Creating Shortcuts with App Intents

Learn how to create iOS shortcuts using Swift in this App Intents tutorial. By Mark Struzinski.

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Adding shortcuts support can be a great way to differentiate your app and offer excellent integration into the iOS ecosystem. Shortcuts allow your users to interact with your app without launching and navigating into specific screens to perform tasks. Shortcuts can use voice, text or Spotlight to accomplish quick tasks without much mental overhead. Your users can also build larger workflows with your shortcuts to accomplish many tasks simultaneously.

In the past, adding Shortcuts and exposing them to the system could be cumbersome and time-consuming. After your shortcut was set up and available, you had to figure out the best way to inform the user that it existed and show how to use it. In iOS 16, Apple revamped the process of adding and exposing your app’s Shortcuts to iOS. The old process of adding Shortcuts included finicky visual editors and mapping code files to Intent Definition files.

The new App Intents framework lets you create shortcuts from the same language you use daily – Swift! Everything is statically typed and ingested into iOS upon installation. Your shortcuts are immediately available to users via Siri, the Shortcuts app and Spotlight.

It’s time to dive into this new simple way to add Shortcuts to the system!

Getting Started

Download the starter project by clicking the Download Materials button at the top or bottom of the tutorial.

The BreakLogger app allows you to record break times throughout the day. Open the starter app project. Build and run BreakLogger. You’ll see an empty break list:

Empty List

Tap the Add button at the bottom of the screen, and you’ll be prompted to record a break:

Add Break View

Select a break to add. Next, you’ll see a list of the breaks you’ve added — including the one you just recorded:

List with Entry

Right now, the only way to log a break is from within the app. But iOS has several other ways to interact with apps throughout its ecosystem. Users may want to log a break as part of a larger workflow, combining several actions into one shortcut. They may also want to tell Siri to log a break without opening the app while on the go. These use cases are possible if you integrate the App Intents framework into your app.

iOS 16 introduced the App Intents framework. Shortcut definitions are now built entirely in Swift, with no code generation or additional steps needed to make them available across iOS. You no longer need to use Intent Definition files or the visual editors. Get started building your own with your first App Intent.

Defining Your First App Intent

Inside the starter project, right-click the Source group and select New Group. Name the group Intents. Inside the new group, right-click again and select New File… . Select the Swift File template and choose Next. Name the file LogBreakIntent.swift.

Create a LogBreakIntent struct that conforms to AppIntent:

import AppIntents
import SwiftUI

// 1
struct LogBreakIntent: AppIntent {
  // 2
  static let title: LocalizedStringResource = "Log a Break"

  // 3
  func perform() async throws -> some IntentResult & ProvidesDialog {
    // 4
    let loggerManager = LoggerManager()
    loggerManager.logBreak(for: .quarterHour)
    // 5
    return .result(dialog: "Logged a 15 minute break")

Here’s what’s happening in the code above:

  1. Creates a struct to represent your shortcut. Adds conformance to the AppIntent protocol.
  2. Adds a title property. This is of type LocalizedStringResource, which makes the string available out of process for localization lookup. Remember this code also runs when your app isn’t in memory.
  3. Adds a perform() function to finalize conformance to the AppIntent protocol. Indicates it returns an IntentResult and that it provides a dialog.
  4. Uses the LoggerManager convenience type to log a 15-minute break. This action also saves the break to the Core Data store.
  5. Returns the IntentResult as a dialog.

With the current setup, a user can create a shortcut and the intents from BreakLogger will appear as available actions. These actions run by themselves or as part of a larger shortcut composed of many actions. As soon as a user installs BreakLogger your intents are available as shortcut actions.

Build and run to ensure the updated code installs to the simulator. Next, background the app with the keyboard shortcut Command + Shift + H. You’ll see the Shortcuts app on the same screen. Open Shortcuts.

Tap the + button on the top right. The New Shortcut view loads.

New Shortcut

On the New Shortcut view, tap Add Action. In the segmented control at the top, select Apps.

Add Action

Select BreakLogger from the list, then tap Log a Break.

Log a Break Action

Tap Done. The view dismisses and takes you back to the Shortcuts tab in the app. You’ll see your new shortcut on the screen now. You’ve created a shortcut with your first app intent!

Log Break Shortcut

Tap the Log a Break shortcut to run it. You’ll see a dialog drop down after a second or two with the content you set up in the perform() function.

Shortcut Run Confirmation

Tap Done, close Shortcuts and open BreakLogger again. You’ll see the break you just logged added to the list.

Break Logged Confirmation

Well done! You added Shortcuts integration into your app with a few Swift files in a few steps. Next, you’ll add an app shortcut to BreakLogger.

Adding an App Shortcut

Back in Xcode, add a new Swift file to the Intents group you created earlier. Name the file BreakLoggerShortcuts.swift.

Add the following:

import AppIntents

// 1
struct BreakLoggerShortcuts: AppShortcutsProvider {
  // 2
  static var appShortcuts: [AppShortcut] {
	// 3
      // 4
      intent: LogBreakIntent(),
      // 5
      phrases: [
        "Log a break",
        "Log a \(.applicationName) break"

Here’s what this code does:

  1. Creates a struct that conforms to AppShortcutsProvider. This lets iOS know to index the shortcuts here.
  2. Adds a static property that returns an array of AppShortcut instances. For this example, you’ll only be providing one.
  3. Creates an AppShortcut.
  4. Uses LogBreakIntent as the intent behind the shortcut.
  5. Provides a list of phrases that can trigger this shortcut. Note the use of the special token .applicationName, which resolves to the localized name of your app.

Now, build and run.

Background the app. You’ll be able to start Siri on the simulator and say, “Use BreakLogger to a break” and have the shortcut run immediately.

You’ll see a prompt asking you to enable BreakLogger shortcuts with Siri:

Enable Shortcuts Dialog

Then, you’ll see a confirmation dialog:

Confirmation Dialog

Finally, open BreakLogger again. You’ll see your second logged break from the shortcut you just ran.

Log from Siri

Note: Siri can be finicky on the simulator. You may have to reset the device and try several times to get the shortcut to run via voice. Also, be sure there isn’t a lot of background noise in the room you’re working in.

Next, you’ll create a custom confirmation view to show whenever the intent has run.