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Android’s forgotten shortcut superpowers | Computerworld

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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.

[Psst: Love shortcuts? My Android Shortcut Supercourse will teach you even more advanced time-saving tricks for your phone. Sign up now for free!]

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