Automation on iOS devices is quickly catching up to macOS automation—and even surpassing it in some ways. Siri Shortcuts allows you to set up and execute complex workflows with just a few taps on your screen.
Have you gotten hooked on automation and want to get better at it on your Mac? Here are some great apps to help you get started.
On its website, Lacona’s developer describes the app as “what Siri for Mac could have been.” That’s a good start to describe it, but still sells it short.
Lacona takes its cues from Spotlight and adds in plenty of features. Some of these are features you can also find in Alfred, an app that picks up where Spotlight leaves off. Others are more advanced.
To start, Lacona aims to process natural language, so you don’t need to memorize commands. Typing a website URL will launch that website, while typing “remind me to call Bob” will create a new reminder.
In the same way, you can play music in iTunes, translate phrases and entire websites, and even perform basic file management from Lacona. Lacona gets even more powerful with the addition of addons, which in turn enable support for services like IFTTT.
These addons are the only reason you’d need to pay for Lacona Pro. The app is free, but unless you pay for Lacona Pro, there’s a slight delay in any features that use addons. Lacona is also available via Setapp, the excellent Mac app subscription service.
Download: Lacona (Free, $30 premium version available)
You might not notice it, but there’s a good chance that you type are some phrases over and over again. Perhaps you even sent entire emails monthly or weekly that are nearly identical every time. TextExpander’s developer, Smile Software, recognizes this and aims to save you from excess typing.
At its core, TextExpander lets you type simple abbreviations and expand these into much longer pieces of text. However, this simple functionality is also available built into your Mac without any extra software. Where TextExpander shines is in the various other features it adds to this functionality.
As well as simple expansion, TextExpander allows fill-in fields, letting you craft longer pieces of text quickly. As an example, you might have to send invoices to a few customers every month. With a TextExpander snippet, you can use the same basic email, filling in the customer’s name, the date, and the total invoice amount.
TextExpander also features date math, the ability to insert your clipboard contents into snippets, and much more. It even has statistics built-in so you can see just how much time it’s saving you.
Download: TextExpander (Free trial, $40/year subscription required)
3. Keyboard Maestro
Put simply, Keyboard Maestro takes a similar approach to TextExpander, but it isn’t limited to text. It lets you use similar quick key combinations to automate certain tasks, but Keyboard Maestro can control many more aspects of your Mac than TextExpander.
One of the most simple examples is launching apps. If you have a few apps you open at the start of your day (for example, Mail, Calendar, and Safari), you can create a Keyboard Maestro trigger that will launch all three at once. Log into your computer, type the trigger, and you’re off.
Keyboard Maestro only gets more powerful from there. The app can keep a complete history of your clipboard so you never lose a copied snippet, and you can even paste multiple items at once.
You can also use Keyboard Maestro to control window layouts. This lets you modify the earlier example by moving app windows to various parts of the screen after you launch them.
Do you have a troublesome app you often need to force-quit? You can map a Keyboard Maestro trigger to do that for you as well.
While Keyboard Maestro offers much more functionality than an app like TextExpander, it also comes with a far steeper learning curve. The introduction video on the Keyboard Maestro website even suggests that you set aside some time to learn to use it, as you’ll get much more out of it that way.
Download: Keyboard Maestro (Free trial, $36)
While the above apps give you more control while using your Mac, Hazel goes to work regardless of whether you’re using it. The main focus of this app is helping you better manage your files.
Once you get it set up, it might almost seem like Hazel is another person taking care of file management tasks that you’d rather not deal with. The app watches folders that you tell it to, using rules to automatically manage them. You can set these rules based on the file or folder’s name, date, type, where you downloaded it from, and much more.
Do you forget to empty the Trash? Hazel can keep on top of that for you. Do you want to automatically file your bills? Hazel can handle that as well. It even features integration with Photos and iTunes to help you manage your photo and music libraries.
One other powerful Hazel feature that we must mention is App Sweep. This cleans up the files and folders that apps leave behind when you delete them, helping you keep your Mac cleaner.
Download: Hazel (Free trial, $32)
More Ways to Automate Actions on Mac
You might have noticed that aside from Lacona, these apps aren’t exactly cheap. Fortunately, you don’t need to spend any money to start automating actions on your Mac.
As we mentioned, text expansion is already built into your Mac. It’s not nearly as powerful as TextExpander and doesn’t have so many options available. But if you’re just looking to save a few keystrokes here and there, it’s still useful.
There’s another app that longtime Mac fans are well aware of: Automator. As the name hints, Automator helps you automate various tasks on your computer and is incredibly powerful once you take the time to learn it.
The app offers far too much to explain here. Fortunately, we have a guide to getting started with Automator, as well as a few time-saving Automator workflows to get you started.