How to Use Shortcuts on an iPhone

What Shortcuts are and how to use them!
5 minutes

At the Apple Keynote at WWDC 2018, Apple announced the Shortcuts app for iOS. Yet, many Apple iPhone users don't use the Shortcuts app or don't know what it's all about.

The truth is, the Shortcuts app is an extremely underused but convenient app with a ton of amazing capabilities aimed at making your life easier, and making your iPhone do the work for you. Basically, using your apps and Siri, Shortcuts allows gives you the ability to create simple, personalized shortcuts with just a tap or voice command.

Some Shortcuts examples include: making GIFs in seconds, sending messages, opening specific documents, changing settings, searching for information on Chrome, taking a break, recording a new voice memo, make a QR code, and much more. All of these actions can be performed with fewer steps than usual using Shortcuts (usually a single tap or single command). Sound interesting?

If so, and you haven't given it a try, take ten minutes just to scope out the capabilities, and see if there are any shortcuts that can truly make your life simpler. In this guide, I will name just a few of the things Shortcuts can do to simplify your life, so that you know the basics and can use it to create your shortcuts that apply to your daily life.

Note: Like any feature or app, there are requirements. For Shortcuts, you need to have iOS 12 or iPadOS 12 on an iPhone, iPod, or iPad. If you don't have iOS 12 or later, the app won't be compatible because it wasn't released until iOS 12. Updating past iOS 12 may be important for certain other features within Shortcuts.

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How to Use Shortcuts on an iPhone

So, where to start? I would recommend starting with starter shortcuts. If you are new to Shortcuts, then using a starter shortcut will get you... started! First off, take a moment to think about what kind of actions you use your iPhone for every day. How do you really use your iPhone? Shortcuts should be about making that even easier.

Let's take a look at the starter shortcuts so that you can get a better idea of what Shortcuts is capable of.

Starter shortcuts and their actions

  • Block off an hour- Create an event quickly for whatever time and date needed with a command or tap.
  • Take a break- Remind yourself to take a break, set an alarm, and have DND (Do Not Disturb) on until the alarm sounds.
  • AirDrop Photos- Quickly AirDrop to another device with fewer steps.
  • New note with date- Quickly create a new note and the date will be used as the title of that note.
  • Text last image- Text the very last image you took to your friends with a simple command.
  • Email running late- Email your boss or co-workers that you are running late with only a couple of taps or a command.
  • Email last image- Email the last image you took with one command.
  • Shazam shortcut- Make using Shazaam easier by quickly accessing it and playing the song within Apple Music or adding it to your Library. You can also send the song to a friend from here.
  • What's a shortcut?- Learn about shortcuts quickly. Highly recommend it to new users.
  • Music quiz- Play the music quiz game, and have easy access to it. Play directly from the shortcut.
  • Show screen-shots- Populate your last screen-shot. Share it from the shortcut.
  • Directions to event- Quickly get directions to an event with less hassle. Great for those like me who are always running behind.
  • Make QR Code- Make your own QR code quickly and efficiently.

Have a better idea of what Shortcuts can do? Did you find any starter shortcuts you really wanted to try out?

Set up a Starter Shortcut

Let's try out a starter shortcut! I really enjoy the "email running late" shortcut, so I will show you how to add a starter shortcut using that shortcut as an example.

First, you need to get to the starter shortcuts. Here's how:

  • Open the Shortcuts app.
  • Click "gallery" in the lower right-hand corner.
  • Tap "starter shortcuts" at the top of the page.

If you do not have these options yet, it may be asking you to get started with Shortcuts. Once you do that, it will allow you to see the above options. You will also notice below "starter shortcuts" in the gallery, there are automation suggestions, but I will cover automation in a different guide.

Set up a Starter Shortcut

Let's continue:

  • Scroll through the list of starter shortcuts
  • Click "email running late"
Add a Shortcut

Once you have clicked "email running late," you will see an option to add the shortcut. However, you will also see the shortcut name under "when I run." This means that "email running late" is the name of the shortcut and the voice command you will give Siri. Consider that you may want to change this if it's not memorable for you, but for now, I would recommend keeping the name the same. Just know, changing the command and shortcut name is an option.

  • Click "add shortcut."

Boom! You just added a shortcut.

Also, note how many actions we are replacing. 21 actions will be taken off your plate and replaced with one command and a tap, or 2 taps if you prefer to not use Hey Siri. This really gives perspective to how Shortcuts can save you time and energy.

Allow Permissions

Now, the "email running late" shortcut will be in your "my shortcuts" page in Shortcuts. If you click on the new shortcut, you may get a prompt to allow the shortcut to access your Calendar app. This is because it can specifically apply your email to an event added to your calendar.

  • Click "OK" to allow the shortcut access to your calendar.
How to Use Shortcuts on an iPhone

If you prefer to not use Hey Siri, you can add the shortcut to your home screen. To do this follow these steps:

  • Open the Shortcuts app.
  • Click the "my shortcuts" tab in the lower right-hand corner.
  • Click the shortcut in question.
  • Click the ellipsis "..." in the upper right-hand corner next to the shortcut name.
  • Click "add to home screen."
  • Click "add" in the upper right-hand corner.

If you would like to change the shortcut icon image on your homescreen, learn how to change icons on your iPhone home screen.

Use a Shortcut

Now that the shortcut is set up, let's put it to use. Simply say, "Hey, Siri," and when Siri populates say, "email running late." That easy. If you decided to add the shortcut to your home screen you can tap the shortcut and the shortcut will run.

You will then get a preview of the email. The subject will be "running late" and the body will look like pictured. You can get into making changes to how this appears, by going to the shortcut, and making changes to the shortcut actions.

If you are like me and didn't have an event, then you will add the recipient and send the email. If you did have an event, it will include the attendees of that event, if they are in the Calendar event, and you can send it without adding recipients.

By now, you should have a much better idea of how Shortcuts works. Go ahead and give some other Shortcuts a try!

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