Our first post in 2020, starting with an unpopular opinion! While the majority out there might argue that Siri, despite her head start, has lost the lead in smart home and other areas, we prefer to sit down and analyze the features Siri brought us with iOS 13 and recent updates.
There are now so many features in the Home and Shortcuts app, that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and overlook how powerful Siri has become, not only in our smart home.
An Overview of the Shortcuts and Home App
Before we go into details, here’s a quick overview of the Shortcuts and the Home app, explained by Siri (1 minute snippet from our Siri’s HomeKit Scenes and Shortcuts: Immersive Storytelling How-To cartoon). You can pause the clip at around 2:34, we’ll get later to the examples:
To summarize professor Siri’s lecture:
The Shortcuts app lets us use Apple’s Shortcuts examples and our frequently used actions from our apps in the Shortcuts Gallery. We can create our own Shortcuts and Personal Automations, which will run from our iPhones and iPads. But, we can also create Home Automations -- just like in the Home app -- which will run on our home hubs. Additionally, we can use all our home accessories and scenes within our Shortcuts.
With the Home app we can manage all our HomeKit accessories, create scenes, rooms and zones. Additionally, we can create home automations -- just like in the Shortcuts app -- which will run on our home hubs.
Don’t worry, if this appears a bit too much for an initial overview! In this post we’ll examine all these features, so that the illustration below will become clear, when you’ve finished reading this post.
What is Apple’s HomeKit?
Let’s start with the foundation of the Home app: HomeKit is Apple’s framework which lets you control your “works with Apple HomeKit” compatible smart home accessories from your iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches and Macs.
HomeKit makes all your home accessories available to Siri, so you can control them with your voice through all the devices mentioned above, and of course also with Siri on your HomePods, AppleTVs and AirPods.
Apple’s Home app, which is preinstalled on iPhones, iPads and Macs and built on top of HomeKit, shows you all your HomeKit devices and lets you configure and control them.
What’s a HomeKit Home Hub?
When you’re at home, your iPhone can talk directly to your smart home devices through bluetooth or WiFi. To create home automations, remote control your devices and stream your HomeKit compatible cameras, when you’re not at home, you’ll need a home hub. This is simply a software feature, which you can enable on your HomePod, Apple TV (HD or 4K) or an iPad.
Please note, you can find many Apple how-to links under “More Information”, like “How to set up your home hub”.
What’s the Apple Home App?
Apple’s Home app has three sections:
- a “Home” screen, the main dashboard, which shows you the status of the home you’ve selected, a brief information how many devices are on and temperature sensors around your home, your favorite Scenes, your favorite Accessories and your favorite Cameras.
- A “Rooms” screen, which shows you the selected room in your home with all the accessories added to this room and scenes associated with those accessories, and
- An “Automation” screen, which lists all the automations you’ve created for this home.
How can we structure a HomeKit Home?
The structure of a HomeKit home is straightforward: you can have multiple homes, those homes can have multiple rooms with multiple accessories assigned to them. Within in a room you can create group of accessories to control them with one button. You can combine multiple rooms into bigger zones, e.g. downstairs and upstairs.
Controlling the state of multiple accessories is done through scenes, which memorize the state of your accessories, e.g. “set living room relax”.
Pro-Tip: A recent feature allows to add Apple TVs and HomePods to scenes, which lets us add audio and control playback. You’ll need at least iOS 13.3 to make this work for Home Automations in the Shortcuts app.
Watch Siri creating a HomeKit scene with audio -- “Hey Siri, at the beach” (1 minute snippet from our Siri’s HomeKit Scenes and Shortcuts: Immersive Storytelling How-To cartoon). You can pause the clip at around 4:20, we’ll get later to the other examples:
How can we automate a HomeKit Home?
The Automation screen allows us to create automations, which will run from our home hubs, based on:
- when people arrive
- when people leave
- when a time of day occurs
- when a HomeKit accessory is controlled
- when a HomeKit sensor detects something
How can we share a Home and configure Notifications?
In the Home settings screen, we can invite household members to control our shared home. Here’s also where we can configure to receive personal notifications for cameras, sensors and other accessories.
What’s new in HomeKit?
