Shortcuts 2.2 brings support for Apple Notes with handwriting recognition

Apple has released version 2.2 of the Shortcuts app, bringing with it new actions for the default Notes app, updates to the Travel Time and Adjust Date action, adds support for Baidu Maps, and includes a number of smaller features and some critical bug fixes.

Overall the update brings some much-need stability, a new set of tools for everyday users to play around with and discover how to integrate into their workflow, and opens up transportation automation for a huge subset of users worldwide. Here's how.

Support for the Notes app

With the new support for Notes, users can use Create Note, Append to Note, Find Notes, and Show Note in the course of their custom shortcuts, allowing for programmatic interaction with the thoughts and ideas they've jotted down.

It's now possible to create notes in the background without displaying the Notes compose sheet, to add to the same note over and over with Append to Note, to bring the text of your Notes into Shortcuts and act on them, and to open Notes to any individual note that you're working with (used in combination with one of the other three actions).

Plus, anytime you are working Notes content as a variable in Shortcuts, you can tap on the variable to extract further details like only the body, the Folder it resides in within the Notes app, and the Creation or Modification date.

Even further, we've discovered that the Find Notes action brings in the full text of anything that's been hand-written in your notes – as long as iOS can recognize the word. This means that users of iPads and the Apple Pencil (or with other styluses or using your finger on iPhone) can write things out by hand, use Find Notes to grab that note, and copy out what they've written.

Previously it was only possible to search for Notes and have it return the words it recognizes, but now that OCR (optical character recognition) works in conjunction with the Shortcuts app, and any other potential endpoint it can hook into. This is a huge leap for handwriting on iOS, because any advanced support required third-party apps – and now, it can be scripted into your shortcuts, and even triggered with Siri to grab that text out of a note, which is pretty powerful stuff.

More actions and updates

Alongside the Notes actions, Apple added Get Numbers From Input, support for Baidu maps, updates to the Travel Time action, and the addition of Get Start of Calendar Week to the Adjust Date action.

Get Numbers From Input works as a way to find any values inside content and extract just that data, ignoring all of the text or other information that's non-numeric. Using this, people can scrape out information from inside larger chunks of content, strip out the units for any measurements they might be working with, and get just the numbers they might need. This action drops in alongside other "Get ____ from Input" actions like those that grab email addresses, phone numbers, contacts, dates, text, dictionaries, URLs, addresses, and images too, which can be handy for information workflows.

Shortcuts has also added support for opening into Baidu Maps if you have it installed, which means you can use the Show Directions action in either Driving, Walking, Biking, or Transit mode. For the millions and millions of Chinese users who rely on this for transportation, this is a huge boon for their automation potential. Curiously, however, Baidu Maps isn't supported within the Show in Maps action.

But for those using Apple Maps and the Get Travel Time action, there are some welcome additions to the information provided. Beyond just getting the total length of the trip, users can tap on any Travel Time variables and further extract the Arrival Time, Route Name, and Distance to the destination.

That means it's much easier to set up commuting shortcuts that tell your family when you're getting home, or have Siri inform you which route to take by asking the HomePod as you prepare to leave, or estimate how far it is between two destinations.

And in a small but helpful update, the Adjust Date action can return the start of the current week in addition the the start of the minute, hour, day, and month. Previously it'd require fancy date and time math to calculate when the previous Sunday is based off the current date, and now it's a feature in the app.

While the usefulness of this depends on your needs, it means it's much easier to build shortcuts that estimate weekly ranges – say you do a weekly report and want the dates for Sunday and the next Saturday to display at the top of your report, now you can Adjust Date set to Get Start of Current Week and use another Adjust Date to add 6 days to it. Or you could curate a weekly playlist in Apple Music with a nicely-formatted description specifying the date range.

Bug fixes and a new feature

Along with these new actions and updated functions, the 2.2 update fixes some important bugs that have been fairly preventative for power users of Shortcuts.

Sync is fixed: Since the release of Shortcuts, "Shortcuts Sync" has been somewhat temperamental, ruining the order when a user syncs across devices and randomly shifting everything around. And further, large changes in the order seemed to create crashes on other devices, where users would have to delete and reinstall, further mixing up the order again.

That should all be fixed now, with changes smoothly showing up across devices, resolving any crashes, and not creating issues when installing on a new device. This makes it much, much easier for users with large numbers of Shortcuts to keep their libraries organized, not to mention solving the frustration of not being able to use your automation app on your phone once you did something on your iPad.

Photo sharing is fixed: Further, the update resolves another nasty bug that was making it impossible to share from Photos into Shortcuts – any time a user tried, they would be hit with an error message instead. Users could get around this by saving to the Files app first, but with iOS' preference for saving content into the Photo Library, this seemed entirely broken to most Shortcuts users, and from a very commonly-used application for automation purposes.

Now, the Photos extension works again with Shortcuts, letting you automate all the images, GIFs, and videos you have stored.

HomePod shortcuts run properly now: In another bug fix, Apple also resolves a somewhat silly issue with triggering Shortcuts from HomePod – whenever it needed to handoff back to the iPhone, it would often skip the next action in line and move to the second, almost moving too fast for itself. Now this should work properly again, making it much more reliable to experiment with shortcuts that can start on HomePod and continue on your phone.

Hopefully, Shortcuts users will never see these impactful bugs in a public release of an Apple application for this long of a time period again. As many more professionals begin to rely on iOS and Shortcuts to complete tasks vitally important to their jobs, not being able to use the app or its main functions for extended periods of time becomes a major problem.

I hope that Apple recognizes the importance of automation to their users' workflows and prioritizes emergency releases to fix these issues over waiting for the minor updates they put out alongside minor iOS releases. Otherwise, it may be enough that people feel they can't rely on this service (which has already been expressed in places like the r/shortcuts Reddit community), and also tarnish some of the potential of a device like the HomePod that promises cool Siri functionality, and then falls flat when you try to use it with regularity.

That's a shame because of the massive potential upside Shortcuts offers, especially when it is deeply integrated into your workflow and how you use iPhones and iPads to solve more and more of your needs each day.

That being said, improvements to workflows are always welcome, and even the last little feature is handy for Shortcuts power users (or making new people into new ones).

Now, when you tap the Library icon in the app, the app will scroll to the bottom of your list. This lets you quickly jump to any shortcuts you've recently created (which get added to the end of the list by default), and you can return to the top by hitting the blank space in the status bar above the application (in between the current time and your device battery).

Impact of the update

With Shortcuts 2.2, many issues have been resolved, power users can have their workflow restored, and anyone with an iOS device can now script their interactions with the Notes app. Using Shortcuts to automate aspects of transportation has improved dramatically for Apple Maps and Baidu Maps users, it's easier to work with numbers and dates, and there's more room to experiment with running shortcuts from HomePod.

I hope Apple continues the trend of adding new actions within minor updates of Shortcuts, especially those that add previously-untapped potential, but also for those that simplify some potential that was already there, but just too convoluted to obtain. The Adjust Date's Get Start of Week function is a great example, because every small addition like this lowers the bar for difficulty and raises the bar for thousands of tiny but specific tasks.

And that's where Shortcuts' potential lies – finding little spaces that add up to huge spaces that haven't been explored yet, and doing it from the best mobile devices in the world. You don't have to be at a desk or in an office to tap into the potential of computers – it's right there in your pocket.

Time to get building! But in the meantime, try downloading our shortcut that uses all the new actions we covered – perfect for capturing your thoughts before a commute.

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.”