7 best practices for creating App Shortcuts and Intents for your app

by: | Oct 11, 2022

[Editor’s note: This is the last of three blog posts in a series about implementing App Shortcuts and App Intents in iOS 16.]

In the first part of this series, we explained step-by-step instructions how to implement App Intents and Shortcuts into an example grocery app called Lemon. In the second part, we covered 5 ways how to make App Shortcuts more discoverable and improve user engagement. In this final post, we share some best practices we’ve learned when creating App Intents and App Shortcuts.

1. Focus on a few features

App Shortcuts make it easy for users to engage with your app using Siri at any time — even from the lock screen. Since your app doesn’t need to be running for the user to activate an App Shortcut, they are best suited for discrete transactions that don’t depend on a particular state of your application. Think of features that are effortless to get through and can be completed via voice navigation with Siri in their entirety. For our example grocery app Lemon, we created a simple App Shortcut that allows the user to ask Siri for the status of their latest order. The user can ask, “Where is my Lemon order?” and Siri will respond with information about that order. Another App Shortcut for Lemon allows the user to place orders through Siri. The entire transaction can be easily completed via Siri.

Last, don’t create too many App Shortcuts. Each is dependent on key phrases, and with more options users are more likely to make a mistake. Keep it simple — just as it’s important for any app to focus on a small number of things and do them perfectly (Related: Why MLP is our standard for app development). iOS allows up to 10 App Shortcuts per app, but most apps will only need a few.

2. Minimize follow-up questions

Try to avoid tedious or time-consuming conversations. Consider creating parameterized trigger phrases for your App Shortcuts so that the users can get through the feature by speaking a single trigger phrase. The goal is to allow the user to activate your App Shortcut and get the information/experience they want as fast as possible.

Think twice before adding disambiguation (explained in the first post in this series: Implementing App Shortcuts and Intents) and other types of follow-up questions. Don’t turn your App Shortcut into a multi-step survey. If you need follow-up input from the user, make an assumption about what the user might want and present a dialog for confirmation. If you can’t make any assumptions, and you have to request disambiguation, make sure you provide a short list of options with five or fewer values. Remember, Siri will speak all the options out loud to the user in voice-only interactions.

In Lemon, an App Shortcut can open a particular department in our app, such as Fresh Produce or Frozen Foods. One way to activate that App Shortcut is saying, “Open Lemon department.” Since the user has not specified any department, we must get that information in a follow-up question. There is a better way though. We also support trigger phrases like “Open Fresh Produce on Lemon,” or “Open Beverages on Lemon,” which allow the user to say exactly which department they want to see in the trigger phrase itself. This minimizes the number of follow-up questions and speeds up the conversation.

For transactional, high-risk App Shortcuts such as e-commerce purchases, you may need to confirm the intent with the user. But keep in mind that every confirmation slows down the conversation. Our App Shortcut that allows users to place orders is an example of a transactional App Shortcut. We use custom views to provide as much information about the order as possible and to make sure the user clearly knows what’s going on. Then, we ask a single follow-up question just to confirm the user’s intent of placing the order:

example of an iOS App Intent with a custom view

3. Pick brief and memorable phrases

To activate your App Shortcuts, users will need to speak the trigger phrases exactly right. Siri will not be able to understand the shortcut if the user speaks a slightly different phrase, like using a different verb or adding more words. For example, in our “Open Lemon department” App Shortcut, Siri would not understand the message if we said “Show Lemon department” or “Navigate to Lemon department,” — unless we added these phrases to the list of supported trigger phrases.

Ideally, your App Shortcut should have a brief and memorable phrase, something that makes sense to the user and they will remember it when they need it. Since you can provide multiple trigger phrases for every App Shortcut, make sure you provide any natural language variations that make sense for your phrase, so that your App Shortcut works with whatever similar phrases people might say.

Users will have multiple apps installed on their phone, and they may have multiple App Shortcuts available, so your App Shortcut phrase will have to include your app name. Consider using your app name as a noun or a verb in your phrase, if that makes sense for your Shortcut since that can make the phrase more memorable. For example, if we built a photo editing app called Enhance, we could have an App Shortcut like, “Edit photo on Enhance,” which could open the app and prompt the user to select a photo to edit. Even better, we could use our app name as a verb and have an even more memorable trigger phrase, such as, “Enhance photo.”

4. Make your App Shortcuts discoverable

When users install your app for the first time, they will not know about your App Shortcuts, so discoverability is essential.

We already wrote an entire post about making App Shortcuts discoverable but this is such an important topic it’s worth mentioning again. iOS provides a few ways for people to discover App Shortcuts, like asking Siri “What can I do here?” or looking up your shortcuts in the Shortcuts app. However, since App Shortcuts is a new feature in iOS 16, users may not expect every app to have its own App Shortcuts. So, we recommend adding additional hints in your app to let users know. The best way to do that is to show the new Siri Tip and Shortcuts link in your app when appropriate. Users will immediately recognize Siri’s visual identity in these views and will learn how Siri can help them use your app.

In our Lemon app, we show the following Siri Tip at the bottom of the Orders page:

Siri Tip of an App ShortcutWhen users see their list of orders, they will also see the Siri Tip encouraging them to ask Siri about their order, which can save them time the next time they need to check an order status.

5. Design snippet views that blend in

Your snippet views are going to be displayed by iOS alongside the Siri UI, so make sure your UI blends in naturally with the system. As we mentioned in this post, the Siri UI has a translucent background, so you should use vibrant colors for your labels and avoid adding views with an opaque background.

In our Lemon app, our “Place Lemon order” App Shortcut has two different custom views. Here’s the custom view we used to show a summary of the order that was placed successfully. We kept it simple by only including labels, but we could have some icons and images as well:

confirmation dialog from a custom view of an App Intent


6. Set up App Intents to fuel cross-application Shortcuts

Our focus in this series of posts was on App Shortcuts and how we can create App Intents to power those App Shortcuts within our app. But as a developer, you can also enable power users to combine your App Intents with other applications’ App Intents to set up more complex capabilities in the Shortcuts app.

For example, users could easily query all Lemon orders of $50 or more placed in the last 30 days, ordered by purchase date. They can then get those results and use them as input for other App Intents, like writing a note or sending an email. These customizations allow users to create unique experiences across multiple applications, including yours.

7. Implementing App Intents aren’t just an engineering task

The responsibility for implementing App Intents and App Shortcuts are more than just the responsibility of the developers. They directly impact — and can improve — user experience. UX designers like those we have at ArcTouch need to be involved in the process early, as they can offer perspectives about voice user interface design and how thoughtful speech interactions can help users achieve different tasks. This affects everything an engineer would implement to support these App Intents — from the key phrases and intents to the choices and responses Siri offers.

Want to learn more about App Shortcuts and Intents in iOS 16?

If you’d like to learn how your app can leverage iOS 16’s App Shortcuts and Intents, contact us for a free consultation.