App developers cite major improvements to Apple's Shortcuts APIs, now a "modern" framework

Photograph showing an iPhone with the icons for Toolbox Pro, ConnectKit, and Tunable (by AffinityBlue), the apps quoted by the developers in this article.
Photograph showing an iPhone with the icons for Toolbox Pro, ConnectKit, and Tunable (by AffinityBlue), the apps quoted by the developers in this article. (Image credit: Matthew Cassinelli / iMore)

Apple's newest framework for implementing Shortcuts support in iOS, iPadOS, and Mac apps has been called "modern," "expansive," and "much easier," according to app developers who've been testing the new framework since its release at WWDC.

I asked three developers — Alex Hay of Toolbox Pro, Seth Sandler of AffinityBlue (responsible for apps like Tunable), and Josh Holtz of ConnectKit — about the new App Intents framework, what new feature they're looking to utilize going forward, and how things compare to what was previously available. Here are their responses:

Implementing Shortcuts is easier now

Screenshot from Apple's "Dive into App Intents" session showing the words "Concise," "Modern", "Easy," and "Maintaneable" referring to qualities of the new APIs. (Image credit: iMore)

Alex Hay has been intimately familiar with the Shortcuts APIs as the developer of Toolbox Pro, a Shortcuts-first utility that provides 100+ actions to the Shortcuts app — he first highlights how this year's tools are a big change from previous years:

It's clear the team behind Shortcuts has been very busy again… they've now completely changed how developers make actions from their apps available in Siri and Shortcuts in iOS 16.'App Intents' is their modern, expansive new framework that has two big advantages over the old system.Firstly, I think Apple is trying to push developer adoption by greatly simplifying the effort required to add basic support for an app inside Shortcuts.Adding a single shortcut action previously required a fiddly tour of Xcode checking boxes and writing boilerplate.It now it requires seven lines of code."

Now, developers can expect a much smoother adoption process to get started, letting them skip past learning how to utilize the tool and instead focusing on how to best integrate with Shortcuts, especially the new App Shortcuts feature.

Seth Sandler, founder of AffinityBlue, echoed this sentiment:

Previously, developing shortcuts was cumbersome and lacked flexibility. The new API allows for creating shortcuts and Siri phrases easily with improved flexibility by allowing developers to specify parameters that users can speak to Siri or define in the shortcuts app, making app features more accessible and extending app functionality."

App developers can go deeper with their actions

Screenshot from Apple's "Dive into App Intents" developer session showing the App Intents logo on-screen. (Image credit: iMore)

Hay goes further into how these changes make deeper Shortcuts support more feasible to maintain for developers like himself:

Secondly, at the other end of the spectrum, the new APIs make it much easier to add more complex actions as well as maintain a larger number of actions."

Josh Holtz, developer of ConnectKit, had the same issue with his tool since the app, ahem, connects to so many API endpoints that each require a discrete action:

My app, ConnectKit, has 30 intents right now (with a lot more to come), and adding new ones was always a hassle with the visual editor."

Holtz mentions that Shortcuts is easier to adopt because he can quite literally copy and paste the code while developing new actions:

App Intents being defined in Swift will allow me to easily copy and define new intents (while also potentially unlocking some auto generation of new intents with a little bit of custom scripting)!"

Developers are happy

Screenshot from Apple's "Dive into App Intents" developer session showing the Siri icon and a demo shortcut running on an iPhone. (Image credit: iMore)

Apple's enhancements to their Shortcuts developer tools are a major win for the Shortcuts community.

Rather than adding complexity to the exercise of developing good shortcuts for an app, Apple has minimized the effort it takes to adopt Shortcuts. Easier tooling means that implementing a set of actions in an app is easier for teams to prioritize, quicker to develop, and simpler to support over time.

As Holtz put it, these are exciting updates:

App Intents might be one of my favorite unexpected things to come out of WWDC 22!"

The intent to improve

Hopefully, more app developers will take notice and implement Shortcuts support for iOS 16, iPadOS 16, and macOS Ventura come this fall. We'll be covering the best apps for your favorite iPad, iPhone, or Mac with updated Shortcuts support when they release!

Matthew Cassinelli

Matthew Cassinelli is a writer, podcaster, video producer, and Shortcuts creator. After working on the Workflow app before it was acquired by Apple and turned into Shortcuts, Matthew now shares about how to use Shortcuts and how to get things done with Apple technology.

On his personal website, Matthew has shared hundreds & hundreds of shortcuts that anyone can download, plus runs a membership program for more advanced Shortcuts users. He also publishes a weekly newsletter called “What’s New in Shortcuts.”