THE OMNI SHOW

Get to know the people and stories behind Omni’s award-winning productivity apps for Mac and iOS.

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Dec. 7, 2020, 6 a.m.
Sal Soghoian, Automation Advocate

Sal Soghoian knows a thing or two about automation. He's a user automation expert, software developer, author and musician. He joined Apple Inc. in January 1997 to serve as the Product Manager of Automation Technologies. Those technologies included AppleScript, Services, the Terminal, Apple Configurator and Automator, among others. He then joined forces with The Omni Group to work on their ambitious Omni Automation Framework that shows up throughout their product suite.

Show Notes:

Sal's passion is to help communities take steps toward automating various aspects of their workflow. He utilizes omni software and scripting to allow users to accomplish things that weren't possible previously.

Some other people, places, and things mentioned:

  • 1writer
  • Apple Provisioning Utility
  • Automator
  • Bear
  • jamf Conference
  • Sal's Talk - An Insider’s Look at Mobile Device Automation | JNUC 2019
  • MDM
  • Omni's Discourse Forum
  • Omni's Slack Channel
  • Omni-automation.com
  • OmniFocus
  • OmniGraffle
  • OmniOutliner
  • OmniPlan
  • Pixelmator
  • Terminal
  • Textastic
  • Drafts app
  • Transcript:

    Andrew J. Mason: Sal, let's say you could just share one thing with that person who's like, "I've never automated. I don't know what it's about." What wisdom would you share with them?

    Sal Soghoian: The main thing to remember is that you can do this. If you ever find yourself thinking, "There's got to be a better way to do this," there is. You can use automation yourself. Throughout my career I've seen amazing people and met amazing people that changed their lives and the course of what they did for them and their families by just spending time to learn how to automate things. I've seen people automate their processes at work, and then go on to leave the company and become a consultant and get hired back at three times their previous salary. I've seen people be able to create tools for themselves to be more productive. And it's a pretty amazing thing to do to realize that, "This is something I can do."

    Andrew J. Mason: You're listening to the Omni Show. Get to know the people and stories behind the Omni Group's award winning productivity apps for Mac and iOS. My name's Andrew J. Mason and today we're talking to Sal Soghoian, automation expert for the Omni Group.

    Andrew J. Mason: Hey, hey, welcome to the Omni Show and, like I mentioned, my name is Andrew J. Mason and I cannot wait to bring you today's guest. This guy's a legend, Sal Soghoian. Sal, thank you for joining us on the show today.

    Sal Soghoian: It's absolutely my pleasure. I just enjoy listening to your show and I love the people that you've brought on and their viewpoints and perspectives. It's been really enjoyable.

    Andrew J. Mason: Well, just to catch up all of our listeners, I wasn't kidding when I said legendary. Just take us, and this isn't even all of it, either, take a second to listen to this. Sal Soghoian is a user automation expert. He's a software developer and author and a musician, and he joined Apple, Inc., in January 1997 to serve as the product manager of automation technologies. Now those technologies included AppleScript, Services, the Terminal, Apple Configurator and Automator, among others, actually. So he's actively working with the very ambitious Omni Automation Framework that shows up throughout our products and, if you haven't tapped the power yet, you are about to get schooled. And thank goodness that this guy has a teacher's heart because if you've seen anything that he's done on YouTube, you know that this guy has the ability to code kind of like Neo in The Matrix, but he makes it accessible for us mere mortals, so I appreciate that so much, Sal.

    Sal Soghoian: In the car business they call that pouring glue on your head, where somebody talks you up so much. How do I follow that? Thank you.

    Andrew J. Mason: No, no, my honor. And I wouldn't say it if it wasn't well earned. So I know this is going to be a really open ended question to get things kind of kicked off for us, but let's start with your transition from Apple. Bring us through what you were doing while you were at Apple and then kind of walk us into current day, how you started working with the Omni Group.

