iOS 12’s Siri Shortcuts are an interesting mix of Google Assistant and IFTTT

Siri just got a little smarter

While Apple announced a variety of quality of life improvements with the reveal of  iOS 12 during the company’s 2018 WWDC keynote, including long-requested ‘Grouped notifications’ and a more feature rich Photos app, ‘Siri Shortcuts’ stood out from the pack.

Apple’s upcoming iOS 12 Siri Shortcuts feature is an interesting mix of Google Assistant’s sometimes predictive nature, combined with a streamlined version of IFTTT, a long running service that allows users create reactive formulas with various apps.

While Siri Shortcuts were revealed during the tech giant’s WWDC keynote earlier this week, I recently had the chance to take a deeper dive in the feature, as well as learn more about Apple’s strategy behind the feature.

While some were hoping for a smarter, more capable version of Siri, Apple’s once dominant voice AI, iOS 12’s new shortcuts feature does go a long way towards making the digital assistant more useful in specific situations.

In a sense, Siri is smarter — it’s just going to take a little work on your end to teach Apple’s assistant exactly what you want it to do, at least in some cases.

“Apple’s upcoming iOS 12 Siri Shortcuts feature is an interesting mix of Google Assistant’s sometimes predictive nature, combined with a streamlined version of IFTTT.”

First, it’s important to note that Apple actually offers a specific app called ‘Shortcuts’ in iOS 12, unlike Alexa and Google Assistant where routines are built directly into the assistant’s respective apps. This app acts as the hub for creating these custom commands, allowing Apple’s digital assistant to control smart home products, play music and even perform tasks like sending quick pre-created texts to friends. Shortcuts also look eerily similar to Workflow, an app Apple acquired back in March 2016.

The specific example shown to me involved a shortcut command related to getting ready to go surfing. When the command was said, Siri launched a specific shortcut that was setup to show wave conditions, wind speed and how long it would take to make it to the beach, including traffic information.

Other examples include a Siri Shortcut asking if you want to order your usual morning coffee, or sending a quick text message to a meeting organizer if you happen to be running late.

Apple also showed off a demonstration that featured the Kayak travel app asking to create a Siri shortcut during the company’s WWDC keynote, resulting in a shortcut called ‘Travel Plans.’ When saying Travel Plans, the shortcut then launched the hotel address and check-in time.

All this can be setup through a simple drag on drop UI, allowing users to fine tune exactly what they want their specific Siri Shortcut to do.

It’s worth pointing out that Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant are capable of similar grouped commands called ‘Routines,’ though Apple’s offering is significantly easier to setup and understand, at least at first glance. This is the type of feature you really need to go hands-on with to gain a better understanding of, however.

Google Assistant also does Routines automatically thanks to Google Now’s DNA still being present in the voice-activated assistant.

All this can be setup through a simple drag on drop UI, allowing users to fine tune exactly what they want their specific Siri Shortcut to do.

Similarly, Siri Shortcuts are capable of being automatically created and are based on what Apple is calling behaviour “patterns.” For instance, even if you don’t frequently go to the gym, but based on your GPS location Apple knows you like to listen to Apple Music when you do happen to drag yourself off the couch to go pump some iron, iOS 12 will suggest a Siri Shortcut that launches the app as soon as you arrive.

Developers will also be able to add shortcuts to their apps, with the example Apple showed off during my brief demonstration being a food ordering service with built-in shortcut suggestion on its front page.

It’s unclear if Siri Shortcuts are capable of surpassing Google Assistant’s or Alexa’s routines, but it’s certainly an interesting way of tackling the useful voice-activated assistant conundrum.

While I’ve never found Google or Alexa’s digital assistants very useful, I actually see myself actually using Siri Shortcuts, especially suggested interactions.

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