Put Actions for iPad to Work on Your Mac

I recently stumbled upon a great iPad app that, as strange as it may sound, has changed the way I work with my Mac. You can read our full review of Actions on iPad.AppStorm, but in a nutshell, Actions is an app that allows you to trigger keyboard shortcuts from your iPad.

Now while this may not seem very useful or relevant, think of the amount of keyboard shortcuts apps such as Photoshop have. Now imagine being able to launch these from your iPad, visually organised in a way that makes sense to you. Or imagine harnessing the power of Automator, Keyboard Maestro or Alfred with the aid of your iPad.

Seem more appealing? Then read on for a few interesting use cases of Actions for iPad with your Mac. Since it can launch keyboard shortcuts at the tap of one finger, you can make keyboard shortcuts that’d be rather unwieldily to enter on a Mac’s keyboard, and then use them in Actions easily. And even if you don’t have an iPad or don’t want to get Actions, you’ll likely find some shortcut based tricks here that’ll speed up work on your Mac.

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The Tools

While it’s possible to accomplish many of these actions with Automator alone, I’ll often make use of a few other apps I’m partial to, namely:

So, to get the most out of this tutorial, you’ll need these apps, along with an iPad with Actions. There’s still lots you can do without all of that, but you’ll get the most out of it with them.

Working With Windows

Actions has the ability to move and resize windows so that they occupy either the left, right, top or bottom half of the screen. While this is great in itself, it is somewhat limited. An app such as Moom allows for greater flexibility.

Window Snapshots

Window snapshots are a great way of achieving a consistent work setup.

  1. Arrange a few windows in a manner that suits a particular need;
  2. Click on Moom’s menubar and choose “Save Window Layout Snapshot”;
  3. Assign a Global keyboard shortcut to your new snapshot;
  4. Optionally give your snapshot a meaningful name and then close Moom;
  5. Now on your iPad, create a new Actions touchpad with this shortcut.
A Window layout activated by a global keyboard shortcut.

A Window layout activated by a global keyboard shortcut.

Note: There are two types of shortcuts in Moom. Restricted shortcuts which only function when Moom’s keyboard bezel is active and global shortcuts. In order for this to function with Actionsyou must always use Global shortcuts.

In case you prefer to use Moom in faceless mode, here’s a quick Alfred 2 workflow that will allow you to Save and Replace/Merge Snapshots

Window Sequences

Another Great feature of Moom is that it allows you to tie a series of window actions together. For instance, you may wish to have a sequence that will resize a window and then center it, or maybe move a window to a secondary monitor and then arrange or resize.

  1. Open Moom and navigate to custom;
  2. Create a new action, ex.: Resize a window;
  3. Assign a global shortcut;
  4. Create another action, ex.: Center Window;
  5. Assign the same global shortcut as the previous action and choose to “Assign Sequence Hotkey”;
  6. Setup your new shortcut in Actions as in the previous example.
A rather simple sequence yet they can be as complex as needed.

A rather simple sequence yet they can be as complex as needed.

Working With Mail

I was an avid user of Sparrow but jumped ship when they were acquired and started using Postbox. After reading Pierre’s great piece on Mail.app I, like so many others, was inspired to give it a try. One thing that I missed though was the ability to manage messages via the keyboard. At the time, I created a quick Alfred 2 workflow but now have opted to handle moving/archiving with Actions and a little help from Keyboard Maestro.

I opted to create a new macro group that would only be triggered in Mail avoiding any weird behaviour in other apps.

Moving Messages

This allows you to move selected messages from their current mailbox to a different mailbox (defined in the script).

    1. Click + to add a new macro;
    2. Give the macro a descriptive name, for example “Move Mail to Friends”.
    3. Use a hotkey to trigger the macro. Here you can choose a very complex hotkey, saving simpler hotkey combinations for another situation;
    4. Add a new action of the type “Execute AppleScript” and in the script place the following:

tell application "Mail"
set msgs to selection
if length of msgs is not 0 then
repeat with msg in msgs
move msg to mailbox "[Gmail]/Friends" of account "Gmail"
end repeat
end if
end tell

  1. Now simply setup a new touchpad in Actions;
  2. Repeat steps 1–5 for every mailbox to which you would like to move messages.
What the macro looks like.

What the macro looks like.

Note: Remember to change the script to meet your needs, namely the mailbox and account.

You can also create a simple Alfred 2 workflow that manages the same results. Add a hotkey block tied to an action block (Run NSAppleScript) with the code above.

While it is possible to setup favourite mailboxes and then use the hotkey ⌘+N (where N is a number from 1–9), there is another way that doesn’t limit you to 9 mailboxes:

    1. Click + to add a new macro;
    2. Give the macro a descriptive name, for example “Go to Friends”;
    3. Use a hotkey to trigger the macro;
    4. Add a new action of the type “Execute AppleScript” and in the script place the following:

tell application "Mail"
set selected mailboxes of message viewer 1 to {mailbox "[Gmail]/Friends" of account "Gmail"}
end tell

  1. Once again setup a new touchpad in Actions with the chosen hotkey combination;
  2. Repeat steps 1–5 for every mailbox you would like quick access to.
Once again, here’s the final macro.

Once again, here’s the final macro.

You can group each of these shortcuts or rather, Touchpads into Subsets to keep them logically organised.

Working With Files and Folders

Most of us spend a great amount of time working with files and folders on our Macs, therefore it only makes sense that we optimise this experience as much as possible. Actions can help here too.

