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Apple has acquired the start-up behind Workflow, an iOS app for creating shortcuts and automating processes.

The move might lead to improved accessibility for disabled people using the iPhone or expanded capabilities for Siri, its virtual assistant.

Ari Weinstein, Condrad Kramer and Nick Frey, the three San Francisco-based developers of Workflow, are all in their early twenties. The trio won a design award from Apple in 2015 at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference, with Workflow winning particular praise from Apple’s accessibility team for helping visually impaired users to get more out of the iPhone.

Launched in late 2014, Workflow’s motto is “spend less taps, get more done”. The app allows users to create their own shortcuts for a huge variety of functions related to iOS and third-party apps for iPhones and iPads.

For instance, logging the caffeine consumed in a cup of coffee to Apple’s Health app would normally take several steps – opening the app, selecting the “nutrition” menu, choosing “caffeine” from a list of potential inputs, tapping the “+” sign and entering an amount in milligrams. Once set up, Workflow reduces that process to just a couple of taps and simplifies estimating the amount of caffeine consumed with prompts such as “espresso” or “soda”.

Other popular “workflows” include creating a PDF, sending messages, searching for local businesses or playing a particular collection of songs.

Apple opened up the technical hooks hidden beneath the surface of the iPhone’s operating in 2014 with iOS 8, offering new possibilities for apps such as Workflow and rivals such as If This Then That.

Then last year, Apple allowed certain kinds of app developers to tap into Siri, so that users could use the virtual assistant to call a car using Uber or Lyft and send a message on Skype or WhatsApp. Workflow’s technology might help Apple to expand the range of apps that can be controlled by voice in this way, as its rivalry with Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant heats up. Its shortcuts are also particularly suited to Apple Watch’s small screen.

Apple confirmed the acquisition, which was first reported by TechCrunch, but did not reveal how much it paid for DeskConnect, the company behind Workflow. The app itself, which previously cost $3 to purchase on the App Store, is now free to download following the deal and will remain available.

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