How to create a shortcut on the iPhone with the Apple Shortcuts app

The Apple Shortcuts app enables you to save time and effort by combining actions into a simple button you press or a command you say to Siri. Learn how to create your own shortcuts.

What is the Shortcuts app?

If you have used ITTT (If This Then That) on your phone to perform actions, or if you have used Automator on the Apple Mac to create apps, then you will feel right at home with the Apple Shortcuts app on the iPhone. It is similar to both.

The Shortcuts app enables you to create a button that performs one or more actions.

For example, tapping a shortcuts button could search for local cafes in the area and then use the Maps app to get walking directions to the nearest one. It would normally take several steps to do this, but with a shortcut it is one tap on a button.

The Shortcuts app contains a large collection of actions and they include things like Send Message, Calculate, Play Sound, Replace Text, Speak Text, Convert Images, Get Distance, Find Music, Add to Playlist, and dozens more.

Some of these actions can be used on their own, but many are designed to work together. For example, one action could get text and another action could speak text. Put them together and you can get text and then speak it.

There are lots of ready-made shortcuts, but why not create your own? It can be confusing at first, so here is a very simple example as a step-by-step guide. Make sure the Shortcuts app is on your iPhone. If it isn’t, search for it in the App Store and install it.

Create your first shortcut

We will create a simple shortcut that saves the contents of the clipboard to a file. Every time the clipboard is saved, it is added to the end of the file. The idea is that you could be researching a topic on the web using Safari, and every time you come across something useful, you could copy it then save it to a file. The file would then contain all your web clippings and could be copied and pasted into a document or report.

1 Go to the Library

Apple Shortcuts app on the iPhone showing the library

Open the Shortcuts app on the iPhone and tap the Library button at the bottom of the screen. This is where all of your shortcuts appear. Tap the tile, Create Shortcut.

2 Browse the actions

Apple Shortcuts app on the iPhone creating a shortcut

A blank shortcut template is displayed that contains nothing. Down at the bottom of the screen are a couple of actions. Swipe up to browse the whole collection of actions – there are dozens of them. Tap actions to add them to your shortcut.

3 Add actions to the shortcut

Add actions to the Apple Shortcuts app on the iPhone

One or several actions can be added to the new shortcut and here I added:

  • Get Clipboard: This gets any text that has been copied to the clipboard and passes it to the next action
  • Append to File: This takes the text passed to it and adds it to the end of the file. Files are stored in iCloud in the Shortcuts folder and I called mine Clipboard.txt.

Tap the icon in the top right corner of the screen just under Done to go to Settings.

4 Configure the shortcut settings

Configuring a shortcut using the Shortcut app on the Apple iPhone

Tap Name at the top to enter a descriptive name for this shortcut and choose an icon.

Tap Siri Phrase and you can speak a phrase to Siri that will activate the shortcut. This means you could say ‘Hey, Siri, Save the clipboard” or something similar.

There are options to add it to the Share Sheet, Share Shortcut and add it to the home screen. All are useful options but it is up to you how you want to access the shortcut.

Tap Done to save it. Your shortcut is finished and saved to the library.

5 Test your shortcut

Copy text from a web page in the Safari browser on the iPhone

Does the shortcut work? It will work with any app, but let’s see how it works with Safari. Suppose we found something interesting on the web and want to save the text for later. Press and hold, then drag the start and end markers around the text. Press Copy in the toolbar that appears.

6 Access shortcuts

The Actions panel in Safari browser on the iPhone

There are several ways to access shortcuts, including Siri, but for this example press the actions button at the bottom of the screen in Safari (like a square with an up arrow). Shortcuts is on the bottom row (tap More and add it if you do not see it). Press Shortcuts.

7 Run a shortcut

Running a shortcut on the iPhone

The Shortcuts library is displayed and pressing our Save Clipboard button performs the actions it we specified earlier – it gets the text from the clipboard and adds it to the end of the file Clipboard.txt.

8 Browse files on iCloud

Files app on the iPhone browsing the files on iCloud

Actions can perform many tasks, but ours writes to a file, so open the Files app on the iPhone and then open the Shortcuts folder on iCloud Drive.

9 View the results

Browsing files on iCloud using the Files app on the iPhone

Every time this simple shortcut is run, it saves the text from the clipboard to the end of this file on iCloud in the Shortcuts folder. The file will grow as more items are added and it could become a valuable resource of web clippings. Tap the file to view it, open it on the Apple Mac, move it elsewhere – it is up to you.

This is one trivial example of a shortcut and others could do something completely different of course. Browse the collection of actions and try to think of ways to combine them to perform tasks that are normally multi-step and tedious. Shortcuts can save you time and effort.