HomePod and Apple Watch). With Shortcuts set up you can quickly do something with one tap or simply by saying a phrase to Siri.
But first a bit of background…
What are Siri Shortcuts?
A while ago Apple bought an automation app called Workflow. This is the basis for the new Shortcuts app and the underlying engine that makes Siri Shortcuts possible.
The first thing to do is probably to change the way you think about Siri. We tend to think of Siri as the voice of Apple’s intelligent assistant. You speak to your iPhone and Siri responds. Most of our interactions with Siri are trying to get him/her to say something funny (hence our Funny Things To Say To Siri story is always popular).
But Siri is much more than that. Siri is an all-round AI assistant. Try to think of Siri as an artificial intelligence system that underlies the operating system on your iPhone (as well as your HomePod, Mac, and other Apple gadgets).
The Siri Shortcuts feature that arrived with iOS 12 has two elements to it:
- You will see Siri suggest shortcuts based on intelligence Siri has gathered according to your usual behaviours in certain times and places. You have to use apps before these shortcuts will appear, and the app developer needs to have implemented Shortcuts in the app.
- You can create your own custom commands to trigger certain actions on your iPhone using the Shortcuts app (which you need to download from the App Store).
How to get a Siri Shortcut
You will see Siri Shortcuts for things you often do, like sending messages to a group of people on WhatsApp, or a shortcut to see your ticket information in Trainline. When you tap on one of these shortcuts if will perform the action in the background.
You can’t force one of these Siri Shortcuts to appear, they appear based on things you frequently do at a certain time or place. For example, we always see the shortcut for Trainline as we approach the ticket machines in the morning. You may see a shortcut to message your group of friends on WhatsApp just after you last messaged them, or on a day that you would normally send them a message.
- To see a Siri Shortcut, just drag down on your iPhone screen. (Don’t start dragging from the very top as that just shows the lock screen, you want to start dragging about a centimetre down from the top).
- Below the Siri Suggestions of apps you might want to use you may see a Siri Shortcut or two.
- Press one of these if you want to action it.
What if you don’t see any Siri Shortcuts, or you don’t see one that you actually want to use? Luckily there are a few other ways to get a Siri Shortcut, with varying degrees of complexity:
- Do the action you want to appear as a Shortcut. If you do this frequently enough, and as long as the developer has added Shortcut functionality to the app, the Shortcut should appear.
- Go to Settings > Siri & Search and in the Suggested Shortcuts section click on All Shortcuts. Here you will see the options available to you. (These are based on things you have done, if you want something to appear as a Shortcut here you need to do it first). You can’t just force these to appear when you drag down on your iPhone screen though - you have to set them up to respond to a voice command (we’ll look at that next).
- Create a Shortcut using the Shortcuts app.
- Use a pre-made Shortcut from the Shortcuts app.
We’ll look at how to use these different ways of creating shortcuts below.
How to make a Siri offer a Shortcut
If you drag down on from the top of your iPhone and don’t see a useful shortcut what can you do? As we said above, the easiest way to make a Siri Shortcut appear is to do the action.
- If you want a FaceTime my dad shortcut, FaceTime your dad and later on you might see that option as a suggestion.
- If a third-party app has been built to work with Shortcuts, use that app and you may see a Shortcut suggested.
- If you habitually do something with an app at a certain time and in a certain place, Siri should start to suggest a Shortcut for that action when the criteria are right.
But there are absolutely no guarantee that Siri will present the Shortcut you want when you want it. Siri isn’t a mind reader (yet). Luckily there is a way to tell Siri what Shortcut you want. You just say it!
How to set a Siri Shortcut voice command
We’ve already touched on this above, but the most flexible way to trigger a Shortcut is to use your voice. That’s a bit frustrating if you don’t want to be the one talking to your phone in public, but perhaps the usefulness of the feature will win you over eventually.
You can create a Shortcut so that with one word you can trigger a number of actions when you leave the office, for example. On the command you could start a playlist, plan your route, message your spouse to say you are on your way, and open the book you are reading in Books.