    Sal Soghoian: Oh, boy, that's quite a saga there. I mean, that'll take up two or three hours just alone. I'll try to give you a condensed viewpoint. Basically my job at Apple, when I got there in 1997, in January, Apple had the word beleaguered tattooed to their chest. Steve came on and we changed the direction of the company and it was a very challenging thing to do. And as a product manager, we had roles to play and we all took on three or four jobs. And one of my jobs was develop relations, one of my jobs was testing, one of my jobs was writing code, one of my jobs was doing the marketing, one of my jobs was running the website, and then interfacing with the various other teams like the iTunes team and the other groups. At that time, they didn't have the retail, but I used to spend a lot of time at retail. And so there was this whole transition period there, and while we were transitioning, there was also very important structural changes. We were going from processors. We were changing operating systems, and so the challenge for me as the product manager for automation technologies was to shepherd the technologies through the transition to make sure that they got through on the other side even better than when they started.

    Sal Soghoian: And that was always difficult. It required doing a lot of horizontal communication, and by horizontal I mean when you develop relationships with other product managers and engineering managers in the organization outside of your own. I reported to Phil Schiller's group as part of product marketing, but my engineering team reported to the engineering lead. And there was this really interesting balance at Apple at how they developed applications. It was a combination of marketing and engineering working together, where I propose a set of features based on my knowledge of the business and by customer request and market needs and engineering would respond with an engineering response document and then we would come to a balance, trying to figure out what we could get done with the resources and allocations we had to address the feature set. And it was this back and forth, respectful tug of war that made for really great products. And that was going on at the same time we were doing some fundamental changes under the hood. For example, we had to make AppleScript native code and that was very challenging. We had to get onto what was going to become macOS 10. I wasn't always sure that was going to happen.

    Sal Soghoian: And there was a lot of maneuvering for that, so a lot of my job was political in that it dealt with personal relationships. It was technical and a lot of it was salesmanship, just cajoling and convincing other teams that this was something they wanted to adopt and work into the OS. So there was a big period of transition when I started. And then over the course of my time at Apple, almost 20 years, it was about advancing the technologies and seeing what the future was going to have. And many times our plans were four operating systems ahead. We would plan for the next operating system to lay down some plumbing and then on top of that we would build some structures, and then we knew that other teams would be bringing in some things that we would rely on. And so there was this constant planning as product manager of the vision of where you're going to get to and where you can deliver the most possible functionality to the customer in the easiest to use way. And that takes time and that's what happened over the course of time. Just with AppleScript alone we became native. We developed AppleScript Studio where AppleScript became part of the programming languages on macOS 10 and we were in X code.

    Sal Soghoian: Then we developed AppleScript Objective C, where we had a bridge right into the Coco Framework so that AppleScript can talk to any of the standard Coco Frameworks and access them. And we developed Automator and getting Automator developed was a real challenge because it was developed on the side by a couple of engineers, myself and Todd Fernandez as a side project. Then we had to convince management to take it on and basically got down to, before Dub Dub DC, me sitting on the floor outside of the demo room in building three waiting for Steve to have an opening so I could show it to him. And I sat down with him and showed it to him and then he turns me and he goes, "You want to be in the show?" And that was it. So the following week I was on stage at Dub Dub DC showing Automator and it became part of the operating system. So this was a process and very hands on and it's very personal. And you always have to keep a focus on how it gets used and what people could benefit from and how to make it easier. And then eventually Apple, when Steve passed on, Apple changed and the ability to move as nimbly and as quickly as we had been doing, the ability to make those horizontal relationships, it became more difficult.

    Sal Soghoian: There was more stovepiping and vertical things going on. The organizations became vertically oriented and it became harder to break through horizontally between groups and you were isolated more. To get something done was more difficult and really challenging and slower. And they basically decided to go off onto a different direction and they decided that automation and what we had been doing was not necessarily where they wanted to go. So at that point, then, I left Apple and I was already scheduled to do a MacTech in November and I was on stage at MacTech and I announced that I was no longer at Apple. And then after I got off stage there was Ken. And I've known Ken and admired him and his company for a really long time. And Ken said, "I have something to talk to you about," and he approached me about "Can you help us through the process of implementing an automation strategy across all of our platforms and all of our apps?" And that fit right into what I was about. And then I spent the last almost four years now working with team with Tim and Greg and the team to make that a reality. And now you have this incredible implementation that Omni has achieved where they're one of the first developers to deploy device independent automation strategy for the entire Apple platform.

