The Difference Between Keyboard Maestro and Shortcuts for Mac

I’ve had a lot of questions about the relationship between Keyboard Maestro and Shortcuts for Mac. Specifically, is Shortcuts for Mac going to replace Keyboard Maestro? In a word, no.

I’ve spent a lot of time working with Shortcuts for Mac. It’s had a rocky start, but the Shortcuts team has the right idea for Shortcuts for Mac, and they are increasingly overcoming the significant technical changes between the iPhone/iPad and the Mac. I fully expect they will get things sorted out over time, and in the end, we’ll have a stable version of Shortcuts for the Mac to go along with an already stable version of Keyboard Maestro.

Regardless, the two tools will remain very different.

If you’ve ever used Shortcuts on your iPhone or iPad, you get essentially the same toolset on the Mac with Shortcuts for the Mac. Some of the better uses of Shortcuts are for working with personal data like contacts and calendar entries. Those things are possible with Keyboard Maestro but in ways that are not nearly as user-friendly as Shortcuts. For example, I usually write AppleScripts when working with contacts in Keyboard Maestro. It can work, but it takes a lot of work.

Another thing Shortcuts is good for is inter-app automation, provided those apps have Shortcuts support. There is no faster way to create simple automations between applications than Shortcuts when you have robust built-in support in the participating apps.

All that said, Keyboard Maestro is significantly more powerful. With Keyboard Maestro, you can create conflict palettes, script menu bar selections, and do so much more that is not and never will be possible with Shortcuts. One of my Keyboard Maestro scripts looks at the website and pushes a button on the screen, no matter where it is. Don’t hold your breath for getting that feature in Shortcuts … ever.

I’ve come around to thinking a lot lately about the idea of Project Scope with regard to Apple products and software. From the outside, things are always a bit murky, but if you pay attention, you can see what they are aiming for with most of the things they make. To me, the Scope of Shortcuts for Mac is to help users create simple automations to help them be more productive with their Macs. Apple is aiming at things like opening a window or creating a calendar event. Shortcuts for Mac is not aimed at the Keyboard Maestro feature set. That is a power user thing that they’re happy to leave in the hands of Keyboard Maestro. Think of Keyboard Maestro and Shortcuts for Mac more like complementary tools. A mallet is nice. A chisel is nice. But it is all the better having both.

Shortcuts in Limbo

I’ve enjoyed some recent posts from John Voorhees and Jason Snell about expanding Shortcuts on the Mac using AppleScript and the terminal. However, I still am having trouble getting consistent and reliable automation with Shortcuts on the Mac. The product still feels a lot like a beta in that some parts of it just don’t work as advertised. This is troublesome for a few reasons.

First, I worry that folks eager to try Shortcuts for Mac are going to get frustrated when the creation process fails them. (For example, I spent 10 minutes fighting with Shortcuts this morning to set a variable.) Once new users get a Shortcut built, there is no guaranty it will perform correctly given the current state of things. To make this worse, there is very little in the way of error reporting. A lot of times the Shortcut will fail with no feedback whatsoever to the user so you don’t know if you made a mistake in constructing it, or if the feature you called is just broken.

Second, I’m trying to build a Shortcuts for Mac Field Guide, but many of the lessons I want to teach are in a holding pattern until particular bugs get fixed.

Put simply, Shortcuts for Mac is in limbo right now. The good news is that it is improving a lot in the betas and every sign we can see from the outside points to the fact that the Shortcuts Team is aware of these issues and working on them. I suspect it’s one of those things where they just ran out of time and couldn’t get it entirely in shape before Monterey was released.

Hopefully, this limbo period is short-lived.

The Idea of Shortcuts on the Mac

This week Jason Snell wrote an excellent article about the need for Apple to bring Shortcuts to the Mac. I’ve been thinking about that article a lot. My position on Apple bringing Shortcuts to the Mac has always been, “wait”. The reason being that automation is alive and well on the Mac. With a much more open platform and the existence of Apple events, AppleScript, Keyboard Maestro, Hazel, TextExpander, and the ability to run virtually any scripting language via the terminal, there is very little that I can not automate on my Mac.

The iPhone and iPad, however, are a much different story. Apple had no automation tools on its mobile platforms until Shortcuts came along. Shortcuts is, practically, the only way to automate on mobile and for years now there has been lots of low-hanging fruit on mobile that Shortcuts has yet to pick.

I wanted Apple to keep the Shortcuts team working exclusively on mobile so it could get better rather than spend its time moving Shortcuts over the Mac. However, Jason’s article has moved me on this. While my argument about waiting made sense a few years ago, nowadays we’ve got Apple Silicon Macs and Shortcuts on mobile is a lot more powerful than it used to be. Moreover, even with all the above-mentioned Mac automation tools, there is room under the tent for one more. If done right, we’d be able to pull Shortcuts actions into scripts and Keyboard Maestro and make those tools even more powerful.

So put me on team Mac Shortcuts. Let’s hope WWDC 2021 brings us Automators some new toys.

ThoughtAsylum Icon Generator

Stephen Millard has made an ingenious shortcut that solves the problem of generating icons. The particular itch that Stephen was trying to scratch was the development of icons for his Stream Deck. However, if you do any automation, you’re constantly bumping into places that you’d like to have icons. One of the things I particularly like about Stephen’s solution is the way it works with Apple’s SF Symbols, which I like.
Either way, if you want to render 10 or 10,000 icons this weekend, check this out.

Shortcuts Field Guide Update, Discount, and Free Shortcuts Webinar

Are you ready for iOS 14? Because it is coming today. I have to admit when I got my popcorn for yesterday’s Apple event, I didn’t expect Tim to announce they are releasing iOS 14 the next day. Regardless, I’ve been working on an updated to the Shortcuts Field Guide and I’m pleased to announce it is already published.

I’ve added 16 videos and 48+ minutes of new content all about iOS 14 features. If you purchased last year’s Shortcuts Field Guide, this is a free update to that. Just log in to your course and the new material is already there. If you’d like to get onboard with the Shortcuts Field Guide, I’m discounting the price by $5 for a short time to celebrate the iOS 14 launch and Shortcuts Field Guide Update. Just go to the Shortcuts Field Guide Webpage and the price is discounted for a short time. Everything is downloadable and I’ve got the iOS 14 materials both integrated into the course, and collected together so no matter how you want to learn it, I’ve got you covered.

Also, on October 1, I’m putting on a free webinar where I’ll be going over all the big changes to Shortcuts with iOS 14. If you sign up but don’t make it to the webinar, you’ll still get a link to the video replay. I’ll, hopefully, see you at the Shortcuts Webinar.

IOS 14 Back Tap for Camera and Flashlight

I couldn’t help myself and installed the iOS 14 beta on my iPhone. There are a lot of nice new features, but one obscure one is Back Tap. This new accessibility feature lets you trigger Accessibility functions by tapping the back of your phone two or three times. It also can trigger a Shortcut. So I made some simple shortcuts to trigger the camera and toggle the flashlight and added them to Back Tap triggers. Here is a video showing how it works.