Two new HomeKit features were announced at Apple’s WWDC 2019 keynote:
HomeKit Secure Video
Currently in beta for our preferred Netatmo indoor and outdoor cameras -- we will report as soon as the feature is released and stable -- Apple announced HomeKit Secure Video, which will let you run person, animal and car detection on your HomeKit home hub devices. The video clips are stored on iCloud for 10 days and require for one cam a 200GB and for up to five cams a 2TB iCloud subscription. Video data will not count toward your monthly iCloud storage. You can share camera access and configure notifications for Secure Video cameras through the Home app, though currently some essential features, like setting detection zones are missing.
Note, Logitech and Eufy are also releasing HomeKit Secure Video support for their cameras.
HomeKit Secured Routers
Eero and Linksys have announced to support Apple’s HomeKit on their routers. This feature will add an Apple firewall between HomeKit devices and your network.
What are Siri Shortcuts?
Just in case you have not seen our overview from iOS 12 yet, here’s Siri explaining her shortcuts:
To summarize, Shortcuts are:
- Siri learning in the background, what you frequently do with Apple’s apps and showing you suggestions at the right time, e.g. to set an alarm for the morning, when it’s time to go to bed.
- Siri learning from other apps -- which donate Shortcuts to her -- how you use them and suggesting actions for these apps, e.g. to create a Siri shortcut to quickly access Google Assistant.
- Custom Shortcuts which you can create by using the preinstalled “Shortcuts” app and create e.g. a Siri Music Quiz.
What’s new in Shortcuts on iOS 13?
If you are used to Shortcuts on iOS 12, here’s a list of changes in iOS 13:
- The Shortcuts app comes now preinstalled and contains your Siri suggestions in the gallery.
- You don’t need to define a Siri command, as the name of your shortcut will be used.
- You can add your Shortcuts to the home screen, widgets and Share sheets.
- The actions have more natural names and synonyms to find them through the Search bar.
- Shortcuts can be customized to pull multiple data sources from multiple apps into one Shortcut.
- A bunch of new activities like the Apple TV remote or Airdrop have been added.
- “Choose from menu” and “Choose from list” allow for conversational shortcuts.
- Personal and Home Automations have been added.
What’s the Shortcuts app?
With the Shortcuts app you can:
- Download and adapt pre-created shortcuts from Apple’s Shortcuts Gallery.
- Create custom Shortcuts, which are a quick way to have one or multiple tasks done through Actions, the building blocks of a shortcut.
- Create personal and home Automations (Note, the home automations here are actually the same automations you can find in your Home app).
What’s in the Shortcuts Gallery
The Shortcuts Gallery, a collection of Apple curated Shortcuts which you can use as-is or for inspiration to create your own shortcuts, contains following sections:
- Great with Siri Shortcuts
- Play on HomePod (handoff music from iPhone to HomePod; Note, you can do this now also by holding your iPhone near your HomePod)
- Morning Briefing (weather, travel time, podcast)
- Dinner Time (message everyone that it’s dinner time and play a playlist)
- Keep me on Task (activates do not disturb, starts a timer, logs what you’re working on in a note, when the time is up do not disturbed will be turned off)
- Heading to Work (gets your ETA, the first calendar event, starts your playlist and gets directions)
- Home ETA (shares how long it will take to get home)
- Say Cheese (take a picture with Siri)
- Call into meeting (calls into your next meeting in the calendar)
- DND Until I leave (turn on do not disturb until you leave this location)
- Where’s next? (get directions to your next event on your calendar)
- Wonderful Widget Shortcuts (Note, there’s a shortcut widget to quickly access your shortcuts)
- Quick Shortcuts (less taps, more done)
- Utilize your location (get more out of your phone’s GPS)
- On the web & in your widget (URL, RSS and APIs)
- Whistle while you widget (music shortcuts)
- Share Sheet Shortcuts (add your shortcut to the share button)
- Designed for Safari (share button shortcuts)
- Share from other Apps (share sheet from other apps)
