Mobility

How to get the most out of Android app shortcuts

Android 7.1 brings a feature to the home screen that will make every power user giddy with efficient excitement. That feature is application shortcuts.

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Image: ZDNet

If your Android device recently updated to 7.1, you might have noticed a particular feature has returned, one that brings new levels of efficiency to the platform. The feature I speak of is application shortcuts. This new addition to Android (originally appearing in the second developer preview of Nougat, only to be pulled before final release) allows you to gain quick access to certain features of your apps, without requiring you to first open the app in question.

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Before I continue, do note that not every app supports shortcuts. As of this writing, only specific apps include the feature (apps such as):

  • Chrome (new tab or new incognito tab)
  • Gmail (select which account to view or compose a new email)
  • Hangouts (new voice call, video call, or chat)
  • Play Store (my apps)
  • Keep (new note, list, photo note, or audio note)
  • Drive (search, scan, upload)
  • YouTube (trending, subscriptions, search)
  • Google (search in apps, recent, voice search, search)
  • Maps (work or home)
  • Phone Dialer (new contact)
  • Clock (start stopwatch, create new timer, or create new alarm)
  • Messenger (create message to one of your most recent contacts or start a new conversation)
  • Settings (battery, data usage, or Wi-Fi)
  • Spotify (search)

If you're curious as to whether or not your apps are supported, open up your App Drawer and long press an app; if an application shortcut menu appears, your app is supported!

What does the feature add to the platform? Imagine you have the Gmail launcher on your home screen (or in in a folder on your home screen, or even from within the App Drawer). You need to compose a quick email. What do you do? You launch Gmail and then tap the compose button, right? Not if you have Android 7.1. Instead, you long press the Gmail launcher for a second (you will be rewarded with a vibration) and let go, tap the Compose shortcut (Figure A), and start composing your email. One less step to take in a long day of steps.

Figure A

Figure A

Gaining instant access to the GMail Compose button.

But only if there were a way to gain even more efficiency from this handy addition to the Android homescreen.

Even shorter shortcuts

Leave it to the Android developers to make a shortcut even shorter. What is that bit of magic that I speak of? This is where the app shortcuts really get handy. If you long press one of the supported app icons and then tap and drag one of the app shortcuts to your homescreen, you'll find an icon now available for that particular application shortcut. Say, for instance, you want immediate access to the Gmail compose feature; long press the Gmail icon and then, when the shortcut menu appears, tap and drag the compose shortcut to your homescreen. You will now see a Compose launcher ready to make your life a bit easier (Figure B). Tap that to immediately open the Gmail compose window.

Figure B

Figure B

The Gmail Compose shortcut ready for action.

The feature continues to evolve

Since its original preview release, the App Shortcut feature has continued to evolve. The one thing I would like to see is the ability to add customized shortcuts (such as a shortcut for a specific contact in the dialer or Gmail menu). Even without that feature, App Shortcuts are a quick way to help make your Android experience much more efficient. Start using App Shortcuts and see how quickly you grow to depend on them.

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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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