    Sal Soghoian: So the Omni Automation scripts and plugins run the same regardless of whatever device you host it on, whether it's a Mac, an iPhone or an iPad. And that's really an amazing accomplishment and very powerful. And the best part is it delivers this kind of functionality for everybody. You don't have to write automation to use this. You can download a plugin and install it, or if you are motivated and you just want to write a couple lines of code, you can use the template, change a couple things from the documentation and then use that, or if you're really technical and you want to get in there, there are some great plugins being written by more advanced engineers and it's amazing what they can do with the Omni Automation architecture. But the team's done a great job implementing this and it's all JavaScript based. It's based on Core JavaScript and WebKit that's on every Apple device. It's highly optimized, really fast and it's ubiquitous. And you can create a plugin, put it on your iCloud account and it's on all your devices instantly. It's wonderful. So how's that for a summary?

    Andrew J. Mason: No, Sal, that was excellent. And I know it was a high level question with a lot of components but I think it's so valuable for people to know not only where we are, but how did we get here? I remember in 2017 you were doing a keynote about OmniOutliner and inside of OmniOutliner, Omni Automation had just made its way in and you were showing people the example of how create a circle but not just any circle, utilizing JavaScript to create that circle. And I think for the people in the room, as they're watching it, you're nodding your head thinking, "Yeah, big deal," but if you see that, and you only see that, you might not be catching the larger vision as to what this is all about. So, let's fast forward to current day. Here we are in 2020. Has Omni Automation made its way through the entire product suite now?

    Sal Soghoian: Yes. They've completed their transition through all of their applications, Outliner, OmniGraffle, OmniPlan and, of course, OmniFocus. And they're all based on the same JavaScript and you can write plugins for each and the applications can communicate with each other and with other third party apps. The choice that Ken and the team made about relying on Core JavaScript was really a brilliant concept. One of the core differences between the macOS and iOS and iPad OS is that the Mac has a messaging architecture for applications called Apple events. It's what AppleScript and JavaScript for automation are based upon. So when you write an AppleScript script, it has the commands to get translated by the operating system into these Apple events and sent directly to the application. The application, when it gets it, unpacks it, looks at what the request is and then does what you want to do and either sends you back a reply or continues on with whatever its doing. But you don't have this architecture on iOS. You don't have this really incredible, communication, fast response Apple event architecture. So how do you give your customers automation in a way that is practical for them but still works on all platforms without trying to create two or three different versions of something?

    Sal Soghoian: And what they did was really clever. They exposed the object model of their applications and by object model, I mean all the little components that make up an app, for example, a document, a box, a paragraph, a story, a task, a project, all those things are objects. And what they did is they used Core JavaScript from WebKit and they exposed their application so they provided hooks to all these different objects in their applications. And then they put in the ability for you to write scripts in each application and have them run or to save these scripts as files that you can install and they'll execute from a menu or from a touch, which is very clever. And then to communicate between apps, they used standard URL callbacks. And that's been a practice that they've been doing on iOS as a work around to not having an event architecture. So people have been creating these URLs that apps will send to each other and the app, when it gets the URL, will unpack it, figure out what the parameters and the values are, create something like a new note in Bear or do some new document in drafts or something like that. And then that's what they've been using URLs for and they have these callbacks where the app will respond back to the sending application with a result or something like that.

    Sal Soghoian: And it works. And so what Omni has done is they're using the URL architecture for communication, but they're using Core JavaScript as the architecture for writing the scripts. And it's really, since it's so optimized and so streamlined, it's incredibly fast and powerful. And one of the advantages of using JavaScript is it's one of the most documented languages there is, so finding documentation on it is easy and then the speed on it is really incredible, too. So, what Omni has done it means that I can write a script for OmniFocus, run it on my phone, run it on my iPad and run it on my Mac and it all operates the same, and that's really an accomplishment.

    Andrew J. Mason: So speaking of framework, I really feel like that's what we've done, not only in this conversation, but the larger vision as to what you and the team have accomplished thus far utilizing Omni Automation. The foundation has been laid. It's now throughout all the different products. Do you mind sharing a little bit of your vision? What does this look like now that we have this automation that just works, device independent, in three to five years or what would you like to see the larger community accomplish with this? And I know it's, again, an open ended question, but I'd love for you to take that whatever direction you'd like to.

