8 Things You Should Be Automating On Your Smartphone

Photo: Sam Rutherford, Gizmodo

We live in an age of super-smart technology built to make our lives easier, so don’t struggle with the menial chores of the day when your phone could be doing the job for you. Here are some of the best automations you can set up on your phone, freeing you from the task and giving you more time to do something else more interesting instead.

Automate your text messages

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Whether you’re hitting the road or just find replying to your friends too much effort, you can save your fingers a little bit of typing by automating your text messages — or at least the SMS replies you need to send out.

When it comes to iOS, you need to activate Do Not Disturb (of which more later) to turn your text auto-responder on. From Settings, choose Do Not Disturb and scroll down to the Auto-Reply options: You can pick which contacts get an auto-reply and what the message actually says. This then kicks in whenever Do Not Disturb is automatically or manually enabled on your device.

Text auto-respond is part of the driving mode in Android too, but you still need to tap to confirm the SMS gets sent. For a truly automated process, get the freemium Auto Reply Text Message app installed. It works just like an out-of-office message on your email, and you can set up different profiles too (one response for meetings, one for vacations, one for driving, and so on).

Automate your photo and video backups

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Backing up your photos and videos is an essential job to get done if you want your precious digital memories to last even if your phone gets lost or destroyed, and thankfully it’s now easier than ever—it doesn’t take long to set up your phone to be beaming pictures and videos back to the cloud whenever you’re on a wifi network.

Google Photos is available on Android and iOS: You get 15GB free (across all Google services), with more costing from $3 a month. If you don’t mind your photos being resized down to 16MP and your videos down to 1080p, or you own a Pixel phone, you can have unlimited storage for free. Install the app then check Settings then Backup & sync to make sure everything is being copied to the cloud.

Apple’s option is iCloud Photo Library, which gives you 5GB of space in the cloud for free and charges you $1 a month and up for more. From Settings on your iOS device, tap your Apple ID name, then iCloud, then Photos to turn automatic backups on. You’ve got several other options here too, including Dropbox and OneDrive.


Automate your typing

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You might be surprised at how much time typing takes up in your day. Set up automations for your phone’s keyboard and you can type out phrases you use a lot—like your home address or apologies for running late—with just a few characters.

On iOS, what you need to do is open up Settings then choose General, Keyboard, and Text Replacement. The screen that then appears before you lets you add new keyboard macros (two examples are included for you)—tap the Plus icon then enter a phrase and a shortcut. Use the shortcut when typing, and the phrase appears as an option in the predictive text list.

For those of you on Android, head to Settings then choose System, Languages & input, Virtual keyboard, Gboard, Dictionary, and finally Personal dictionary. Select your language then the Plus button to add a phrase and a shortcut. The next time you’re typing, tap out the shortcut then tap the phrase.


Automate your phone’s quiet hours

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The problem with trying to remember to put your phone into quiet mode is that you inevitably forget more often than not, which leads to your smartphone’s embarrassing ringtone cutting through the silence at your next office meeting or church service. It’s a far better idea to let your phone organise this on a schedule.

On iOS, you can open up Settings then pick Do Not Disturb and Scheduled to set your quiet times—unfortunately you can only set up one block of time per day here. If you long-press on the Do Not Disturb button in Control Center, you can also set the quiet mode to last for an hour, until the evening, or until you leave your current location.

On Android, choose Sound then Do not disturb from Settings. Pick Turn on automatically to set the times when Do Not Disturb is activated without any manual input from you—you can set these periods based on times in the day or events in your Google Calendar, and pick multiple blocks in every 24 hours if needed.

Stop audio playback automatically

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If you like to drift off to sleep to some tunes or a couple of podcasts then you can have your phone automatically stop playback after a certain amount of time has elapsed. Some apps, like the podcast player Pocket Casts, already have a sleep timer built in (although Spotify doesn’t, as yet...).

If you’re using an iOS device you can get the Clock app to do the job. Switch to the Timer tab, select your desired duration, and then tap When Timer Ends—choose Stop Playing from the bottom of the list, and when the timer runs out, any audio that was playing on your phone is silenced.

It’s a shame that Android’s default Clock app doesn’t have the same function, but you can plug the gap with a third-party app. There’s a decent number of sleep timer apps to pick from on the Google Play Store, so have a browse and see which one you like best, but we appreciate the simplicity and efficiency of Sleep Timer.

Turn off wifi and mute your phone when you leave the house

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If you’re on Android, you can make use of IFTTT (If This Then That) to perform all kinds of automated tricks based on phone events or your phone’s location. The service connects all kinds of apps and platforms together, and is free to use.

In the interests of security, battery life, and peace of mind, for example, you might want to turn off wifi and mute your phone when IFTTT detects it has left home or arrived at work.

When you get back in the evening, IFTTT is able to unmute your handset and turn wifi back on automatically.

That’s just a taste of what IFTTT can do: It lets you log notifications or texts in a spreadsheet, turn on your smart lights at the same time as your alarm, automatically display directions to an event in your calendar, start playing music when a Bluetooth device is detected, post to social media, and much more.

Tell others when you’ll be home

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Get Shortcuts by Apple (formerly Workflow) installed on your iOS device and you can automate a bunch of tasks—or, more specifically, combine a host of actions that get carried out with a single tap or Siri command.

In this particular case we’re highlighting the shortcut that lets you share your estimated time of arrival with someone else. The steps to add are, from the top, Street Address (enter your home address here), Get Travel Time, and Send Message—in the last block tap the Travel Time button to insert your ETA into the text. Pick contacts for the Recipients field and you’re done.

Tap the Gallery button in Shortcuts to see some of the other ways the app can automate your life: You can tweet out the song you’re listening to, build grids of Instagram photos, send the contents of the clipboard to Dropbox, turn Live Photos into GIFs, browse the latest news stories, and so on and so on.

Taking your automations further

Screenshot: Tasker

If you’re really serious about this automation business, and you own an Android phone (iOS doesn’t really offer the necessary deep hooks for third-party apps), then Tasker has been the gold standard for automation apps for a long time now. It’s not the easiest app to use (though it’s improving), but you can’t argue with its capabilities.

Tasker can interface with all kinds of system apps and system settings on your phone, whether you need to turn on the flashlight, control media playback, toggle aeroplane mode, send a text, check the battery level, or open a map. Automated tasks can be launched with a tap or based on a time, an event, or a location.

You can automatically check into Foursquare when you arrive somewhere, for instance, or automatically text your wifi code to any incoming SMS with the word “wifi” in it. Check out the official projects list for more examples of what Tasker can do.

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