Moving Files

If you find yourself constantly needing to move files to a certain location, then your best bet would be to automate that task:

Using Keyboard Maestro

  1. Create a new macro and name it something descriptive;
  2. Choose to trigger the macro with a hotkey;
  3. As an action, choose a For Each action;
  4. Set it so that it loops through item in a collection and as a collection add The Finder’s Selection;
  5. Now add two Get File Attribute actions. For the first choose to get the Parent Path and for the second get the Filename. Assign each to their own variable.
  6. For the final action, select Move (or rename) file. Carefully observe the following image in order to better understand what goes where:
  7. Now, as with previous examples, you can setup a touchpad in Actions for this macro.
The values that need to be used in order for this to work.

The values that need to be used in order for this to work.

This Keyboard Maestro Macro was shamelessly stolen from Gabe Weatherhead over on Macdrifter and slightly modified.

Using Automator
Oddly enough, this whole process is a little easier with Automator:

  1. Launch Automator and create a new service;
  2. Change the settings so that the service receives no input;
  3. Now add two blocks, one for Get Selected Finder Items connect to a Move Finder Items;
  4. In the second block, choose to where you want to move the files;
  5. Save the service with a descriptive name;
  6. Open System Preferences, click Keyboard then Keyboard shortcuts;
  7. Under Services > General, you should find your new service. Assign a keyboard shortcut to it;
  8. Finally create a touchpad in Actions.
A very simple Automator Service.

A very simple Automator Service.

Getting Around Finder

There are keyboard shortcuts for Finder’s main locations such as Documents, Downloads, Desktop etc. What happens though if you want quick access to a folder buried deep inside finder by means of a keyboard shortcut? Once again, Automator, Keyboard Maestro or Alfred can help, but I’ll focus on Alfred this time around:

  1. Create a new workflow or use an existing one;
  2. Add hotkey trigger and assign a shortcut;
  3. Add a Launch Apps/Files action and then add a folder or file;
  4. Now create a new touchpad in Actions and that’s it!

Summing Up

While this is in no way exhaustive, it should hopefully illustrate a few useful things that can be accomplished with Actions. You may point out that it’s possible to use all these shortcuts without resorting to Actions, and you’d be right. The benefit however of using this app is that you’re able to assign very complex keyboard shortcuts, thus leaving the simpler ones for more frequent actions. The fact that it’s possible to group touchpads in any way you desire allows you to create excellent and efficient workflows. If you haven’t done so yet, read the review of Actions on iPad.AppStorm and see what other great things are possible with this unique app.

What other interesting use cases can you think of and how would you put Actions to use?


  • Andrea

    I do acknowledge Keyboard Maestro features and power and I did my best to make me like it. I even bought it… But no matter how hard I tried, the interface is so ugly I can’t keep from trashing the app each and every time before 30 minutes have passed from installation.

    • http://palobo.tumblr.com Pedro Lobo

      Hi Andrea,

      I have to agree with you that interface leaves a lot to be desired, however, Keyboard Maestro is the type of app that you set it and forget it. The only time you actually need to see the interface is when setting up a new macro. The rest of the time it should be out of your hair and making life a little easier ;)

    • to

      Go and buy a painting if you want something to look at.
      A Computer is a tool not a painting.

      • Andrea

        Hey Pedro,
        actually I mostly understand… well… and then you might need to manually disable that awful app-switcher that replaces OSX app switcher once you install it ^_^
        Still, I’m one of those who cannot compromise on UI and thinks that if Apple got to the place where it is today it’s not because of applications like this one. It’s a real pity QuicKeys is out of the game, but that’s for sure a better direction for me.

        I don’t believe Sullivan’s old dichotomy, form follows function, holds still true. Design discussions just shifted to a whole different level, so… nope, I cannot lightly agree with you when you say it’s just a set it and forget it thing.

        @To: Well… To… Yabba-Dabba Do!

        • http://palobo.tumblr.com Pedro Lobo

          Hey Andrea,

          Don’t get me wrong. I too hate KM’s UI and in all honesty, most people that have a Mac are sticklers for a pretty UI. There are however a few apps that are good enough that I look the other way when it comes to UI.

          Fortunately, if you really don’t want to have KM running on your systems, a lot of what I did can be achieved with other apps, automator, Alfred 2, AppleScript etc. It’s just that it’s so much easier with KM.

        • Andrea

          Hi Pedro!

          Now I got it right, i think… and love the “look the other way” approach! it grows you a keyboard master ^_^

          Thanks a whole lot for the additional tips… I love LaunchBar and would be great to see it covered here alongside Alfred as well :)

        • http://palobo.tumblr.com Pedro Lobo

          You’ll be happy to hear that Phillip and I are doing a switch and will write about it some time soon so there should be some LaunchBar love ;)

  • http://www.albertkinng.com Albert Kinng

    Now this is a great app, use it everyday! I work on audio production and this baby rocks!

    • http://palobo.tumblr.com Pedro Lobo

      Hey Albert,

      Funny you should say that, the main developer also works on audio production… and yeah, great app with so much untapped potential. We need to get the geek community doing some crazy stuff with this baby ;)

  • http://www.brosix.com Kelsey @ Brosix

    I had no idea there were so many options when it came to shortcuts.

    • http://palobo.tumblr.com Pedro Lobo

      Hi Kelsey,

      Like I said in the article, this is just the very small tip of a very large iceberg. Given the apps out there, what is currently possible with automation and shortcuts is amazing, truly only limited by our imagination at times.

      I could be swayed into doing a few more of these how-tos though, any particular topics you’d be interested in seeing?

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