I sure do love me a good time-saver. And sometimes, the best time-savers of all are the ones that are right under the surface of our favorite apps and services, just waiting to be seen — or maybe remembered.
I’ll admit it: Even as someone who uses and thinks about Android almost constantly, as part of both my life and my job, I frequently find myself surprised by how often I stumble onto something that I knew about at some point but long ago forgot to keep using. It happened to me with some of the Android Assistant tricks we talked about a couple months ago, and it’s happened to me yet again now with a powerful shortcut system built right into Android and supported by oodles o’ different apps.
The system is called, rather fittingly, App Shortcuts. It’s been around since 2016’s Android 7.1 Nougat release, and it was originally framed as a response to Apple’s once-buzzworthy 3D Touch feature on the iPhone.
And that, as I wrote at the time, is the true Achilles’ heel of Android’s App Shortcuts: The system tries too hard to emulate Apple instead of focusing on what makes sense for Android and would provide the best possible experience in our preferred environment. Heck, looking back at what I said about the shortcuts five-plus years ago seems almost eerily prophetic and like a too-perfect prologue to what we’re talking about today:
Their presence is completely hidden, with no visual cues whatsoever; you’d have to happen to long-press an icon to find them, and even then, you might not fully grasp what happened or why those items appeared. Users who know about the options are likely to forget they exist and underutilize them, too, as often happens with non-obvious commands in a user interface. Out of sight, out of mind — it’s a very real phenomenon.
And here we are, all these years later, talking about how so many of us forget to take advantage of these time-saving possibilities. The especially tricky thing about Android’s App Shortcuts is that even if you do remember that they exist in general, you never know which apps take full advantage of the system and which don’t — or when any given app is updated with a richer set of shortcut options — unless you just haphazardly press icons every few weeks to see what, if anything, happens.
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When you do press the right icons, though, you’re bound to be delighted by the buried treasures you unearth. And with a teensy bit of tinkering, you can make some of ’em even more useful.
So enough of my blathering: It’s time to discover — or perhaps rediscover — the productivity-boosting potential of Android’s App Shortcuts.
The ins and outs of Android App Shortcuts
First, let’s back up for a quick primer on what exactly App Shortcuts are and how you can put ’em to use: App Shortcuts are basically just direct links to specific functions within apps on your phone — ways you can get to individual actions or areas within an app without having to go through the typical process of opening it up, plopping around through its menus, and tapping multiple commands to get where you want to go.
You can access 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 the shortcuts that pop up directly onto your home screen for even easier one-tap access. Just press and hold the shortcut you want when you see it come up, then drag it into 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. Let’s talk some specifics.
16 specific Android App Shortcuts worth embracing
I went through a bunch of different productivity-oriented apps to identify some of the most broadly useful (and yet woefully underutilized) App Shortcut actions. Here are 16 excellent options to surface and then train yourself to use on your own Android device:
- With Slack, long-pressing the app’s icon will reveal single-tap shortcuts for jumping directly into any specific workspace connected to your phone. Depending on the number of workspaces you have, you might also see shortcuts for snoozing your notifications 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 Google 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 Google 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.
- Gmail has hidden shortcuts for starting a new message or jumping directly into any account’s inbox (provided that you have multiple accounts connected to your phone, of course).
- You can long-press Google’s Messages app to waltz your way directly into any recently used message thread.
- And speaking of speaking to people, pressing that squishy phalange of yours down onto the official Google Phone app’s icon will give you one-touch shortcuts for dialing any recent contacts you’ve called — no app-opening or other steps required.
- Google Keep has a handy collection of note-creating shortcuts, including one-touch commands for firing up a new text note, photo note, list note, or audio note.
- The official Google Clock app on Android has App Shortcuts for starting a stopwatch or a timer right from your home screen.
- Press and hold the Google Calendar app’s icon, and you’ll find a simple shortcut for creating a new event as well as for creating a new Assistant-linked reminder that’ll appear 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 recently opened board associated with your account.
- In Maps, you can launch guided navigations to any of your saved places (including “home,” “work,” and “that deli where I eat so much salami I can’t move”) by pressing your finger to the app’s icon and then selecting the location you need.
- Long-pressing the Chrome icon will surface options for zipping right into a new tab — or incognito tab, even — right from your home screen.
- The Nest app gives you shortcuts to commonly opened connected gadgets, so you can hop right over to the control panel for your home office camera or deskside Smart Display without all the usual steps.
- The Twitter Android app has shortcuts for galloping immediately into recent direct messaging conversations, in case you ever need to visit an active thread without getting sucked into the stream.
- The Android Settings app (which itself is ultimately just a shortcut to your system settings) holds hidden shortcuts for hopping straight into the Wi-Fi, Data Usage, or Battery sections of your system settings.
- And the Play Store app has a supremely helpful shortcut for popping right into the “My Apps” area of the Play Store to look through pending or recent updates to your various installed applications. So long, cumbersome menu-wading!
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 Android App Shortcut 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 other contexts before. It’s a little somethin’ called Sesame, and it can do a 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 most of the launchers I tend to recommend — including my current personal favorite, Niagara, as well as the long-standing Android fan favorite Nova.
So what exactly does Sesame do? Well, lemme tell you, you gorgeous little gecko: With the right sort of launcher setup, you’ll be able to open up Sesame and select exactly what shortcuts appear whenever you long-press different apps in your home screen environment.
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 your entire next month’s worth of events from any of your connected calendars — work, personal, salami-eating schedule, you name it. 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.
And once you do — well, by golly, wouldya look at that?
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. In the Google app, you can make shortcuts for identifying a song on demand and even for pulling up a virtual bubble level tool. And in Drive, you can pin shortcuts to specific cloud storage folders for easy ongoing access.
My favorite of all, though, has to be 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 anything to get to it.
Oh, and just with like Android’s standard built-in App Shortcuts, 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, by the by. Given all the precious seconds it’ll save you, I’d say it’s worth every penny of that cost — and them some.)
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 — several 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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