- Shortcuts for Accessibility
- Change the text size (on your device)
- Speak Brush Teeth Routine
- Contact on Home Screen (contact someone by placing their photo on the home screen)
- Help Message (Send a message and your location to your emergency contacts)
- Speak Meeting Someone New (speaks helpful phrases when meeting someone new, reads what you type, shares your contact card)
- Mood Journal (create a note recording your thoughts and feelings)
- QR Your Shortcuts (create and print a QR code for a shortcut)
- QR Your Wi-Fi (convert your Wi-Fi password to a QR code)
- Pain Report (helps to let others know the location and intensity of your pain)
- Special Day Countdown
- Do Not Disturb Timer (silences notifications and helps to concentrate)
- Clipboard a GIF mood (use a GIF to share your mood -- type and talk)
- What Do I need? (choose an emoji to quickly articulate how you feel and what you need)
- Shortcuts for Apple Music
- Control Playback (start, stop and shuffle)
- Playlist Central (browse Apple curator pages or create your own)
- On the Radio (shortcuts for every station)
- Beyond the Library (share your music online)
- Whats up next? (control the music queue)
- Shortcuts for Sharing
- Sharing (device to device)
- Social Media (create media to share)
- Twitter Better (Twitter lists, search link, tweet songs and more)
- Just for fun (ASCII art)
- Suggested Automations (Shortcuts which appear when you need them)
- Going Home (automate music and getting directions)
- Shortcuts from your Apps (depends on the apps you use)
- Essentials (obviously everyone should have these)
- Morning Routine (start off your day with shortcuts)
- Quick Shortcuts (same like the widget shortcuts above)
- Featured (shortcuts you should know about)
- Explore Apple Music (selection of Apple Music Shortcuts)
- Stay Healthy (control your data using your Health app!)
- Log Water (into the Health app)
- Brush Teeth Timer (2 minutes timer)
- Log Run (duration and distance)
- Log my Weight (into the Health app)
- Activity Report (average number of steps last week)
- Log Elliptical Workout (distance and total time)
- Total Caffeine Today (from the Health app)
- Put it on the Calendar (staying on top of your schedule)
- Read it later (take advantage of your reading archive)
- Around the House
- Laundry Timer (Reminder)
- Set Weekend Chores (choose from common chores and add reminders)
- Add Expiration Reminders (enter item and set an reminder)
- Kick Back and Read (open items from Pocket or Instapaper)
- Dear Diary (write entry in Day One)
- Pizza Assistant (call a Pizza place and add an reminder for pick up)
- Remaining Reminders (export incomplete reminders)
- Don’t forget with due (set a repeating reminder in the Due app)
- Photography (automate your photo library)
- Tools for making Music (time to practice)
- On the Interweb (explore and connect services)
- News Junkies (browse news on different services)
- Learn Something New (word and image of the day, translate selection)
- Collaborate Better (get stuff done with others)
- Use your clipboard
- Writer’s Toolbox (Ulysses, Bear, check spelling and translate)
- ALL THE GIFs! (photos and video to GIF)
- Evernote (access Evernote features with shortcuts)
Please note, we obviously could not add all the shortcuts from the Shortcuts Gallery here, but hopefully more than enough to inspire you to browse the Gallery and download and customize your favorite ones.
What are Shortcuts Actions?
Once, you start to create a Shortcut, you’ll see big “Add Action” button. Shortcuts actions are the building blocks of Shortcuts.
There are two ways to find an action:
- You can browse the different action groups in the Shortcuts app and listed below, which is great for beginners.
- Once you know the action names, you can type them into the Search bar and pick them from the results.
Pro-Tip: Rather than tapping on the action to append it to the end of your shortcut, it might be more convenient to tap and hold the action and place it where you need it in the shortcut.
Let’s have a look at the different groups of actions:
- Apps: Apple and third-party apps, which support Shortcuts. When you tap on an app, you’ll see the actions which it has donated to Siri. Tapping on the action adds it to your Shortcut.
- Favorites: Your favorite actions will appear here.
