By Casey Liss
Workflow for iOS

After hearing about it repeatedly from Federico, I finally took the time to try out Workflow, a new app for iOS. Workflow allows you to — guess what — create and run workflows on your iPhone or iPad. These can automate any sort of task, but what amazes me about Workflow is the amount of power that is hiding just beneath the surface.

I downloaded Workflow not really knowing what I wanted to do with it. I had a hammer but distressingly few nails.

Every week I download the released versions of both of my podcasts, to keep on my NAS, because I am a pack rat and love myself too much. While this isn’t a particularly involved task — I just have to go to the website and copy the link to the mp3, and then use DS Download to download them.

Taking Analog as an example, here’s how I accomplished it:

In short:

  1. Go to the URL that will auto-redirect to the latest episode
  2. Get the contents of that URL (i.e., get the HTML)
  3. Get all the links (<a />) out of that HTML
  4. Scan each link for the word “libsyn”
  5. Use that to open another app. I’ll then either copy it to the clipboard or open the app to download it.

This probably saves me just a couple seconds each week; yet, I’m excited to be able to do it.

Additionally, I have a bookmarklet I use to generate Amazon Associates links from the active page in Safari. However, it’s a little clunky trying to copy and paste the result of that bookmarklet. So, I wrote a workflow. This one I can engage using Workflow’s very clever extension:

You can find that workflow here. Take note that unless you want to line my pockets with my affiliate link, you’ll want to change my Tracking ID to yours.

I’ve found myself really enjoying using Workflow, and I’ve been struggling to put my finger on precisely why. What it boils down to is that Workflow becomes a game of engineering. It’s an engineering challenge to do difficult and complex tasks with the most basic and limited of tools.

To be clear, the app is extremely advanced, and I can’t believe some of the things I’ve seen it do. Yet compared to having a full programming environment at your fingertips, Workflow is extremely crippled. I imagine it’s like trying to paint with bricks instead of brushes. To create something advanced with such limited tools is a challenge that I enjoy. Lately, I’ve found myself playing more with Workflow than I have with Crossy Road.