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iOS 14: 11 cool tricks your iPhone's Shortcuts app can do for you now

If you've never used Apple's Shortcuts app or you've only dabbled, it's well worth getting to know the ins and outs of this app. It can boost your iPhone in new ways.

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There's not much the Shortcuts app can't do. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

It's easy to ignore the preinstalled Shortcuts app on your iPhone, simply because at first glance it's not all that clear what it does. Or maybe it's that it appears to do a lot, and can be overwhelming. Either way, with the release of iOS 14, the Shortcuts app has finally hit the mainstream thanks to its ability to create custom app icons

The customization options, which include the option to add widgets to your home screen, are endless and they're sure to look just as good on the iPhone 12, which Apple will announce on Oct. 13.

We'll go into shortcuts that can save you time or help you out of a jam, and go even deeper into a sophisticated routine that kicks off a ton of actions when you say barely a few words. Let's get started.

This story is updated periodically with new shortcuts and information. 

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The Shortcuts app can do almost anything you want as long as you're willing to get creative. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

First, install Shortcuts 

The first step is to install Shortcuts from the App Store for iOS 12 or later on your phone or iPad ($275 at Back Market) (it should be built in to iOS 13 and later devices), and then make sure to add it to the Today View Widget by swiping to the right on your iPhone's home screen and tapping Add Widget at the bottom of the screen. Finally, tap on the green plus button next to Shortcuts. 

You also need to be aware of "untrusted" shortcuts. Scroll to the end for more.

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With a little bit of work, you can create a custom home screen just like this. 

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1. Create custom app icons

Perhaps the most popular addition to iOS 14 and the Shortcuts app is the ability to create custom app icons. Combine custom app icons with widgets anywhere, and you can create a unique home screen that looks stunning. The process is a little tedious, but if you're willing to put in the work, you can have a totally custom look. Take that, Android fans! 

Read more about creating your own app icons using the Shortcuts app

2. Siri, I'm getting pulled over

This shortcut has been around for a while now, but it resurfaced earlier this year, prompted by the Black Lives Matter protests. After setting up the shortcut, you can tell Siri, "I'm being pulled over" and your iPhone will both send your current location to a designated friend or family member and automatically begin recording from the front-facing camera on your phone. When you're done recording, you can send the video to a prefilled contact, and upload to it iCloud or Dropbox with a couple of taps. 

Read more about the I'm Getting Pulled Over shortcut before adding it to your Shortcuts app. 

3. A spellchecker for anything

Autocorrect is nice, but it doesn't catch and change every tpying mistake we make. See? You can copy or share any block of text from another app to the Check Spelling Shortcut, which will check it for spelling errors and present you with a corrected block of text, and then activate the share screen to copy the new text or share it with another app. 

Add Check Spelling to your Shortcuts app.

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A spellchecker? Count me in. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

4. View Amazon Price History to get the best deal

CamelCamelCamel is a convenient website that tracks the price history of items listed and sold on Amazon. Using this shortcut, you can speed up the process of looking up an item page on the tracking website, and even get alerts when the price drops to your specified price. When viewing an item on the Amazon site or in the Amazon app, tap the Share button and then pick CmlCmlCml from the list of available shortcuts. 

Add CmlCmlCml to your Shortcuts app.

5. Set a Do Not Disturb timer for a break

Silence your iPhone for a set period of time by using a Do Not Disturb timer. Without Shortcuts, you have to dive into DND's settings and make adjustments. With Shortcuts, however, you can enter how long you need and it'll take care of the rest for you. 

Adding to its usefulness, you can run this shortcut just by telling Siri, "Do Not Disturb timer." You can also rename it something like "Set a Do Not Disturb timer" if you find that more natural. 

Add Do Not Disturb Timer to your Shortcuts app.

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Shortcuts will sync between your iPhone and iPad. 

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6. Low battery? Run this shortcut

If you stress over battery life, this third-party shortcut shared on Reddit will use your current battery percentage, compare it with your predefined settings and tailor your device's performance to squeeze the last few minutes of power out of your battery. 

Run this shortcut either directly in the Shortcuts app or via the Today View widget. 

Add Intelligent Power to your Shortcuts app.