- Scripting: Many important Shortcut actions which help us to open apps, control the flow of our shortcut, memorize data in dictionaries and variables and run Shortcuts:
- Open Apps
- Control the Flow of our Shortcut: Menu options, If/Then, Repeat, Wait
- Device actions: Battery level, device details, appearance, brightness, Do not Disturb, flashlight, low power mode, playback destination and volume
- Dictionaries, Variables
- Files, Items, Lists
- Math, Numbers, Measurements
- Network, Notifications
- Media: Includes actions to access all the media on your devices:
- Camera, Audio
- Image Editing, GIFs
- iTunes Store, App Store
- Music, Playback, Playlists, Podcasts, Up Next
- Video, Photos, Images
- Location: Contains actions related to locations and weather
- GPS, Addresses, Maps, Routing
- Documents: Offers Actions for text, files and more:
- Archive, Books
- Notes, Editing, Previewing
- Files, FileStorage, Printing
- QR Codes
- Text, Rich Text, Text Editing
- Control other apps: Bear, Drafts, Evernote, GoodReader and Ulysses
- Sharing: contains actions to share your content in different ways:
- System, Clipboard
- Messaging, Photos, Notes
- Social Media
- Web: Offers actions for web resources:
- Articles, RSS, URLs
- Web Requests, Safari
- Giphy, Instapaper, Overcast, Pinboard & Pocket
Pro-Tip: Once you get used to the action names, it’s much faster to find them through the search bar.
What are Personal Automations?
When creating an Automation in the Shortcuts app, we have two choices. A Home Automation will create an HomeKit automation, like in the Home app, which will run from our home hub. A personal automation will run from your iOS device.
Personal Automations can be activated by Events:
- By the time of day, sunrise or sunset,
- When an alarm is snoozed or stopped,
- and when an Apple Watch workout starts or stops.
Or, when we Travel:
- When someone arrives/leaves,
- Before we commute,
- When we connect or disconnect to CarPlay.
But also by our System Settings, when we:
- Turn Airplane Mode on/off,
- Connect to a specific Wi-Fi,
- Connect to a specific Bluetooth device,
- Turn Do Not Disturb on/off,
- Low Power Mode is turned on/off,
- are holding our iPhone close to a NFC tag (from iPhone Xs on),
- Open an app.
Pro-Tip: NFC automations are great fun! You can already start by using any (old) credit card with NFC and automate your music, and smart lights, and …
How to create a Shortcut
There’s a bunch of examples throughout our Siri posts, and here they are, hopefully sorted by difficulty:
- The easiest example “Hey Siri, help me to tune my guitar”, where we just play a guitar tuning playlist or launch a tuner app, with a custom command: Tuning with a Music Playlist and Simple Siri Shortcuts
- A very simple 2-action example of a Shortcut which controls Apple Music or Spotify and a HomeKit scene, can be found in our Siri Music commands post: Our own Shortcut: Hey Siri, Relax!
- A super easy 3-action example (iOS 13) where Siri creates a Shortcut with ambient sounds -- “Hey Siri, deep blue sea” (2 minute snippet from our Siri’s HomeKit Scenes and Shortcuts: Immersive Storytelling How-To cartoon)
- A 3-action example (iOS 12) which sets a light scene, plays dinner music and additionally sends a “Dinner is ready” message to the family, can be found in our Siri and Philips Hue post: Creating Siri Shortcuts in the Apple Shortcuts App.
- The ultimate fun with 17 actions in a Shortcuts game can be found in our “Hey Siri, Start my Music Quiz” – Create your own Music Game with Shortcuts! post.
- The craziest example, again, trying to tune a guitar, can be found here “Here’s to the Crazy Ones”: Exploring Voice Control with Siri Shortcuts
Indeed, it’s easy to overlook the powerful features of the preinstalled Apple Shortcuts app in your pocket. Together with the Home app it opens up amazing possibilities to automate and personalize your Siri experience.
Next time someone tries to explain to you, that Siri is lagging behind Google and Alexa, you can send them this post. We are sure, they are missing an overview of all the Siri features in the Shortcuts and Home app.
We hope this overview gives you some helpful orientation and inspires you to create your personal Shortcuts to support you in 2020!
You can find helpful Apple resources below. Let us know how you’re doing with Shortcuts and HomeKit and if there’s anything missing in this post.
Happy HomeKit & Shortcuts!
P.S. You can find more Siri posts here: Apple Siri