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Want to make your phone more useful? Try automating tasks

It might not be for everyone but it can speed tasks up or allow you to carry out entirely different actions.

Image: Shutterstock/Jacob Lund

SURE YOUR SMARTPHONE can do some impressive things but at the same time, you’re normally tied down to carrying out one or two actions at a time.

It’s not that smartphones aren’t capable, it’s just the very nature of smartphone software can only do so many tasks at any one time or keeps it simple to avoid complicating things.

For those who feel limited, a way around this is to use automating tools. Doing this might sound like an unnecessary addition to things – and for most people, it probably is – but if you take the time to learn it, it can speed things up for you and open up new possibilities.

Granted, this is more useful for tasks you already do regularly, but it doesn’t hurt to know what’s out there.

How it works

It’s best to think of automating as two steps: input and result.

Input is the action that you (or your phone) carry out while result is the new action that happens.

To give a quick example, for Tasker (one of the apps below), you could set up your phone so the screen dims anytime you open up a music app, or save a photo to Dropbox as soon as you take one, or to email yourself articles you’ve liked on Twitter.

There is more scope for creativity here, and the above is just a small taster of what you can do. If you’re stuck for examples, the apps below offer a number of different examples, directly or otherwise.

Many of them allow you to save shortcuts on the home screen for easy access and some like Do Button are dedicated to that one purpose. Below are a few apps that will help you get started.

IFTTT An example of how automation works through IFTTT, one of the apps available. Source: IFTTT

Tasker
For: Android
Cost: €2.99

One that’s been available for Android for quite a while, Tasker is still one of the best versions out there giving you an unprecedented level of control over your phone.

It’s not one for beginners since it takes a bit of time to get to grips with, but it’s one of the more versatile automation apps out there. Once you get the hang of it, there’s an impressive amount of customisation available.

Tasker Source: Tasker/Google Play

Workflow
For: iOS
Cost: €2.99

A more recent addition to the automation game, Workflow takes the form of a linear flowchart, designed to make automating tasks easy. As well as pinning actions to the home screen, widget support means you can carry out actions without going into the app itself.

The ease of use means that anyone can string together actions in moments but if you don’t feel up to it, there are enough suggestions in Gallery to get you started. However, what you can do with it is more limited compared to the apps on Android.

download Source: Workflow/App Store

IFTTT
For:
iOS, Android, Web 
Cost:
Free

The most accessible of the apps listed here, If This Then That (IFTTT) is broken up into two main apps. The first one is IF which is the general task app. This allows you to automate tasks when they happen, either automatically or by completing an action.

The other app is DO, a collection of three apps dedicated to a general task, a note-taking task and a camera task. These are more useful for single actions you carry out sometimes but not often enough to make it automatic.

Even if you don’t know where to start, there are enough ready made ‘recipes’ on the service to get you started, and it’s linked up to enough popular apps for you to find it useful.

download Source: IF/App Store

Automate
For: Android
Cost: Free (includes in-app purchases)

Automate is best described as a cross between Workflow and Tasker. It’s similar to Workflow in that it displays actions as flowcharts, but much like Tasker, there are hundreds of conditions you can create using most of the settings, sensors and apps on your phone.

It’s a little bit easier to get into than Tasker since it’s a little bit more user-friendly but you will still need to dedicate some time to learning it before you get the hang of it.

Automate Source: Automate/Google Play

Alloy
For: iOS
Cost: €4.99

If you’re looking for something more powerful than Workflow on iOS, but don’t mind taking the time to learn how to use it, Alloy might be the one to look at. It’s one for the more tech-savvy users as you can delve deeper and fine-tune certain actions.

The actions themselves take the form of mini-apps which you can either access within Alloy or on the home screen. It’s harder to learn but if you need something more powerful than Workflow, it’s worth considering.

2Q== Source: Alloy/App Store

Read: The reason why the Internet of Things revolution is about to kickstart in Ireland >

Read: This is how you should take care of your headphones >

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