    Sal Soghoian: The challenges, I mean, what Omni has done is incredible. They have proved that you can have automation, user automation, be device independent on the Apple platform. They've proved it. They're doing it. And that's incredible. But you still face challenges because the operating system hasn't caught up. One of the things about it that's really nice about using AppleScript on the Mac is that you can talk to an application that's in the background and you can be sending it scripts and queries and like a database or a photo library or something and be getting information from it while you're using that data in the foreground app. And it's no problem to send Apple events to a background process. That's easy. But on iOS you have a different story. And the apps there really aren't designed, their architecture on that platform was never really designed to have background processes running, taking up energy and using up battery power just so that you could communicate through automation. And then the other thing is on macOS, for example, you have access to this libraries of the Coco Frameworks so that if I have a script that needs to make a QR code, there are calls into the Coco libraries where I can just pass in information and get back a QR code from AppleScript.

    Sal Soghoian: I don't have to go through some application to do that. I just talk to the frameworks. But in iOS, all the frameworks are blocked from you so you can't, through a script, call down into the frameworks to use those, so you're always having to call to an app. So I think the next stage is that the operation system becomes more mature and Apple develops some architecture to allow this to happen better, to allow companies like the Omni Group to develop these automation strategies and to deliver that kind of functionality. It would have been nice if they'd brought Apple events over to iOS. That would solve the problem right there, but they were never into that at the time we first approached them about all those things. But I'm just pleased with Omni's strategy and how well it's worked and the fact that a normal person can go to the OmniFocus section of the Omni-Automation website and there's 50 plugins right there that they can download and start using and they don't have to know anything but they can take advantage of it. To me, that's the win.

    Andrew J. Mason: So ever since the first episode, I've gotten the honor of recording with Ken back in July. I've heard him and other guests talk about this amazing community that's surrounding these products and I'd love for you to share a little bit of what have they done since automation's been opened up for them?

    Sal Soghoian: So they have a couple great forums for finding out about this if you want to dig into the topic, so to speak. They have their own community forums, a discourse forum, discourse.omnigroup.com. And they also have a Slack channel, too. I'm sure you'll put these links into the show notes as well. And both of those, you can hang out on there and see some of the really interesting and innovative things that people are doing with Omni Automation. And one of the things that helps it become more useful is that Omni has built into Omni Automation the ability to create interfaces and to present forms to the user. So if I need some text information, I need a menu popup choice, I need a couple check boxes, then my script can present those to the user so that I can get the information from them to adapt what I want to do with the selected items and then go ahead and do it. I had this one the other day that I came across where I wanted to be able to select some tasks and projects in OmniFocus and make a set of links to those because all the OmniFocus objects can be linked to through http links, right?

    Sal Soghoian: So I had it so it copied it to the clipboard and then I wrote a little script that turned the objects in the clipboard into a set of links, replaced the clipboard content with that and then sent it over to Bear, the Bear app, and I get this wonderful set of markdown links in Bear and I can tap any of them and I'm right back into that particular project or task in OmniFocus. And it's pretty incredible when you get that kind of communication. And there's dozens and dozens and dozens of great ideas that people have and they're also, all of this works well with the Shortcuts application, so you can integrate these scripts in with Shortcuts and you can also use the OmniFocus shortcut actions as well and include those in your processes. There's just so much to do.

    Andrew J. Mason: I have to highlight this because I feel like there's a story arc being built over time. Every single person that we've interviewed, the previous interview they end up touching on some of the same subject matter that the person prior to them has talked about. So prior to this interview, which hasn't aired yet, is David Sparks' interview.

    Sal Soghoian: Know him well.

    Andrew J. Mason: He talked about the importance of those back links to do something he calls contextual computing, basically setting up endpoints so he doesn't get stuck in the middle man and wake up at an Amazon site 30 minutes later trying to figure out what happened there, got distracted. But I see the value in that, how important it is to be able to provide these options for people.

