While an iOS device isn’t as easy to automate as a Mac, with the right apps there’s still a lot you can do. One of the best iOS automation apps is Workflow, available for £2.99/$2.99 from the app store, which I’ll be exploring in depth over the next few tutorials.
Workflow is an app that strings together actions from dozens of other different apps. It’s a bit like IFTTT but for your phone. You can use it to do things like resize and upload images to Dropbox, record audio notes, call an Uber and much more.
The Basics of a Workflow
Workflows can be run in three different ways:
- A Normal workflow is triggered from within the Workflow app or saved to the homescreen of the iOS device
- A Today Widget workflow is triggered from the Workflow widget
- An Action Extension workflow can be triggered from the iOS Extensions Menu
Each kind of trigger has its own uses. For example, if you build a workflow that texts your significant other and tells them how long until you’re home, a normal trigger or Today Widget trigger is going to be most useful.
On the other hand, if you’ve a workflow that uploads an image to Dropbox, an Action Extension is the most useful.
Each workflow is made up of actions. There are more than 200 different actions from over 50 different apps. There are actions for a lot of the big iOS productivity apps; Dropbox, OmniFocus, Bear, Ulysses, Evernote, Instapaper, Pocket, Trello, Slack, and dozens of other apps are all available.
Note, the first time you run use an action you may need to give Workflow permission to access the app.
When you run a workflow, Workflow will go through each action step by step. It takes the results of the previous step and passes it on to the next one until all the actions are performed.
To illustrate, I'll show you how to build a simple workflow.
Uploading Images to Dropbox
In this article I’m using a lot of screenshots from my iPhone to show you how to use Workflow. To get them to my computer so I can edit and upload them, I’m using the very app I’m demonstrating. I'll use this simple use case as an example.
Open Workflow and tap Create Workflow.
Let’s leave this as a Normal workflow for now. Later, I’ll modify it so it can run as an Action Extension.
Tap the Gear icon and name the workflow Save Images to Dropbox or something similar. Tap Done once you’ve got it named.
Now it’s time to start adding the actions. Tap the Actions button in the bottom left. By default you’ll see the Suggested Actions. These are common actions and ones relevant to the actions already in your workflow. The action I'm looking for is already here.
Scroll down to Photos & Videos. Drag Select Photos to the right to add it to the workflow.
I want to be able to upload more than one image so flick the switch that says Select Multiple.
Tap Actions again. The Suggested Actions list will have updated to actions that are more relevant to images. Scroll down until you find the Save to Dropbox action. Drag it to the workflow.
By default, Ask Where to Save is left on. If you want a more flexible workflow, leave it on. If you know there’s a specific folder where you want to save the images, turn it off and enter a Destination Path.
I want the images to get saved to
Dropbox/Inbox/@Images so I’ve entered
/Inbox/@Images into the text field.
To test the action, press the Play button at the top of the screen. The Photos app will open. Tap the images you want to upload to Dropbox to select them. When you’ve selected them all, tap Done.
Workflow will move onto the next step. In this case, uploading the images to Dropbox. Leave it run for a few moments and that’s it, the images will now be uploaded.
You can run the workflow at any time by opening Workflow and double tapping on it.
Changing it to a Action Extension
While this workflow is handy, I want to be able to run it directly from the Photos app. I'll create a new workflow that does just that.
Create another new workflow and call it something like Action Upload.
Select Action Extension and then, under This workflow accepts choose Images.
Go to Actions and select the Save to Dropbox action. Add the Destination Path you want and tap Done.
Head to the Photos app and select the image or images you want to upload. Tap the Extensions icon and select Run Workflow.
All the available Action Extensions will pop up. Select Action Upload and let it run. The images will be saved to Dropbox.
Finding More Workflows
Over the next few tutorials, I’ll be digging deeper into Workflow. There are, however, hundreds of workflows already available, built by other members of the Workflow community.
To add one, open Workflow and go to Gallery. Browse through the different categories available or use the Search tool to look for workflows that interest you. When you’ve found a workflow you want to add, select it and tap Get Workflow. It will be added to your app.
There’s a lot to Workflow, but it’s worth the effort to learn. With it, you can automate a huge number of iOS functions. If you’ve any questions or suggestions, please let me know in the comments.