Basically, rather than multiple taps you will be able to say a word or phrase and have Siri do it all for you.
If you want to trigger a Siri Shortcut with your voice you need to record a phrase to do so.
- You can go to Settings > Siri & Search
- Go to the Suggested Shortcuts section.
- Click on All Shortcuts
- Find a Shortcut you want to add a voice trigger to (these are all based on things you have done). All these Shortcuts are sorted by app, if there are more Shortcuts available for an app you can press on See All to see more options.
- Press the red record button and speak your phrase.
- You will see the wave form that shows Siri is listening and it will save the phrase when you stop speaking (there’s no need to tap anything).
- If you aren’t happy with the phrase you recorded you can record it again, otherwise tap Done.
Next time you want to start the Shortcut, just trigger Siri (either by saying Hey Siri, by pressing the Home button, or pressing the side button on a newer iPhone) and say the phrase to action that Shortcut.
The shortcuts you record an audio trigger for will appear under My Shortcuts, in Settings > Siri & Search. If you forget what the phrase you recorded was you can see it here.
Which apps work with Siri Shortcuts?
Among your Suggested Shortcuts you will see ones for Apple apps and some for third-party apps. As we said earlier, developers need to implement Siri Shortcuts in their apps for Siri to be able to offer a shortcut for them, and you also have to actually use that app. But how can you find out if the app you want a Shortcut for is even capable of offering one?
As you would expect, Apple apps such as Keynote, Numbers, and Pages can work with Siri Shortcuts.
Third-party developers are adding Siri Shortcut functionality to their apps. Check whether your apps are up to date by looking in the App Store and tapping on Updates.
Here are a few apps that offer Siri Shortcuts. Some apps will have a dedicated Add to Siri button. Others will just provide you with Shortcuts based on how you use them.
- Citymapper - Doesn’t have a Add to Siri button but once you have used the app you will see some Shortcuts offered in Settings > Siri & Search > Shortcuts
- Google News - if you have particular topics you follow, tap on the … and Choose + Add to Siri. You can record a phrase to trigger the app to open on that topic.
- Sky Guide - this app can tell you what star you are looking at if you ask “What star is that”.
- Trainline - We use the Trainline app a lot and frequently see Siri Shortcuts.
To make sure that all your apps are set to work with Siri Shortcuts, check their settings in Siri & Search:
- Go to Settings > Siri & Search
- Scroll down to the list of apps that appear here - all the apps installed on your device basically.
- Tap on an app and check that the options Siri & Suggestions and Allow on Lock Screen are selected. If you have these selected then information from that app can appear in Search, Look Up, Keyboard, and the Lock Screen.
How to find more Shortcuts
It’s all very well that there are so many options but what if Siri doesn’t suggest exactly what you were hoping to do, or if you want to build a Shortcut with a number of actions, like the one we referred to above for leaving the office.
This is where the Shortcuts app comes in.
You’ll need to download Shortcuts from the App Store. There’s probably a good reason why Apple doesn’t install it by default, not just the fact that people don’t like that. Shortcuts is an exceptionally difficult app to use in our experience.
Luckily Apple provides a few Shortcuts in this app, and there are also a few clever people who have set up some Shortcuts that you can use as intended or amend and use them as a template for your own Shortcuts.
You’ll find these pre-made Shortcuts in the Gallery section of the Shortcuts app, we'll run through how to access these Shortcuts below:
- Open the Shortcuts app.
- Tap on the Gallery Tab. You’ll see an App Store like interface with various Shortcuts.
- Browse through these to see if anything appeals.
- When you find something you like the look of tap on Get Shortcut.
- If you’d like to know what actions are included with the Shortcut you can choose Show Actions and you’ll be able to see exactly what’s on offer.
Once you have added a Shortcut to your Library, you can use it or edit it, we’ll look at how to do that next.
How to use a Shortcut from the Shortcut Gallery
Want to use a Shortcut you just downloaded from the Gallery?