    Sal Soghoian: Absolutely. And then the next thing I'd like to see down the road is connect it all to voice. So instead of right clicking on an object or long pressing or going to a menu or something, I can just say, "Hey, copy this over to my slide." I could be in the Maps app and say, "Transfer this map to Keynote." Poof. And there's really, I mean they have speech recognition down so that it is highly optimized and totally accurate and connecting it to automation is the next step. I always believed automation was the fingers and the hands of speech. And while at Apple I worked with the speech team ever since I got there in the late 90s, and we had it to a point of we were working with the Siri team and we had it on their prototypes where you could do just about anything you wanted to do on the computer by using your voice. And I have a website I keep, mainly for historical reasons, it's called dictationcommands.com, and I have videos up there that you can watch and see. I had, at one time, like 600 commands that I could do and it would intelligently understand what you were saying and then do these really complex procedures for you.

    Sal Soghoian: And that's really where we need to get to is once you establish the automation architecture, let's take the complexity of interacting with it and just make it you say what you want to do and it understands.

    Andrew J. Mason: Sal, do you have any resources outside of community, outside of the forums that people can utilize to take a good first step if they haven't done any automation yet?

    Sal Soghoian: Sure. We have some tutorials that are designed for total novices that walk you through the process of understanding how the scripting architecture works, where you basically have an object and you create objects and you change a property of the object like, for example, if you have a task, a property would be like its due date? So you learn how to create a task, how set its due date and how to manipulate various things, whether it's an outline or a graphic in OmniGraffle. And you can do the tutorials, you can get to them from the main page at omni-automation.com and that's a good place to start. And in addition to that, we have some template generators. So if you want to create a plugin for yourself, you can go to the template generator pages and you click on the popup menu to say, "Okay, I want this plugin to be only available when I have a single task selected in OmniFocus." And then it will generate the wrapper for you automatically into your favorite text editor application, like for me, I use BBEdit on macOS and I use Textastic on iOS. But it'll open it up and then you can fill in the little bits of code that you want to actually write yourself and then save it and try it out. It's a lot of fun and every Omni app has a console and that's where I start.

    Sal Soghoian: If they have a console, well, you write a script, then you can watch it, the effect of it, immediately in the application. So if you're in OmniGraffle, you go add shape, quote circle, and then you give it a set of sizes and stuff and you hit return and then all of the sudden a circle shows up on your canvas. So you can have this nice conversation between you and the application. You're controlling the application from the inside. Instead of going through the UI, you are actually talking to the internals of the application. And that's gratifying. It's fun to be able to do that.

    Andrew J. Mason: Oh, this is so cool. I actually have this open right now. So I'm looking at it. It has a couple of questions that it asks you and you follow the steps and it just spits out the template for you.

    Sal Soghoian: Yeah. It does the grunt work of filling out the thing in a certain way. You know how programmers are, they always like things in a certain order. Does all that for you. There's a section where it says "Your code goes here" and you just type in the two or three statements you want and you're done. Getting started, it's not really that hard and if you're motivated to try it and you give yourself a chance to try it, you'll find that you can make some things that really make a difference for yourself. Or just try some of the plugins that are available on the website. Just download them and then open them up and look at what they're doing.

    Andrew J. Mason: Sal, I've heard this term thrown around a couple of times in different interviews you've done, automation advocate. Do you consider automation almost an extension of who you are as opposed to what you do? I mean, how deep does this lie on the identity level for you? I mean, are you not just automating software, you're automating steps in your life outside of computers? How deep does this go?

    Sal Soghoian: Actually, I wish my life was interesting enough that I needed automation. That's the problem. I look at my personal OmniFocus database and it's pretty bare. I don't actually use that much automation myself because I don't have the need for it so much. I've automated a lot of the processes on the computer that I use. For example, if I want to take a script and I want to put that into the web page on the website, all of that's done for me instantly in a single stroke because I've used an AppleScript to automate this process in BBEdit. So processes like that I automate. When it comes to things around the house, I turn my lights off manually. I wish my life was more interesting that I had, but it doesn't happen. I'm pretty much like the cobbler or a construction guy. If you live next to a guy who's in construction, his house always needs work because he never gets around to doing it on his own house, right?

    Andrew J. Mason: Well, let me ask you. Do you do any other automation in Apple's ecosystem?

