Software

Workflow for iOS: How to use 3 automation workflows that boost your productivity

Workflow automation in iOS lets you chain actions together into impressive workflows. Learn how to build workflows that can enhance your productivity when using iOS.

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Image: Cory Bohon / TechRepublic

Workflow is a handy automation tool that's available for iOS. The tool works with many different apps through the share extension functionality built into iOS 9 and later. With this functionality, you can pass files, URLs, and other data into the Workflow app and then perform operations on the files and data; from there, you can export the work done and back out into another app.

For instance, you can export markdown-formatted text into Workflow from one app, and then have it convert the markdown into rich text and copy to the clipboard or export it to another app.

Read about several workflows that can help improve your productivity, and learn how to create each one inside of the Workflow app.

SEE: Best iPhone apps of 2017 (CNET)

Download the Workflow app

Workflow was recently made freely available on the App Store after its acquisition by Apple. Note: It's unlikely the app will receive many updates, at least in its current form.

1. Share Availability

Share Availability is a built-in workflow in the Workflow app that lets you easily get free times from your calendar for a specific date, and then share those available times with a contact. This workflow is amazing for scheduling meetings and finding your availability for a future day.

To enable this workflow, open the Workflow app and perform these steps.

  1. Tap Gallery at the top of the app.
  2. Tap the Search button in the top right corner.
  3. Search for Share Availability.
  4. Tap the workflow that appears.
  5. Select Get Workflow.

This workflow will appear inside of the Workflow app's My Workflows section. From there you can tap the workflow, and then tap the Play button at the top to execute it. You'll be prompted to select a date (Figure A). In a share sheet pop-up, you can choose to message, email, AirDrop, or import the output text of the action into another app.

Figure A

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The output of this action will be text that specifies the free hours during the day that was selected. It does this by accessing the Calendar app data on your iOS device.

2. File Downloader

If you have ever wanted to download a file on iOS without going through Safari or Mail, as long as you can copy the file download URL, you can do this in the Workflow app.

To begin, create a new workflow by opening the app, selecting the + button in the My Workflows tab, and then selecting the Actions tab to chain the following actions together (Figure B).

  1. Add Get Clipboard.
  2. Add Get Contents Of URL. (If you need to specify advanced settings like the HTTP method or HTTP headers, you can do so under the Advanced section; however, for normal file download operations you can leave those as default.)
  3. Add the Save File action and specify a service, such as Ask Where To Save to be prompted to specify a save location when the action is executed.

Figure B

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When running this workflow, ensure the URL to the file you wish to download has been copied to the clipboard.

To run the action, copy a URL that links to a file you'd like to download, launch the Workflow app, select the File Downloader workflow, and then run it. The file will be downloaded, and you'll be prompted where to save the file that has just been downloaded.

3. Unzip files

If a desktop user sends you a zip file that cannot be natively extracted in iOS, Workflow has you covered. Create a new workflow as you did in the previous step, and then add these actions.

  1. Extract Archive, which has no configuration options.
  2. Save File, which (as before) you'll configure with the service you wish to export the file to, and optionally check the Ask Where To Save option.
  3. In the Workflow tab, select the gear at the top of the page and ensure the Action Extension option is selected (Figure C). This is required since we'll need to pass the archive file into this workflow from another app in order to have it unzipped.

Figure C

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There are many configuration options available for workflows, depending on where you need to run them from. In this case, select the Action Extension option to make it available when selecting the action button in another app.

To use this workflow, follow these steps.

  1. Open an app such as Mail, Messages, or Safari.
  2. Navigate to a zip file that you'd like to open and select the file.
  3. Select the Action button.
  4. Select Run Workflow (Figure D).
  5. Select the Unzip workflow. The file will be passed into the Workflow extension, which will unzip the file and prompt you where to save the unzipped files.

Figure D

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After selecting Run Workflow, you'll be offered a selection of compatible workflows that can be executed on the selected file. Tap Unzip to execute this workflow.

Explore what's possible with Workflow

As you can see by these example workflows, the Workflow app can be used in many ways and from many apps to extend the functionality of apps and make iOS an even more powerful platform for a productive work environment.

Continue to play around with the actions in the Workflow app to create your own unique workflows, or search through the Gallery to find and utilize workflows created by other users. The possibilities are endless.

Also see

About Cory Bohon

Cory Bohon is an indie developer specializing in iOS and OS X development. He runs a software company called Cocoa App and is also a developer at MartianCraft. He was introduced to technology at an early age and has been writing about his favorite te...

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