How to create context-aware shortcuts on iOS 15

The Shortcuts app is growing up and learning new tricks. One of those tricks is the ability to produce context-aware workflows that know about the content onscreen.

shortcuts-ios15-hero.jpg

Image: cnet.com

We've previously covered many different Shortcuts automations for iOS, but in iOS 15, Apple has made significant additions to the Shortcuts app, as it's in the process of bringing the app over to the Mac. One of the new actions available in iOS 15 is the ability to get the onscreen content and use it in your workflows. This action produces a file that can be used to create context-aware shortcuts that reach into the currently used apps to grab what's on the screen and apply it in ways we never were able to before.

Let's take a look at what this action can do and how you can use it in your workflows to do new and interesting things.

Related Apple Shortcuts articles: 

About the Get On Screen Content action

If you've upgraded to iOS or iPadOS 15, or are running macOS Monterey and have looked at the new Shortcuts app, chances are you've seen a new action called Get On Screen Content. This new workflow action works with compatible apps to create a file containing what's on the screen.

The workflow we will build below uses this command to get the URL of a website you're currently looking at in Safari, then allows you to add a note along with the URL that's automatically captured using this new action. This action can be used for other items, including files, images and more, but your mileage may vary, as many apps are not yet taking advantage of the onscreen content hosting mechanism this action relies on to work.

Building a sample workflow

Let's build a sample workflow to show the power of this new action. This workflow will allow you to create a note from the current webpage in Safari, but without the need to go to the Share Sheet to activate the workflow.

To begin, open the Shortcuts app, then follow these steps after pressing the + button to create a new workflow. In the workflow editor:

  1. Search for and drag over the action called Get On Screen Content.
  2. Search for and drag over the action called Add To Variable, setting the name to NoteContent.
  3. Search for and drag over the action called Ask For Input and add optional placeholder text called What would you like to note?
  4. Search for and drag over the action called Add To Variable, setting the input to NoteContent and the name to NoteContent.
  5. Search for and drag over the action called Create Note and set the content to the NoteContent variable.
  6. In the Name field at the top of the Shortcuts app, provide a name and optional icon for this workflow. We named ours Note This Website. Whatever name you choose, be sure to note it, as that's how we'll run it later.

When you're done, your workflow editor should look like Figure A. If it does not, you can download the completed workflow here.

Figure A

shortcuts-ios15-getonscreen-figure-a.jpg

The completed workflow will look like this. Be sure to add a name to the top, such as Note This Website.

SEE: Best hidden iOS 15 features to start using now (TechRepublic)

Running the workflow

When you're ready to run the workflow, open Safari and navigate to a website that you'd like to run the workflow with in order to create a note in the Apple Notes app. Tell Siri "Note this website" (or whatever name you used for your workflow in the Shortcuts app).

When you do this, the workflow will grab the URL of the current webpage and will then ask you to provide input through Siri. Speak your note, then Siri will automatically create a new note with the URL of the website you were visiting, plus the text you gave Siri for the note.

This is just one example of workflow you can build with the Get On Screen Content action. This action has unlimited possibilities and can be used with new and existing workflows as you see fit to expand the functionality and ease of grabbing the content that's currently onscreen to use in the workflow itself.

Also see