    Sal Soghoian: Well, the absolute joy this year for me was watching the Pixelmator team, and I got a chance to work with them and help them develop AppleScript support in Pixelmator Pro. And it is just so much fun to sit there and be able to do incredible manipulations with their software. They've done such an excellent job with it. And I was using it just the other day. I needed an illustration with call outs on it. So I had written a script for Pixelmator that automatically looked in a certain folder on my drive where I have all of my little call out images and I just put it on a keystroke, pop, there's the thing. I choose which call out I want. It puts it on the screen, sizes it based upon the size of the image so that it's always going to have a certain proportion and then in a couple seconds, I was able to do something that before used to take a while to do. And it's just because these guys are dedicated to their customers in the same way that the Omni Group is dedicated to their customers. They provide automation for a couple reasons. One is no software can provide everything that someone wants to do, because every customer treats their data differently.

    Sal Soghoian: So it's a wise move to add scriptability because you enable the customer to do that kind of customized thing that they want to do that maybe some other customers don't really find necessary. And then secondly, it also shows what your customer base is interested in. If you start seeing a lot of scripts doing a certain particular thing, then you might want to think about adding that into the application. Plus, it also connects your app to a larger workflow. And what a lot of people forget is they fall in love with their own products and they forget that people use products together. We have general workflows, things we need to accomplish and we use multiple products to get that done. And if your application is scriptable, then it can become part of my workflow and I don't have to sit in front of your application, as nice as it is, I can just automate and get out of it what I need to get out of it to complete the workflow that I need to do. Because your app's scriptable, you can become part of that. And then once you become part of somebody's workflow, they're not going to leave you. You have their loyalty until you break your scriptability.

    Sal Soghoian: They're going to stay with you because you've given them the flexibility that they need. And I think that's one of the unnoticed things about automation that people forget about is that it allows your app to be part of a larger pool of resources.

    Andrew J. Mason: I love that phrase, letting the community lead you. I think it's a very humble mindset to say, "As great as our software is, we realize that there might not be a use case that we've planned for. We're going to open up scripting and allow you to make your own solutions to certain problems," and allowing the community to lead you is just a very customer centric approach. Who wouldn't want to do that as a software company?

    Sal Soghoian: It's great marketing. You're interacting with your audience in a really productive way. You're helping them to be more productive and you're encouraging them to be creative and it's a win-win for everybody. Just put in the hooks and let them do what they need to do. So we got to get Apple thinking that way, too, on all of their platforms. I'm really encouraged with what their doing with Shortcuts since they adopted that technology from Ari and his team. I'm really encouraged with what they're doing with Shortcuts, but there's also a difference between the component automation style of an Automator or Shortcuts and the granularity of a scripting language. When you have a Shortcuts workflow, you take individual components called actions and you string them together and you pass data between them to do different processes, right? And they're pretty much generic because you have to make them generic so that they work in a variety of situations. But everybody has something the way they want to do it is different from everybody else's way. And it's always hard to get granularity into a component style workflow. When we developed Automator and that concept, one of the challenges was well, how do you break it out so that somebody can get very specific?

    Sal Soghoian: And what we did is we created these Automator actions for running scripts. There was a run shell script. There was a run AppleScript. Run JavaScript. And you could insert those into your workflow and then add in the granular scripting code to do something very specific and then pop that back in. The result would come back into the workflow and you could continue on. And so I'm hoping that we get that kind of thing out of Shortcuts, and I hope that Apple really pays attention to what a wonderful tool and how well that's been received by all of their customers. I think that there's a good future for Shortcuts.

    Andrew J. Mason: I see. So opening that up would make it much more accessible for everybody using iOS system.

    Sal Soghoian: Wouldn't it? Wouldn't it? And then wouldn't it be great if on iOS if you could just talk to EventKit directly? The thing that does all of your appointments and your reminders and calendar, all that stuff, is in a framework called EventKit. And it would be nice if you could just talk to these frameworks directly because then you wouldn't need to go back and forth between other applications. Your script could just go, "Okay, what's my appointment? Got it. Okay. Now I'm going to use that with this data and I'm going to present it to the user this way and I'm going to create a project that does blah." And so the next step for Apple would be to open up, make their frameworks more accessible to automation.

