Workflow the app is being acquired, along with the team of Weinstein, Conrad Kramer, Ayaka Nonaka and Nick Frey. In a somewhat uncommon move for Apple, the app will continue to be made available on the App Store and will be made free later today.
This was amazing, because it set off a lot of people last night. Workflow was also quickly updated by Apple to kill off a lot of Google based integrations. Most notably for Chrome and switching mapping to Apple Maps.
This was likely a legal move, as Marco Arment noted this morning on Twitter. Even so, the future is completely unknown to those outside of Apple right now. The app will either slowly die, be fully integrated into iOS, or live somewhere in the middle — gaining native integration, but with a more limited scope than before.
And either outcome is just fine.
Let’s first look at what could happen:
- This could be an iOS users dream. Apple fully commits to Workflow and it becomes an Automator like tool on iOS — allowing vast and powerful integrations at a native level. Like the Share Sheet — it becomes a game changer for iOS in ways we cannot fully see right now. This also kills off URL schemes as there is now a native system in place for inter-app connectivity and communication — all while keeping things very tidy in their own sandboxes. This would be a dream.
- Apple tires of updating Workflow, and the update last night is the last one we see for months. The app, and technology slowly fade off — not because of some evil plan, but rather because the initial plan simply didn’t work out. (Just go search the New York Times for “Apple Car team shake up” or something like that.)
- Apple takes a much more conservative approach. Heading down the path of the first option, but with iOS 11 Workflow the app is no longer, but it has started to become a native part of iOS. It is limited, and those who relied heavily on it before the acquisition will be left without features they used heavily before, but for the larger subset of iOS users who never used the tool before — they now use it daily. From here Apple continues to slowly and methodically add more and more features. Workflow isn’t ever what it was, nor what power users dream it would be, but for the vast majority of iOS users — this becomes an essential and very useful thing for them. Small, but seamless and easy automation where it counts.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the last option is the most likely path — no matter how much I would love the first option to be true.
But, none of it matters.
None of this matters because there’s literally nothing stopping anyone else from making a “new” Workflow to sell in the store. Pythonista is still out there, and while beyond difficult for most power users to use — it’s fucking powerful. Workflow had it’s flaws, but there have always been, and will always be, these small automation apps. At this point anyone thinking of building “the new Workflow” will simply wait to see what is or isn’t said at WWDC, and then go from there.
And there will always be a market place for a non-Apple owned tool — especially as Apple brings the app in lines with “the Apple way” of thinking, doing, and working. Workflow is fantastic, and here’s to a bright future for that team and iOS automation, but here’s also to whatever tools spring up from this vacuum. Exciting times.