7. Create a GIF with your camera

The Shoot a GIF shortcut opens the Camera app, ready to take a set number of photos (four by default). After the last photo is taken, it combines them into an animated image that you can save or share. 

Use Siri or the Today View Widget to launch this shortcut. 

Add Shoot a GIF to your Shortcuts app.

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Using Shortcuts with third-party apps is another good use of the app. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

8. Create a PDF out of nearly anything

With just a few taps, you can turn any document or webpage into a PDF that you can then save or share using the Make PDF shortcut. 

After adding the shortcut to your app, use the share screen (called the Share Sheet) from within an app and select Make PDF. 

Add Make PDF to your Shortcuts app.

9. Unzip and Save

Using Apple's Files app to unpack a ZIP file so you can access what's inside doesn't always work. If you're having trouble getting Files to open a ZIP folder and let you view and edit files inside it, then give this shortcut a try. 

Select the file and send it to the Shortcuts app using the share button. 

Add Unzip and Save to your Shortcuts app.

10. Expand a short URL for safety

Shortened links can be used in nefarious ways to hide the true destination of a URL. If you're suspicious that a shortened link such as a bit.ly link is going to take you somewhere it shouldn't, then use the Expand URL shortcut to view its true destination.

Copy the URL and then trigger the shortcut via the Today View Widget. When the shortcut is done running, paste the expanded URL into Safari or the Notes app to inspect it. 

Add Expand URL to your Shortcuts app.

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Yes, it's possible to create NFC triggers and actions. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

11. Step up your Shortcuts game with Automation

Along the bottom of the Shortcuts app there are three tabs: My Shortcuts, Automation and Gallery. So far, everything I've covered has been either found in the Gallery or, after you've added a shortcut to the app, in My Shortcuts. 

The Automation tab is where you can unlock even more Shortcuts potential by using triggers like the time of day, your location or even when you complete a workout. 

But perhaps my favorite Automation trigger is an NFC tag. When I walk into my home office, I can scan an NFC tag on my desk that begins playing the My Favorites playlist in my Apple Music account on my HomePod

The ability to scan NFC tags was added in iOS 13.1 and only works on an iPhone XS or newer. You'll also need a pack of NFC tags or stickers. I bought these NFC tags and they work just fine, as most NFC tags should. 

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You can use an NFC tag to trigger all sorts of automations. 

Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Once you have NFC tags in hand, open the Shortcuts app and select the Automation tab. Tap the "+" sign and then select Create Personal Automation > NFC and then scan and name the tag you'll be using for the automation. Next, tap Add Action and look through the various system actions along with the apps you have installed that support NFC triggers. I was surprised by the number of apps I have installed that support them, including one that allows me to scan a tag to open the trunk of my car. 

Apple doesn't currently have a way to share Automations like shortcuts, but the process of setting one up is easy to understand and only takes a few seconds to finish. The hardest part is deciding what kind of automation you want. 

I recommend going through Apple's gallery section of the Shortcuts app and adding what you'll find useful and making tweaks to personalize how your shortcuts run.

After you're done mastering the Shortcuts app, make sure to check out all of the features we love in iOS 14. That includes a healthy dose of hidden iOS features, along with a brand-new home screen and App Library.

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Be wary of 'untrusted' shortcuts

As you begin to use the Shortcuts app and look for shortcuts created by other users, you'll run into difficulty adding third-party creations to your app. By default, your iPhone blocks "untrusted Shortcuts" -- that is, shortcuts that are shared outside of Apple's own Gallery app. The reason is that shortcuts can get rather complex, connecting to various services and requesting access to your personal information. 

You should be cautious when adding shortcuts created by other users, going through each action and ensuring that it does only what's advertised. I've personally installed and tested hundreds of shortcuts and have yet to come across anything that tried to do something malicious -- but it's always a good idea to check. 

Before adding any unvetted shortcut, you'll need to go to Settings > Shortcuts and turn on the option labeled Allow Untrusted Shortcuts

With that enabled, you won't be blocked from viewing any shortcuts, but you'll be reminded before adding one to your app that it's from a third party thanks to a giant red button that reads Add Untrusted Shortcut. If you see that button, remember to take a few minutes and inspect exactly what the app is doing. Not only will that help keep your information safer, but it will give you ideas on creating your own shortcuts.