How to Use the Apple Shortcuts App on iPhone, iPad, or Mac (2023)

How to Use the Apple Shortcuts App on iPhone, iPad, or Mac (2023)
Written by Techbot

You might have seen the Apple Shortcuts app installed on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac, but it might not be immediately clear what it is or how to use it. This app can streamline your routines and free up a precious few seconds on repetitive tasks. A shortcut is simply a way to get something done with your apps via a single tap or word to Siri. You can create a simple shortcut to browse the top news stories of the day, for example, or a chain of actions to close your smart blinds, play sleep sounds, and turn off the lights at bedtime.

The Shortcuts app arrived with iOS 12 in 2018. It grew from an automation tool for iPhones called Workflow that Apple had acquired the previous year. It’s supposed to make everyday tasks a little easier, but understanding how to get the most from it can be challenging. That’s why we’ve compiled this handy guide on how to use the Shortcuts app.

What You Need

To use Shortcuts, you need an iPhone or iPad running iOS 12 or later (some functionality is only available in iOS 13 or later). There is also a Shortcuts app for Mac that runs on macOS Monterey (12.0.1) or later. And many shortcuts will work with Apple Watches running WatchOS 7 or later.

If you are signed in to the same account on all of your Apple devices, shortcuts created in the app on one device will appear in the Shortcuts app on your other devices. The Shortcuts app is likely installed on your device already, but if not, you can download it from the App Store.

Getting Started With Shortcuts

All your shortcuts reside in the Shortcuts app. When you first open the app, you will see a handful of examples to try. Any shortcuts you add or create later will appear on your Shortcuts tab. We’ll get into how to create shortcuts in a moment, but by far the easiest way to get started with shortcuts is to tap on the Gallery tab, where you will find categorized lists of shortcuts for all sorts of tasks. 

Browse through the shortcuts on the Gallery tab and tap on any shortcut that interests you to see what it does, where it appears, and how to activate it with a Siri voice command. If you want to try it, tap Add Shortcut or tap the plus icon at the top right of each shortcut on the Gallery tab.

Before you create any shortcuts, go back to the Shortcuts tab and tap the ellipsis (three dots) at the top right of any shortcut to see how it works. Until you get the hang of the various options, reverse-engineering shortcuts is the best way to understand them. 

How to Create Shortcuts

Once you’ve tried some of the premade shortcuts and have an idea of how they work, you may want to create one of your own. Here’s how:

  1. Open the Shortcuts app.
  2. On the Shortcuts tab, tap the plus icon at the top right.
  3. Tap where it says New Shortcut at the top and tap Rename to choose a name for your shortcut. Make it descriptive and remember that the name you select will serve as the voice command for Siri to launch the shortcut. You can also tap Choose Icon to set a relevant icon.
  4. Tap Add Action to select the action you want this shortcut to perform. You can search for the app or action you want via the search bar at the top or scroll through the Categories or Apps. The Shortcuts app will also try to help with suggestions based on your recently used apps.
  5. Your shortcut can be a single action, or you can add additional actions. When you tap the ellipsis (three dots) next to each shortcut on your Shortcuts tab, you can review and edit it to remove or add more actions. There will be a list of Next Action Suggestions at the bottom, or you can go ahead and search or browse for them.

If there’s an existing shortcut that comes close to what you want, you can save some time by using it as a template. Here’s how:

  1. On your Shortcuts tab, tap and hold the shortcut you want to use as a template and select Duplicate from the menu.
  2. You should see [Shortcut name] 2. Tap the ellipsis (three dots) at the top right, and edit it to switch in the actions you want or tweak the conditions.
  3. You can tap on actions to change them, tap the X at the right of any action to remove it, or tap and hold and drag actions to reorder them in the list.
  4. Remember to tap on the [Shortcut name] 2 at the top and choose Rename to give it a relevant name. You can also tap Choose Icon to set a relevant icon.

If you want to delete any shortcut, simply tap and hold it to select Delete from the menu.

How to Organize and Add Shortcuts to Your Home Screen

Now that you have selected or created some shortcuts, you may want to organize them into folders. Here’s how: 

  1. Tap and hold any shortcut on the Shortcuts tab and select Move.
  2. You can add it to an existing folder or tap New Folder to create one.

To add a shortcut to your home screen:

  1. Tap and hold on any shortcut on the Shortcuts tab and select Share.
  2. Tap Add to Home Screen.
  3. You can move Shortcuts around on your home screen or remove them like you would any app icon (tap and hold to drag around or long press to get a pop-up menu).

How to Create Automations

Automations are just another type of shortcut, but they are triggered by an event rather than a manual tap or voice command. For example, you might have specific lights turn on automatically at sunset, or have the heating system shut down when everyone leaves the house. Note: The Automation tab only appears in the Shortcuts app for iPhone or iPad; it is not available on Mac. Here’s how to create them:

  1. Tap the Automation tab to select Create Personal Automation or Create Home Automation. Personal automations run on your iPhone or iPad, and Home automations run for everyone in the household.
  2. Personal automations work exactly like regular shortcuts except that they are triggered by things like a specific time of day, arriving or leaving a place, an incoming email or message, or even a sound like your doorbell. 
  3. Home automations have a different set of triggers. They can be triggered at specific times or by everyone arriving home or leaving, but they can also be triggered by a sensor detecting motion or an accessory (such as a light) being switched on or off. Note: You must add a Home in Apple’s Home app, add compatible devices, and be designated as the Owner before you can make use of Home automations.
  4. Once you select a trigger for Personal or Home automations and tap Next, you can select, configure, and add actions just as you would for a shortcut by tapping Add Action and searching or browsing for the one you want.

To temporarily deactivate an automation, go to the Automation tab and tap on it to toggle Enable This Automation off. To permanently delete an automation, swipe left and tap Delete.

Shortcuts We Recommend

You get the most from the Shortcuts app by digging out or tailoring shortcuts to fit your routines. Think about tasks you perform every day. Shaving a few seconds off here and there soon mounts up, and once you get started, you will find yourself dreaming up new shortcuts. 

To get you started with some ideas, here are a few of our favorite shortcuts available on the Gallery tab of the Shortcuts app:

  • Make GIF: Create a GIF from a Live photo or video.
  • Make PDF: Create a PDF from anything, including a photo, a note, or even a website.
  • Calculate Tip: Enter the bill total and percentage tip you want to leave, and this shortcut calculates it for you. It’s easy to edit if you want to change the percentages.
  • Wayback Machine: If you find a dead link, or you’re just curious, you can use this shortcut to see older versions of a website. It is integrated into Safari and appears on the share sheet.
  • Toggle Voice Control: This is just one of the handy accessibility options (you can also toggle VoiceOverAssistiveTouchClosed Captions, and more).
  • Auto Playlist: This shortcut shuffles 25 songs you played within the past three weeks and plays them. There are loads of other good music shortcuts.
  • Directions Home: Find your way home from anywhere with this shortcut, which opens directions in your preferred maps app. You may also like the Directions to Next Event shortcut to see the way to your next calendar event.

Finding More Shortcuts 

It can be tricky to create useful shortcuts that work well, but you can find lots of help online. Start with Apple’s Shortcuts User Guide. Maybe head to Reddit and check out the r/shortcuts community to find suggestions, advice, and discussion about what is possible. You can also find news and handy tips on Matthew Cassinelli’s website.

For safety, we recommend you avoid installing any custom shortcuts that have not been reviewed by Apple because there is a risk that malicious shortcuts might spread malware or steal personal data. If you do decide to download a shortcut from outside the Gallery tab in the Shortcuts app, stick to trusted sources and review the permissions carefully before you install.

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