Home Android Android’s oft-forgotten time-savers | Computerworld

Android’s oft-forgotten time-savers | Computerworld


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 Gmail tips we talked about last week, and now it’s happened to me again with a powerful shortcut system built right into Android and supported by tons of 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 that environment. Heck, looking back at what I said about the shortcuts four 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, four 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 support 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 all the time to see what, if anything, happens.

When you do press the right icons, though, you might be delighted by the underutilized treasures you summon. 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 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 the app without having to go through the typical process of opening it up, hunting around through its menus, and tapping multiple commands to get where you want to go.

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