Tap on Library and you’ll be taken to a page with all the Shortcuts you have installed. Perhaps you installed the Tooth Brush Timer for example and want to trigger it.
- Just tap on the tile for that Shortcut and it will run.
- You will see the other Tiles fade out while a bar on the Shortcut that you are runing moves across to show it's active.
- If you want to stop a Shortcut while it's running here just tap on the stop button that appears in the corner of the Tile.
How to edit a Shortcut from the Gallery
Perhaps you downloaded a Shortcut and it’s not working quiet the way you want it too. It’s relatively easy to amend it.
For example, we downloaded the Photo Grid Shortcut, which is a nice way to create a grid of photos. Tap on this Shortcut to be taken to your Photo library. Choose the pics you want to add - an even number works best.
This will create a grid with the photos you chose. But it doesn’t save straight to your library, if you want to do that, you need to tap on the share icon once you’ve viewed the photo and choose Save to Photos.
If you want to make the save part of this Shortcut to work automatically you need to add an extra step.
- Tap on the … on the Photo Grid tile.
- Scroll down to the bottom and you will see that it ends with the step: Quick Look - this is why you see a preview at the end.
- Below that you will see a Search bar. Type in the word Save here and you will see the option Save to Photo Album. Tap on it and the grid of photos will automatically be saved to your Photo album next time you run the Shortcut.
- Tap Done to close the Shortcut.
Now when you run the Shortcut again it will save to your Photo library.
How to delete Shortcuts from your Library
If you’ve got a bit carried away installing Shortcuts it’s easy to delete them.
- Tap Edit and the Shortcuts will start to wiggle.
- Now tap the Shortcuts you want to delete
- Tap the Trash can
How to move Shortcuts in your Library
You can move Shortcuts around in the same way.
- Tap on Edit so they start to jump around.
- Now press and drag the tiles to the location you prefer.
You may want to drag your tiles around into a better order to make it easy to find things. Or to make the more frequently used Shortcuts appear at the top of your Widget screen when you swipe right on your iPhone. Wondering how to get a shortcut to your Shortcuts via that screen? We’ll explain that next.
How to make Shortcuts appear in the Widget screen
You can make sure these shortcuts appear in your Widget screen, that’s the screen you see when you swipe right on your iPhone.
- Swipe right from the Home screen to see your Widgets.
- Here you will see various Widgets, such as Up Next, Siri App Suggestions and anything else you have added here (such as Weather, Reminders, News and so on).
- You can add new Widgets if you scroll to the bottom of the list and tap Edit.
- Scroll through the Widgets until you find Shortcuts and tap on the + beside it.
- There are three lines on the other side which allow you to move them around and change the order of your Widgets.
How to add a Shortcut to the Home Screen
If you want to add a Shortcut from the Shortcuts app as a link on your Home Screen you can.
- Open the Shortcuts app.
- Tap on the … for the Shortcut you want to have on your Home Screen.
- Now, tap on the icon that looks like on/off switches.
- Here you can choose to change the icon to something that you will recognise on your Home Screen. There are colour options, different glyphs or you can even add a photo.
- Once you are happy with your icon, tap on Add to Home Screen.
- You will be transferred to a webpage with instructions for adding the Shortcut to your home screen. Tap the Share icon as indicated.
- Tap the Add to Home Screen option.
- Tap Add.
- The icon should be the one that you created, but for some reason sometimes you only see a minimised version of the homepage.
- Tap on the icon and it will open the Shortcut. You still need to press play.
How to use Shortcuts on my other Apple devices
Once you have voice phrases set up for your Shortcuts, you should be able to use on Watch, HomePod etc.
So, for example, we set up a voice trigger for Auto Playlist and asked our HomePod to run it and it did so.
The same happened with the Apple Watch.
Some Shortcuts won’t work with other devices. For example, we were unable to send a text with the voice command we had set up, even though you can ask the HomePod to send a text message.