iPad for Writers: iPadOS 13 Review


Shortcuts has become my new obsession. The iPad (and iOS in general) is a funny thing: its limitations have made using it feel both constricting and immensely freeing at the same time.

It’s sort of like the movie JAWS. Spielberg had planned on there being a lot more shark in the movie originally. However, when the animatronic Bruces started failing (salt water and electronics don’t mix), they had to improvise. The limitations of the shark meant we got things like the yellow barrels and the terrifying scene with the moving dock.

Shortcuts on the iPad work very much the same way. Due to the operating system’s limitations (both in how it was designed and in what Apple allows users to do), Shortcuts open up a world of possibility through automation.

Before we go any further, I’m fairly certain my target audience for this review, on the whole, is not going to be programmatically minded. I wasn’t either at first. I needed a lot of help getting started with Shortcuts and in my opinion, there is no better way to dive into automation on the iPad than with David Sparks’s Shortcuts Field Guide. I’ve been using the Field Guide to familiarize myself with the Shortcuts ecosystem and I’ve been able to do quite a lot, even with having only completed 15% of his tutorials.

For example, I managed to streamline the Shortcut I built to make querying my novel(s) easier. I also built a Shortcut that automates the bibliography I append to the end of every Cabinet of Curiosities story I write. First, I copy the domain, then from Safari I activate the Shortcut through the browser’s share sheet.

It passes the webpage’s URL to the Shortcut, pulls out the title, author, and link, and dumps the output to the end of the story in Ulysses.

You can use Shortcuts to do a lot: extract excerpts from web pages and use them to create new notes in Apple Notes, send images from the web to different apps, save files in your email to specific folders automatically without having to drill down in the folder tree to find the location (great for archiving receipts and publisher documentation).

iPadOS 13.1 will also bring location/time-based triggers to Shortcuts when it’s released at the end of September. You can have Shortcuts fire based on time of day, day of the week, or even when you switch WiFi networks.

Perhaps you write at Starbucks every day and you want to make sure you’re focused while you’re there. You can have a Shortcut launch when you connect to the Starbucks WiFi that will put your iPad in Do Not Disturb mode and hide all notifications until you leave. You can also have it launch a pomodoro timer if you know you’re going to do some sprints once you have your latte in-hand.

Shortcuts is an advanced level feature and one that is definitely worth exploring as you begin your iPad-focused writing lifestyle. However, I suggest you start by:

  1. Digging into the Shortcuts gallery, installing a few, and seeing how they work to get a feel for their construction.
  2. Purchasing and settling in with David Sparks’s Shortcuts Field Guide ($29). Seriously, don’t just half-ass it. Watch the videos and follow along (you can even have the tutorial open in the browser on one side of Split View and Shortcuts open on the other side).
  3. Reading Federico Viticci’s iOS/iPadOS 13 review—specifically the Shortcuts section—to get a better overview of how Shortcuts fit into the iOS platform and what they can do to assist in automating your writing workflow. Viticci’s review is extensive. He has torn iOS 13 and iPadOS 13 down to the studs. If you’re looking for a more granular explanation of anything in iPadOS 13, you may want to pour yourself a cup of something tasty, find a comfy chair, and let Federico lead the way.

I’m still learning new things about Shortcuts with each one I build. It’s a feature that will grow as iOS grows, adding more functionality with each update and expanding the capabilities of our devices even further. Watch this space—this is where things are going to get very exciting.

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