Mixed Feelings About Apple Acquiring Workflow

The iOS automation community was rocked by the news yesterday that Apple has acquired Workflow. I will openly admit my first thoughts were "oh crap." Apple has a history of purchasing an app and then we often don't see much from it after that, or at least not for a long time. For example, Siri used to be a separate app but is now built into the operating system directly. However, for at least a few months, after they acquired Siri, the app was pulled from the app store leaving people lacking for a service they were enjoying. I can't speak to what Siri was like prior to Apple taking ownership, but I think we can all agree it's advanced relatively slowly since it's debut on the iPhone 4s.

That would be my biggest concern with Workflow. I was lucky enough to be on the beta for it and as such got previews of great features before they came out, and I could see how actively and rapidly it was being developed. I understand that I am going to lose beta access, and frankly that is not that big a deal. I'm just worried the app's development pace will slow to a crawl at best. On the other hand, the app has not been immediately pulled from the app store, and in fact it's had it's already super low price dropped to free! If you don't have it already, go get it!

Of course with that good news comes some bad, as the app immediately got an update removing some functionality. From Workflow's website:

This update includes compatibility requirements and other miscellaneous tweaks.

  • Maps actions are now powered by Apple Maps
  • Translate Text is now powered by Microsoft Translate
  • Get Street View Image, Google Chrome, Pocket, LINE, Telegram, Uber, and Workflow Gallery submissions are no longer supported
  • Added support for converting PDFs to images
  • Made the Workflow Input variable always available in the variable tray
  • Fixed an issue with deleting actions using VoiceOver
  • Other bug fixes

For me the biggest loss here is being able to submit to the Workflow Gallery. I had a few submissions in the gallery and was quite proud of that fact. More importantly it was a gold mind for great workflow ideas. I also lost the functionality of a workflow I used to take a URL and copy it into Pocket. A bigger loss however is for those users who use Google Chrome and Google Maps, as well as chat apps LINE and Telegram. You're out of luck with those at this point (though I believe Chrome at least has a URL scheme that can be utilized).

Jumping back to a positive, I'm choosing to believe and hope that since Apple left the app on the App Store that it will at least be developed faster than if it was a stock app. The stock apps require a full iOS update to get updated themselves, where other Apple apps can be updated at a faster pace (though still far slower than I would like).

I'm also hoping this might lead to Workflow coming to macOS. I know the Automator program is already on the Mac (in fact many people would refer to Workflow as the Automator for iOS). But frankly I never got into that as much, so for me personally I would love to see something closer to workflow. And I'm delighted at the prospect of Workflow getting even more controls in iOS since, presumably, they will now be able to use all of Apples internal APIs.

If the app remains as is forever, and is never updated again, it would still remain vital to me. I've really been enjoying writing about Workflow lately, and I use it every day in both my personal and work lives.

Hopefully that continues to be a possibility for me.