Software

How to automate tasks and workflows on Android with the Automate app

Jack Wallen introduces you to an app that adds serious automation power to the Android platform.

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Image: Jack Wallen

If you've used the likes of IFTTT, you know that it's an incredibly powerful tool that makes adding certain types of automation to the Android platform fairly simple. However, IFTTT can be somewhat limiting in that it can only generate one trigger per action. There might be times when you need to set multiple actions with a single trigger or loop action. That's where a tool called Automate comes in. With Automate you can create flows that do more than you might imagine. But Automate isn't nearly as simple as IFTTT. In fact, with Automate, you're going to spend a good amount of time on the front-end figuring out just how the flows work. And these flows can get really complicated.

Automate uses a user-friendly drag-and-drop method with flowcharts to create automations that can work with over 300 building blocks (from Account sync to Zip). The interface is incredibly simple to use. The tool, however, is a bit challenging to master.

I'm going to walk you through the process of installing Automate and then create a simple flow, so you can understand how the tool works. Once you've mastered creating a simple flow, you can then download any number of pre-built flows to understand how to make use of the highly flexible system. Once you have a solid understanding of how flows work, the sky's the limit to what you can automate on your Android device. The app is free and includes access to a large number of shared flows (from other users).

Installation

The installation of Automate is very easy. Just follow these steps:

  1. Open Google Play Store on your Android device
  2. Search for Automate
  3. Locate and tap the Automate entry, by LlamaLab
  4. Tap Install
  5. Allow the installation to complete

Once the installation is complete, you'll find an icon for Automate on your home screen or your App Drawer. Tap the icon to launch the app.

Usage

Swipe through the welcome screen to wind up on the Automate main window (Figure A).

Figure A

Figure A

The Automate main window.

I'm going to walk you through creating a very basic automation. We're going to go with the tried and true "Hello World" example. We'll create an automation that will popup a message saying, "Hello, TechRepublic!" To create this flow, click the + button on the main window. The screen will change to the flowchart window (Figure B), where you'll see a single block, called Flow beginning.

Figure B

Figure B

The first block of our Flow.

Tap the menu button in the top left corner and scroll down until you see Interface. Tap that entry to expand the contents and select Toast show. You should now see two blocks in the flowchart (Figure C).

Figure C

Figure C

Our newly added Toast show block.

Tap the Toast show block, and in the resulting window type Hello TechRepublic in the Message space (Figure D). Set the duration to Long and then tap the DONE button.

Figure D

Figure D

Our Hello TechRepublic block.

Now we must drag the flow beginning OK connector to the Toast show IN connector. Do that by tapping OK and dragging down to IN. These two blocks will now be connected (Figure E).

Figure E

Figure E

Our connected blocks.

To save our flow, tap the check at the top of the screen. To try out the flow, tap the Start button. The Hello, TechRepublic message will appear at the bottom of the screen (Figure F).

Figure F

Our Hello, TechRepublic message.

You could expand that by adding another block. Tap the pencil icon and then tap Flowchart. Tap the top left menu button, scroll to and tap Interface. Add another Toast show block and configure it to say "How are you?" Once you've created that block, connect the OK connector of the original block to the IN connector of the new block (Figure G).

Figure G

Figure G

Our second Toast show block added and connected.

You can now save the flow and run it to watch it in action.

And that's how we create a flow with Automate. I highly recommend you tap the Community button (between the + and the menu button in the upper right), search through the large number of community-generated flows, download some that appeal to you, and examine how they were created. This is a great way to help you understand how more complicated Automate flows work. You'll find flows covering nearly every possible scenario. In fact, there are so many community-created flows, you might not have to create your own.

Incredibly flexible automation

You'd be hard-pressed to find an automation tool as flexible as Automate. If you're willing to give it the time needed to fully understand how it works, you'll be rewarded with some serious power. Give Automate a go and see if it doesn't wind up as your go-to Android automation tool.

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About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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