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Workflow review: A great way to combine actions on your iOS device

This automation app for iOS lets you combine functions from separate apps to make doing things more efficient.

Jason Cipriani Contributing Writer, ZDNet
Jason Cipriani is based out of beautiful Colorado and has been covering mobile technology news and reviewing the latest gadgets for the last six years. His work can also be found on sister site CNET in the How To section, as well as across several more online publications.
Jason Cipriani
5 min read

Workflow is a new app that puts powerful automation tools at your fingertips on iOS. With its intuitive interface, deep integration with core iOS features and third-party apps, you can connect services and perform repetitive tasks with just a tap of a button.



The Good

You can store an unlimited number of tasks on your iOS device. Even without programming experience, you quickly learn the ropes.

The Bad

Currently there's no way to sync your workflows between iOS devices even using iCloud or Dropbox.

The Bottom Line

With a little practice, Workflow will let you speed up repetitive tasks or carry out complex actions, all with the touch of a button.

It's great, even if it has one big problem. You can't sync the app with other devices, so if you save work on your iPad, for example, you can't pick it up your again iPhone. That leaves a powerful app that only works on one device at a time.

Workflow lets you automate actions on iOS (pictures)

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Getting started

The first time you launch the app, it guides you through the drag-­and-­drop interface by making an example workflow capturing three photos and turning them into a GIF. Once you've completed the tutorial, you can then begin creating your own workflows. Or if you're not sure where to begin, you can browse the Workflow gallery that holds flows created by both the company and fellow users.

For those familiar with Automator that comes with Mac OS X, Workflow will feel right at home on your iPad or iPhone.

Creating a workflow

At the center of the Workflow app are the app and service integrations built into it. Each "Action" should be viewed as one step, with a workflow consisting of a series of actions. To make a workflow, place actions in the order you'd like it to run.

For example, if you wanted to create a workflow to view files and folders stored in iCloud Drive, you would need two different actions. The first would be the "Get file" action, which itself brings up the iCloud Drive file picker. Next, you would need the Quick Look action that acts exactly like OS X's Preview app by providing you an thumbnail preview of the file.

When you tap on the Run button within the app, it displays your iCloud Drive files followed by a preview of the file you select (from there you can then send the file to another app, if needed). Unsure of what an action does? Instead of dragging it over to the workflow, just tap on its name and a brief description will drop down and display an explanation.

The above is one of the more basic workflows, but it's also extremely convenient. Right now, iOS doesn't offer a method for viewing your iCloud Drive files outside of apps capable of handling iCloud Drive files. And with the ability to place a shortcut to any workflow on your device's home screen, Workflow earns its keep.

In addition to adding a workflow to the home screen, you can also set a workflow to be available as a Share extension making it possible to share text and content with Workflow from other apps. The interface feels right at home on both an iPhone and iPad, with intuitive gestures used for navigation and interaction.

It took me under five minutes to create my first workflow that would use the last three screenshots in my camera roll to create a GIF. The thinking behind this workflow was that I could then send it to loved ones when I was asked how to perform a task on an iOS device. The hardest part of the process was actually coming up with the idea, but creating the workflow in the app was easy.

As simple or complex as you want

An app like this makes you feel like you need to have years of programming knowledge behind you when combining actions and on first blush, can be very intimidating. But fortunately, you don't have to have any programming knowledge to use the app. That being said, if you do have a basic grasp on If statements and variables, you're going to find the app even more useful.

But that's the beauty of Workflow. You can still benefit from the app no matter how comfortable you are with some of its terminology and actions. I know next to nothing about creating and passing variables from one app to another, but after many failures and looking at workflows that actually work, I was able to gather the basic idea and start creating my own workflows.

If you want something a little more advanced, you can find workflows online made by other people. Take a look at this workflow designed to download a YouTube video and save it to your device. There are variables, values, ifs, gets and repeats throughout. Maybe four lines out of that workflow actually make sense to me, but the best part is: it doesn't have to.

Once downloaded, the above workflow will be available through the share sheet when viewing a YouTube video in Safari. Tap the share button, select "Run Workflow," followed by "Download YouTube" and a few seconds later you have a video downloaded to your iOS device.

I discovered this workflow using this Twitter search. Someone else had created it, then kindly shared a link to it with his followers.

Adding workflows

Speaking of browsing workflows on Twitter, not only can you submit your workflows to the app's gallery, you can also create and share links with fellow users from within the app. Once a link is viewed, a preview of the actions within the workflow are displayed. Users can add a workflow from its respective web page by tapping on the "Get workflow" button on an iOS device.

The app then launches, saving the workflow to your library. The only downside here is that if you want to add the workflow to both an iPad and an iPhone, you'll need to repeat the process on each device.

No way to sync or backup

Along with having to download the same workflows on each device, as the app stands now, there's no way to backup or sync your workflows using iCloud or other storage services like Dropbox. I learned about the lack of a backup feature when I deleted the app from my iPad (where I had most of my workflows saved), to start taking screenshots for this review. Talk about frustrating.

Some users have created workflows to help streamline the process of maintaining your library on multiple devices, yet I can't help but feel let down by this aspect of the app. The entire mindset behind it is to streamline your work, automate tasks and increase your productivity -- and the lack of a syncing and/or backup functionality does nothing in that regard. In fact, it's the exact opposite.


In reviewing the app, I've spent a good amount of time creating workflows that make sense for what I would like to accomplish on my smartphone. But, with no syncing, now that I've lost all of the workflows I had stored on my iPad, it looks like I'll be starting over.

Even with its lack of sync or backup, Workflow is a boon to helping both power and casual users alike increase productivity. Not to mention, some of the workflows people are creating are downright fun.

Workflow makes it possible to send someone a Google Street View picture of your current location; save photos or videos from Instagram; and view the lyrics or guitar tabs for current song you're listening to. With such neat and useful applications as these, I think that the longer Workflow is available, the more creative people will get.

With this much flexibility, I can't wait to see what the future holds for the app and what users do with it.



Score Breakdown

Setup 9Features 8Interface 7Performance 9