    Andrew J. Mason: That sounds like a really simple solution, just open it up. I know that the most simple solutions aren't always the most easy but it's so cool to hear that there is path forward in that regard for iOS. You mentioned Pixelmator. Do you do any other automation based work?

    Sal Soghoian: Yeah. Well, I actually still have other clients, too. I work with, one of my clients is Apple. I'm still consulting with Apple on automation with the enterprise team. What they've done is they've taken the Automator concept and they've used it with having Macs, they have this special software called the Apple Provisioning Utility and it's based on Automator. And what they use it for is to set up iOS devices and iPads from Mac. So a Mac'll plug into 60 devices and it will set them all up instantly using this software that's really based on Automator. So you create these Automator workflows and they run these workflows on iOS devices to set them up. And there are millions of devices from major corporations, airlines, every aspect of the industry is now doing this automated setup using Macs on attachment. And so I work with those teams and it's incredible what they're doing with automation. And it's strictly a behind the scenes kind of professional end.

    Sal Soghoian: It's not user automation, but it just shows you automation's everywhere. It's an essential need. It's an essential tool that humans have always used and we need to pay attention to it and encourage its growth.

    Andrew J. Mason: Wow. I actually had no idea that they did that much in the corporate space.

    Sal Soghoian: Yeah. Yeah. If you look at, this last year I did a talk at JNUC, the Jamf Conference. Look at the video that they've posted on YouTube and I outline all of Apple's enterprise strategy and how it happened and what markets they're doing and how each one of those is using automation to take over and to do what they do. Airlines, every airline, pilots use iPads. The staff, the support staff uses iPads and they're all set up by using these stations where they plug into a rack and the software from Apple automatically sets those devices back to normal and puts on the latest data securely so that a pilot can walk up and walk off with that. And every one of the industries like law enforcement, 40,000 devices in New York City police alone, and the census was done using this, 300,000 devices. New York City schools just bought 300,000 devices that they're setting up with this software, and it's all running on Automator and automation. It's a behind the scenes story that shows you the potential of what all this is about. But I get the most kicks out of watching somebody just be able to create a new task in OmniFocus.

    Andrew J. Mason: Sal, I so appreciate that this is almost like your life's work, to see the joy that shows up when somebody realizes, the light bulb comes on for them, that they're able to automate something that wasn't automated before.

    Sal Soghoian: It changes your perspective because companies rely on automation. The biggest 80% of Apple's top tier customers all automate. Apple automates what they're doing. All the presentations that Tim gets and stuff, all the charts are automated and generated and all those kind of things are generated. The incredible slide presentation behind those guys that's two or three screens across? All that's automated, too. There's tons of automation that goes into business. And it's really important, but I think Apple is, they need to become re-aware of the importance of user automation and start to expose the operating system and open it up a little bit so that we can securely access information we want to get to.

    Andrew J. Mason: This has been so educational for me and I hope for our listeners as well. And I had no idea about Apple and their corporate strategy.

    Sal Soghoian: Oh, yeah. Well, if you watch the presentation that I did and it goes in detail over eight different segments of professional business services and how everything from construction, airlines, education, hospitals, especially hospitals. You go into a hospital, they give you an iPad, they put an Apple watch on you, the doctor's have all this. All that's using automation and I've documented it publicly in that talk.

    Andrew J. Mason: Yeah, I had no idea and yet it seems like that could be just as big or a larger slice than the consumer side.

    Sal Soghoian: See, people didn't know that Apple had a secret enterprise strategy and they executed it. And they've been executing it in plain sight. If you want to do something and you want to get away with it, you just do it in plain sight and most of the time... Here's one Apple story I'll give you. So I was at Apple in building three and I took a sofa from the public seating area where they used to have sofas and chairs and I put the sofa in my room so I could sleep there and not have to go home across the street. I lived across the street from Apple and if I was working on something, I would just crash on my sofa, right? And so, facilities wanted the sofa back, but I was in a secure zone, so they just couldn't walk in and go through the door and come in and get my sofa. They were blocked from doing that. So they kept hounding that they wanted the sofa, that they wanted the sofa. And then one day I get a call from the receptionist down at building three and she tells me that facilities is here with a truck and they're coming up. So me and another friend of mine, we grab the sofa.

