I certain do love me a great time-saver. And generally, the most effective time-savers of all are those which are proper underneath the floor of our favourite apps and companies, simply ready to be seen — or possibly remembered.

I am going to admit it: Whilst somebody who makes use of and thinks about Android virtually consistently, as a part of each my life and my job, I regularly discover myself shocked by how usually I stumble onto one thing that I knew about sooner or later however way back forgot to maintain utilizing. It occurred to me with among the Gmail suggestions we talked about final week, and now it is occurred to me once more with a strong shortcut system constructed proper into Android and supported by tons of various apps.

The system is named, reasonably fittingly, App Shortcuts. It has been round since 2016’s Android 7.1 Nougat launch, and it was initially framed as a response to Apple’s once-buzzworthy 3D Contact function on the iPhone.

And that, as I wrote on the time, is the true Achilles’ heel of Android’s App Shortcuts: The system tries too exhausting to emulate Apple as an alternative of specializing in what is smart for Android and would offer the very best expertise in that setting. Heck, wanting again at what I mentioned concerning the shortcuts 4 years in the past appears virtually eerily prophetic and like a too-perfect prologue to what we’re speaking about at this time:

Their presence is totally hidden, with no visible cues by any means; you’d must occur to long-press an icon to seek out them, and even then, you won’t totally grasp what occurred or why these gadgets appeared. Customers who know concerning the choices are prone to neglect they exist and underutilize them, too, as usually occurs with non-obvious instructions in a consumer interface. Out of sight, out of thoughts — it is a very actual phenomenon.

And right here we’re, 4 years later, speaking about how so many people neglect to benefit from these time-saving potentialities. The particularly tough factor about Android’s App Shortcuts is that even in the event you do do not forget that they exist generally, you by no means know which apps help the system and which do not — or when any given app is up to date with a richer set of shortcut choices — except you simply haphazardly press icons on a regular basis to see what, if something, occurs.

If you do press the correct icons, although, you is likely to be delighted by the underutilized treasures you summon. And with a teensy little bit of tinkering, you can also make a few of ’em even extra helpful.

So sufficient of my blathering: It is time to uncover — or maybe rediscover — the productivity-boosting potential of Android’s App Shortcuts.

The ins and outs of Android App Shortcuts

First, let’s again up for a fast primer on what precisely App Shortcuts are and the way you place ’em to make use of: App Shortcuts are mainly simply direct hyperlinks to particular capabilities inside apps in your telephone — methods you will get to particular person actions or areas inside the app with out having to undergo the standard strategy of opening it up, searching round via its menus, and tapping a number of instructions to get the place you wish to go.

Android App Shortcuts (1) JR

You can see App Shortcuts by pressing and holding your finger down on an app’s icon — either on your home screen or in your app drawer — for about a second. And here’s where the true time-saving potential comes into play: You can also place any of those shortcuts directly onto your home screen for easy one-tap access in the future. Just press and hold the shortcut you want when you see it come up, then drag it onto an open space in your home screen and let go.

So where might this be helpful? Well, in plenty of places, you goofy ol’ goat. I went through a bunch of different apps to identify some of the most broadly useful App Shortcut actions. Here are some to keep in mind and try to train yourself to use on your own Android device:

  • With Google’s Messages app, you can long-press the app icon to jump directly into a recently used message thread.
  • With Slack, long-pressing the app’s icon will reveal single-tap shortcuts for snoozing your notifications, jumping directly into a specific workspace (if you have multiple teams connected to your phone), and loading Slack’s “jump to” command — which lets you transport yourself directly into any channel or direct message just by typing the first letter or two of its name.
  • With Docs, you can move straight into a new, blank document or open up the search function to find what you need — without having to first open up the app and then poke around.
  • With Drive, you can get direct links for searching, uploading a new file, or — one of my personal favorites — scanning a physical document in via your phone’s camera.
  • The official Google Clock app has App Shortcuts for starting a stopwatch or a timer right from your home screen.
  • Gmail has shortcuts for starting a new message or jumping directly into any account’s inbox (provided you have multiple accounts connected to your phone).
  • Keep gives you a handy collection of note-creating shortcuts, including one-touch commands for creating a new text note, photo note, list note, and audio note.
  • Press and hold the Calendar app’s icon, and you’ll find a simple shortcut for creating a new event as well as one for creating a new Assistant-linked reminder that’ll pop up on any Assistant-connected device where you’re signed in.
  • Use Trello? Its Android app icon holds shortcuts for starting a new card with a single tap or for jumping into any specific board in your account.
  • This is bound to vary from one bank to the next, but Bank of America has a super-useful shortcut tucked away within its icon that lets you zap right to the app’s mobile check-depositing function.
  • The Twitter Android app has shortcuts for jumping directly into your messages or mentions, in case you ever want to check in on pending correspondence without getting sucked into the stream.
  • In Maps, you can launch guided navigations back to any of your saved places by pressing your finger to the app’s icon and then selecting the location you need.
  • The Nest app gives you shortcuts to commonly used connected gadgets, so you can hop right over to whatever one you want without all the usual steps.
  • Google Duo has one-tap shortcuts for starting one-on-one video calls with your most recently used contacts.
  • And the eponymous Google app holds a shortcut for identifying any song that’s playing around you and then showing you all there is to know about the tune.

This list could go on more or less indefinitely, depending on what specific Android apps you use, but you get the idea. And all of that, my dearie, is still just the start.

Advanced App Shortcuts action

For as useful as they are, Android’s App Shortcuts can be made even more powerful with the help of an app I’ve talked about in several other contexts before. It’s a little somethin’ called Sesame, and it can do an awful lot of different things — but specific to our discussion today, it lets you take control of an app’s shortcut list to both expand it and condense it in some pretty effective ways.

To experience Sesame’s full benefit, you’ll need to use it in conjunction with a custom Android launcher designed to take full advantage of what it can do. It works natively with several of the launchers I’ve recommended previously, including Lawnchair, Niagara, and Nova.

So what exactly does Sesame do? Well, let me tell you, you gorgeous gecko: With the right sort of launcher setup, you’ll see an additional Sesame-logo-shaped icon within every app’s long-press menu, right above its shortcuts. And tapping that icon will take you into a special interface where you can select exactly what shortcuts appear whenever you long-press that app.

With Google Calendar, for instance, in addition to the standard new event and new reminder shortcuts we talked about a second ago, you can have the App Shortcuts system show you your entire next month’s worth of events from any of your connected calendars. And if you want any of those shortcuts to be prioritized and permanently positioned at the top of the list, you can simply pin ’em from right within that same editing tool.

Android App Shortcuts (2) JR

And once you do — well, by golly, wouldya look at that?

Android App Shortcuts (3) JR

Other apps have different options. In Messages, for instance, you can select certain high-profile contacts and keep shortcuts to their conversations pinned at the top of the App Shortcuts list. In Gmail, you can pin one-tap access to specific labels into the app’s long-press menu. And in Drive, you can pin shortcuts to specific folders from within your storage for easy ongoing access.

My favorite of all, though, is Chrome, where you can create a specific, set list of frequently accessed websites and then have those sites show up as one-tap options whenever you press and hold the app’s icon — kind of like a simple, exceptionally accessible personal start page, only you don’t even have to open up anything to get to it.

Oh, and any of the shortcuts you create with Sesame can also be dragged onto your home screen for even more direct access. (The app costs $3.50 to use after a free two-week trial.)

Pretty nifty, right? Android’s App Shortcuts system certainly has some conceptual problems, and it’s yet another unfortunate example of Android sliding back into old bad habits and putting valuable options out of sight and out of mind. We could talk for hours about the ways Google could fix this (and, um, we did — four years ago), but it’s far more productive to remind ourselves about what’s hidden and then train ourselves to start taking advantage of it.

And now, the power is in your hands. Embrace it wisely — and this time, don’t forget to keep using it.

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[Android Intelligence videos at Computerworld]

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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