Plain Text Shortcut

February 16, 2020 by Gabe | [mmd] |

A few weeks ago I was trying to share a link I copied from the Safari sharing sheet on iOS. Every time I tried to paste the link in a web form the clipboard seemed empty.

I made this really simple but incredibly useful shortcut to solve the problem. The root cause of my frustration is that iOS treats URL sharing as a special case and the clipboard gets confused if I want text or a web preview, or some other version of a URL.

On my Mac I have several Keyboard Maestro macros that convert my clipboard to text. I use these often because in 2020 plain text is still the most portable form of information. I almost never want to paste a web preview. I usually just want the URL string. Apple seems confused about how people use web links.

Text Shortcut

I think the shortcut is self-explanatory but let me call out a few thoughts that went into it and describe how I feel about Shortcuts on iOS.

Tagging

I feel like the developers behind Shortcuts only make over-engineered, multi-function shortcuts. Clearly they don’t have a large variety of small shortcuts or we’d already have folders and tags for our library. I’ve tried to create a tagging system by prefixing with “[Clip]” but this breaks all Siri integration with the shortcut. Instead I’ve programmed my brain to name and remember shortcuts with my own ontology. Everything that operates on or sets my clipboard has the word “Clip” in it. It makes it slightly easier to see them in the sharing extension and much easier to find them in Shortcuts search.

Tagging Shortcuts

I have a similar naming system for “Share” and “Note.” You can probably guess what these shortcuts have to do with just from my description. I think that’s a hallmark of a good naming scheme.

Clipboarding

It’s still very frustrating to me that the primary way to send information between apps on iOS is with the Clipboard. This is insecure, tedious, and destructive. iOS needs a common secrets store that can be used with Shortcuts and between apps. A good secrets store allows the user to authenticate access for each app and revoke access any time. Think of it like an encrypted dictionary that a user can grant access to for individual apps, and limit access on a per-secret basis. I could hack this together with Shortcuts and iCloud storage but this is not how users should work.

A Thousand Points of Light

I’m not a fan of George H.W. Bush but I do like this phrase and my related mental model. The ease of my life is determined by many small efficiencies and frictions. I like my shortcuts to be small and purpose built. They are easier to build, maintain, and improve. I’ve wasted 10X time on a large shortcut instead of just doing the task manually.

Do you know what isn’t efficient, spending a dozen hours making a shortcut that saves one minute a month. To save you the math I would need to use that Shortcut over 700 times just to break even with my time investment. The above Shortcut took me one minute to make and it saves me about 20 seconds each time I use it.

Apple Hates Keyboards

Shortcuts can still only be run by selecting from a menu or talking out loud to a piece of glass. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve grown to like Siri more than I ever imagined I would. But most of what I want to do on iOS still involves a keyboard. It’s downright despicable that I can’t run a shortcut from the iOS keyboard.

Siri Keyboard

I’m not sure what keyboard hurt Apple when they were a kid, but I sure do wish they’d seek some reconciliation. There’s no good reason to make objectively bad physical keyboards and also ignore the most commonly used input device on their phones. Maybe Apple is leaning too hard on Siri to make informed keyboard decisions. That might be a mistake.

Maybe once Apple opens their hearts to keyboards we can have an intervention about pointing devices. Baby steps.