    Sal Soghoian: We walk to the balcony area and in infinite loop, all the buildings were in a circle, right? And they overlooked a grassy courtyard area where there was Café Macs, where everybody would eat. And there was all these balconies. So I took the sofa and stood it up and leaned it against the wall, right, on the third floor balcony. And when facilities came into my room, there was no sofa, and they go, "Where's the sofa?" I said, "I don't have a sofa. I don't know what you're talking about." Right? And so, they got slick and they decided to keep coming back every day for like a week. And so for the entire week, there was this sofa leaning up against the wall on the third floor balcony and everybody was down there eating lunch and everybody would look up and see this sofa and nobody thought anything about it.

    Andrew J. Mason: Crazy.

    Sal Soghoian: Sometimes doing stuff in plain sight. So Apple had this strategy for the enterprise that they executed in plain sight and it's why they're so big. It's all the iPads that they sell. They sell 100,000 iPads to a company at once or to the Air Force or the Navy or somebody like that. That's a lot of iPads that you would have to sell individually and that's where all the sales are coming from. It's all these corporate use of iPads and iOS devices that they're using now and to manage those, they're all using MDM and they're using this type of software where you plug it in. If you go to a T-Mobile store, the staff that talks with you has an iPad or an iPhone. Well, when they're done, they plug that into a rack in the back of the store and it resets itself with the latest stuff. And all that happens and all that's part of the Apple story for enterprise.

    Andrew J. Mason: Sal, I know I speak on behalf of the entire audience just saying thank you so much for sharing so generously your time with us today. Do you have any final words of wisdom or just any parting advice for somebody that's just getting started?

    Sal Soghoian: One thing I would like to point out to people, and I always do, is for somebody that's starting to be interested in automation will always say to themselves, "I wonder if it can do this. I wonder if it can do that." And the answer is usually yes. It's just a matter of sitting down and trusting yourself and allowing yourself to do something. And that's very important. It's important to give yourself a way to grow. And that's one of the wonderful things about automation is it's this great environment that Omni has provided and it gives you a chance to grow. And the lessons you learn writing Omni Automation, you can use with Drafts App. You can use with 1Writer. You can use with Bear. All these different applications are now adopting the same principle that Omni's laid out, and the more people that are part of this community as it grows, your skill set that you develop by working on Omni Automation is going to be usable elsewhere, too.

    Andrew J. Mason: That's so true. And Sal, how can people get in contact with you? If they want to reach out or get in touch with you, is there a way you prefer them do that?

    Sal Soghoian: On each one of the websites, there is a link that you can tap that will send mail to me directly and I read all of them that come in. And I encourage you just go to Omni Automation, there's a link there that you can send a response to me and start a conversation if you need to.

    Andrew J. Mason: Sal, that's phenomenal. And it's been such a great interview. I'm so grateful for you kind of tapping us into your life's work and you can definitely hear the passion in your voice. You truly, honestly care about people and learning how to automate.

    Sal Soghoian: Well, that's a way that you can go change the world, right? Everybody makes their little contribution. You do what you can. And if somebody automates and is able to work better because of something I did, that's great.

    Andrew J. Mason: Sal, this is one for the books. I am so grateful for your service, not only to the larger user community of Apple, but also to everybody at OmniFocus. We're just grateful for your work here.

    Sal Soghoian: Ken and the guys, what an incredible group of people. They're so admirable and they're so dedicated and they're so focused on the users. You got to respect that because a lot of people don't do that attitude and provide automation all the time. They're into it. They get it.

    Andrew J. Mason: Thanks so much, Sal. We can't wait to do this again.

    Sal Soghoian: All right, Andrew. Well, thank you so much.

    Andrew J. Mason: Thank all of you, too, for listening and being a part of this episode. We're so grateful to be able to share the story of how people get things done with Omni software and products. I am just so grateful to share this time with you all. If you find this episode helpful and want to help us out, absolutely leave a review or rating on iTunes. If you want to keep up with us and what we're up to, check out the Omni Group at omnigroup.com/blog or head to @theomnishow on Twitter.