How to run iOS shortcuts from your Mac

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Shortcuts on Mac.
Shortcuts on Mac — kinda.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

While it is possible to get the Shortcuts app running in macOS Catalina via Catalyst, you can’t do much with it. But what about the next best thing? How about selecting something on your Mac, then tapping a shortcut on your iPhone, and then having the result show up back on your Mac?

I’ve been doing this for the past few weeks, and it’s not only a workaround, but a genuinely useful — and reliable — way to “run” iOS shortcuts on the Mac. Let’s get right into it.

Shortcuts + Continuity

This trick uses the Universal Clipboard, part of iCloud’s set of Continuity tools. What we’ll do is:

  • Copy something to the clipboard on the Mac.
  • Run a shortcut on an iOS device that uses the clipboard as its source, and its destination.
  • Paste on the Mac.

The Universal Clipboard is pretty rock solid, so this trick is as reliable as using Shortcuts on your iPad or iPhone. The most likely problem you may run into is if you work with large files. Video files, for example. But for regular text and photos, you should be fine. Let’s start with a real example.

Set up your shortcuts

Every week I write our app roundup, and I use shortcuts to take care of the busy work. One of those shortcuts takes a list of apps, runs them through an App Store search, and offers a list of results. I tap on the results I want, and the shortcut grabs the name, price and link to the app, formats them into markdown, and puts the result on the clipboard.

The modified “Mac” version is on the right.
The modified “Mac” version is on the right.
Photo: Cult of Mac

This is an essential tool for me, so not having it on the Mac was a huge pain. What I did was duplicate this shortcut, and change its first step to Get Clipboard. The final step was already set to copy the result back to the clipboard, so this was the only thing I had to change. (Well, I also modified the name. Perhaps I also should change its icon.)

Then, to run this particular shortcut, I just write my list of apps, and copy them to the Mac’s clipboard. Then, I grab my iPhone, swipe right on the lock screen, and tap the shortcut in the widget. It runs, I pick the apps I want, and then I just hit ⌘-V on the Mac to paste it back.

You also can run the shortcut from inside the Shortcuts app itself, on iPhone or iPad, or from the Spotlight search. But if you use the widgets, you can run it without even unlocking your iPhone.

When to use Mac shortcuts

The Mac has its own automation methods: Automator and AppleScript, for instance, as well as more complex shell scripts run in the command line. But AppleScript is opaque, and Automator doesn’t have the power of Shortcuts (and is harder to use). Automator’s image processing is much worse than that of Shortcuts, in my experience. For instance, take a look at this how-to I wrote back in 2013, on using Automator to process images. It’s absurdly difficult.

So, if all you want to do is shrink your screenshots to small JPGs, then use Automator and put the resulting workflow in, say, the Touch Bar or the Finder’s Quick Actions. But if you want to combine several images, and then pad them with a white border to reach a particular size, then you should use the clipboard/Shortcuts method.

If you’re already a heavy Shortcuts user, then it will be obvious to you which shortcuts will work best on the Mac. If not, then just try this trick every time you find yourself having to pick up your iPhone or iPad to get something done.