Is Workflow For iOS Dead As We know It?
Ever since Apple bought the iOS app Workflow in March of 2017 it has lead many of us in the Apple community to speculate about the future of the app. Will Apple continue to update the app or will they spend all of their time integrating the underlying technologies into iOS? This “unknown” future hanging over the Workflow app has driven many people to stop using the app all together. The thinking is...don’t rely on powerful automation features that might go away any day now.
The other side of that argument is that we shouldn’t be ignoring powerful automation when it available to us. The Workflow app is still being updated by the original developers (who I believe are now Apple employees), so why not continue to use Workflow? This was exactly my take on the whole situation, but all that changed this past January.
I attended CES this past January in support of the other blog I write for (GeekDad.com), so I was covering the event as press. One of the things I was doing was publishing a daily article about some of the highlights I saw at CES that day. That meant I needed to take an hour or so out of an already jam-packed day and write and publish an article. The best way for me to do this was to use my iPad Pro. After all, the iPad Pro is my main computing device when I am at home so why wouldn’t I use an iPad at CES?
As I was getting ready to publish my first daily highlights article while at CES and I ran into a bit of a problem. When you publish an article for a website you tend to have to format your images a certain way, both for consistency across the site as well as for compatibility reasons. So as I was formatting the images I wanted to use for the article the app I used to do this editing kept crashing on me. Yup, you guessed it...I was using the Workflow app. Workflow is great to use for this purpose because it can take a photo you have taken with your iPhone, crop it, re-size it, rename it and put it in any location you choose. Except this time when I ran my photo editing worflow in the Workflow app the app would crash. No problem. I figured I must have done something to workflow I had written for this specific task, so maybe I will start from scratch. No luck. Creating a brand new worflow and doing just a basic image edit still resulted in an app crash. So next I downloaded a basic example workflow from the app’s worflow gallery. Surely a workflow that is published as an example in the Workflow app example gallery would work right? Nope. That’s when I knew something was definitely wrong. So I first emailed the developer and then after a day or two of not getting a response I reached out to Apple (after all Apple bought Workflow and the Workflow developers work for Apple now).
You have to give Apple credit here as they reached out to me right away. They directed me over an Direct Message on Twitter and we continued to communicate:
So Apple essentially pointed me right back to the Workflow developers. So I emailed them again and heard nothing. I went through the rest of CES without the ability to do what I needed to do to my photos to prep them for publishing. Luckily the people I work with at GeekDad are awesome and they did my photo editing for me while I was at CES.
Finally on Feb 11 (exactly 1-month after my initial email to the developers) one of the Workflow developers emailed me back and said the crash was due to an issue with the “Edit Image” action and that they were working on a fix. It is now March 2nd and the Workflow app has not been updated for 3-months. I took a look at the history of Workflow app updates and the app was updated 3 months ago, 6 months ago, 9 months ago, and 11 months ago. So it looks like they are on about a 4 times a year update cycle. That’s ok for minor bug fixes and feature additions but when you have a major component of your app like the Edit Photo action that not only doesn’t work but actually causes the app to crash you would think they would push out a fix as soon as possible. Nope.
I don’t know what the right answer is as far as whether we as a community of iOS automation users should be using the Workflow app going forward or not. For me personally, I can’t continue to use the app for work critical items anymore. I just can’t. I choose my hardware and software tools very carefully because my time is very constrained. My day job as an engineer is enough to make most people claim that as a full plate, but in addition to that I maintain this blog and I am a core writer for GeekDad.com. So every little bit of my time counts. I like using apps that have a revenue model that supports long-term usage...meaning the developers are making money and I can count on the app being around for a while. Workflow is no longer one of those apps for me. If you publish an example usage of your app in an example gallery that crashes the app and it does this for 3-months you are sending a pretty clear message that maintaining that app is not the priority. I’m sure there will be an update coming very soon for the Workflow app and that it will fix this particular issue. But as we all know Apple tends to cater to the average user. The average iOS user is not a “power user,” so if we as a community of iOS automation users are hoping that Apple is going to take the engine of Workflow and give us powerful built-in automation in the near future I fear we will be disappointed. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Apple will do just that, but with Apple all but abandoning the Automator app on the Mac and getting rid of Sal Soghoin (the Product Manager of automation) I think it is safe to say that the future of automation at Apple is in flux.
Right now I have about 30 custom workflows inside the Workflow app and I will continue to use some of those workflows going forward. But there are several workflows that I rely on to get work done. They are critical to me being productive. The next Workflow app update may fix the Edit Image action but break something else and I can’t afford to lose another 3-months of productivity to that kind of uncertainty. For me the Workflow app is no longer a “go-to” tool. It can’t be because I can no longer trust that it is going to work for me. I will continue to use the app for small automation tasks that are not work critical items, but for important tasks I will be looking elsewhere even if that means a less efficient solution. Because in the end it just has to work.