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Workflow for iOS review: An awesome Mac-like app for our post-PC devices

Michael Simon | Dec. 17, 2014
Our iOS devices aren't built for efficiency. Unlike OS X, where we can simultaneously work in multiple apps and position windows and folders on our desktops for optimal output, iOS has a far greater focus on individual tasks. Even accomplishing something as simple as copying text from Safari and pasting it into a note requires a set series of steps and hoops, and any kind of real multitasking is hampered by the safeguards Apple has built into the system.

But Workflow's true beauty lies in its tremendous versatility. The general concept can be grasped in just a few seconds, and while it'll take a good deal of trial-and-error experimentation to master it, you don't have to be an expert to find a way to fit it into your routine. A built-in gallery helps get you started, and with an easy sharing mechanism, it won't be long until websites are dedicated to supplying many, many more. 

The app excels at cutting down the number of steps it would normally take to schedule an appointment or delete a handful of screenshots, but its usefulness extends beyond merely limiting your taps and swipes. In some cases, Workflow is actually able to add functionality that isn't there. I've always been frustrated by the inability of most text editors to count the number of words in a selection, so I made a simple workflow that counts words on the clipboard and added it to my home screen. With the use of variables, prompts and conditional "if" commands, its capabilities go well beyond the countless combinations, and while I did my best to put it through its paces, it seemed like I barely scratched the surface of what Workflow is capable of doing.

Workflows exist where you want them to — whether that's on your home screen, as a Share Sheet icon or in the app itself — so you're never far from executing one. And even though the app technically needs to launch in each of these instances, the various options give it the quickness of a keystroke, making them seem more like true shortcuts than any of the other automation apps I've used. Notably missing is a widget that lets you run workflows via the Notification Center, but Apple's been a bit persnickety about that lately. Hopefully one will be allowed in a future update.

As a universal app, it's a bit frustrating not to be able to sync your workflows over iCloud, but each version offers unique benefits. On the iPhone 6, it helps bring back some of the one-handed operation lost with the larger screen, and on the iPad, the extra space gives some workflows a multitasking feel, such as when you use the action extension while in Safari to browse your music library. 

Bottom line

Workflow works with a decent cross-section of third-party apps like Tweetbot, Things, Uber, and Evernote, as well as tapping into iCloud Drive's file system for uploading, but I get the impression that it will be evolving rather quickly. But even if it never sees another update, Workflow doesn't disappoint. Without needing to circumvent Apple's rules, it's able to lift our iPhones and iPads to new levels of efficiency and brings us ever closer to the post-PC promise of mobile independence.

 

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