Seven automated smartphone commands you should try
Teach your old phone some new tricks.
Your smartphone is supposed to make life easier. Good news: You can step up its convenience by automating some of the ways you use it. With these seven automated commands, you get to spend less time fussing with your device and more time on the stuff that really matters.
1. Receive reminders at certain locations
Timed reminders can be handy, but they really come into their own when they pop up in the right place. Because your phone knows your location, it can nudge you to buy milk when you’re near the grocery store or to clean the attic when you get home. Here’s how to set up this type of reminder on iOS and Android devices.
On an iPhone, launch the Reminders app, tap the Plus icon, and type in the text you want to see later. Tap the (i) icon to the right of your new reminder, toggle the Remind me at a location switch to on, and then tap Location. Now you can pick any of your saved (pinned) locations, select your current position, or use the search box at the top to find another address.
On an Android, open the Google app and tap the Menu button (three horizontal lines) on the bottom right. Choose Reminders, tap the Plus button, and enter some text for the reminder. Finally, tap the Place button followed by Location, and you can choose where the reminder will activate.
That’s all there is to it—when you reach the specified point, your phone will automatically remind you about whatever you need to do.
2. Automate quiet mode
As you go about your day, you’ll hop in and out of meetings, visit quiet places like libraries, attend theatrical shows, and experience other events when you want your phone to stay silent. Constantly switching quiet mode on and off can get frustrating pretty quickly. Thankfully, your mobile can do the job automatically.
On an iPhone, open Settings, tap Do Not Disturb, and turn on the Scheduled toggle switch. Now tap on the timings underneath, and you can set windows of time when your phone will stay silent. For example, mute it during the hours you spend in the office or asleep.
On an Android device, open Settings, pick Sound, and choose Do not disturb preferences. The next screen lets you set up times when the Do Not Disturb mode is activated. In each case, you can choose which days it will kick in, and the start and end times. You can also opt to have the silent mode kick in during events scheduled on one of your Google calendars.
During a silent window, notifications and alerts will still come through, but they won’t make any noise or vibrations. This way, you don’t have to waste your time or worry about forgetting to change these settings manually.
3. Open apps to shortcuts
When you open an app, it displays its default screen. For example, tapping the Facebook icon brings you to its News Feed. However, on iOS devices, you can change the automatic app opener so you can create a calendar event or message a particular person rather than heading to the front pages of Calendar or Contacts.
With a 3D Touch (a longer, harder press on the screen), you can bring up certain app shortcuts, but an app called Launch Center Pro ($5 from the App Store) takes the concept even further: It lets you jump straight into particular actions inside apps.
As an example of how to set it up, look at using the app in conjunction with Safari. Open Launch Center Pro, tap the Pencil icon on the top right, select Bookmarks, and you can add links to your favorite sites. That way, when you open Safari, it takes you directly to one of these webpages rather than whatever page you opened the last time you used the browser.
You can also use it with apps like Instagram, if you want to start by taking a photo rather than heading to your feed first. This one is actually built into Launch Center Pro: Tap and hold on Photos and then choose Launch Camera from the left. Many other shortcuts are possible, so use the tutorials inside the app to play around with more options.
4. Don’t worry about backing up photos
Few things on your phone are as precious as your photos and videos. So save yourself the trouble of manually copying them to a laptop or cloud-storage service by having them automatically back up to the cloud.
Google Photos (for Android and iOS) is one of the best automated backup apps. It will store everything for free, as long as you don’t mind your images being resized down to a maximum of 16 megapixels and your videos to a maximum resolution of 1080p. If you want to keep the original resolutions, once you go past your free 15GB of storage, prices start at $2 a month for 100GB.
To turn on automated backup, open the app, tap the Menu button (three horizontal lines) on the top left, choose Settings, and select Backup & sync. From the same menu, you can pick Free up device storage to delete all the pictures and clips Google Photos has transferred to the cloud, which creates more room on your smartphone.
Instead of Google Photos, iOS users can set up the iCloud Photo Library: You get 5GB of free space, and then prices start at $1 a month for 50GB of storage. Open Settings, choose Photos, and turn on the iCloud Photo Library switch. Now your phone will automatically sync your digital files to the web.
5. Safely reply to messages while driving
Your phone can detect when you’re driving along in a car and send out a customized text-message response on your behalf. This ability could genuinely save your life: It removes the temptation to reply to a message when you should be keeping your eyes on the road.
On an iPhone, head into the Settings app and choose Do Not Disturb. Under the Driving heading, tap Activate and turn this to Automatically, then go back and tap Auto-Reply To. Now you can choose to send preset responses to your favorite contacts or to anyone who sends you a text or iMessage. Finally, go back to the previous screen and choose Auto-Reply to compose that automated message or leave the default one in place.
On an Android, you need to download the Android Auto app first. Open it, tap the Menu button (three horizontal lines) on the top left, and choose Settings. Finally, tap Auto-reply to customize your message. When an incoming message arrives while you’re driving, you can send this auto-replay with a single tap—no need to read or think about composing your response. Although you’ll need to launch Android Auto for the feature to work, your phone can detect your car’s stereo via Bluetooth and open the app automatically. To set this up, within the app, choose Settings followed by Auto-launch.
6. Unlock your smartphone at home
The lock screen on your smartphone keeps your device and its data safe. But when you’re at home, you might want to disable the standard security setup in exchange for more convenient access to your apps. Android lets you do this automatically, though there’s no similar option yet for iOS.
Open the Settings app, tap Security & location, then choose Smart Lock. You can choose to have places, devices, voices, or faces unlock the screen automatically. It’s even possible to have Android try and detect when your phone is actually on your person, as opposed to placed on a table, though the accuracy of this detector can vary.
In this case, we want to disable the usual lock screen when we’re at home. Choose Trusted places followed by Add trusted place and pick the point where your home is on the map. If you’ve already set your home address in Google Maps, then it should come up as an option on the list—that way you don’t need to set it manually.
Alternatively, you could use a Bluetooth connection, such as the link to your Google Home device, to disable the lock screen. To do this, choose Trusted devices followed by Add trusted device. At this point, you’ll see a list of Bluetooth devices your phone has recently connected to, and you can pick your desired device from the list.
7. Log the time you spend at work…or anywhere else
Your smartphone goes where you go, which means you can use its location detection to automatically log the time you spend at work, the gym, or anywhere else. To do this, you also need the If This Then That, or IFTTT, app (for Android and iOS), which turns your phone’s location into a trigger for various types of actions.
If you’ve never used the service before, then start by signing up for an account through the app. Then tap the My Applets button on the bottom right. To create a new location-triggered action, tap the Plus button and choose This then Location (search for this option if you can’t find it). Now pick You enter an area and choose the desired location on the map. Once you come to this location while carrying your phone, the automatic routine—logging the time you spend there—should kick in.
To set up that routine, tap the Tick button, choose That, and pick Google Sheets followed by Add row to spreadsheet. This will log the times you enter the location on a spreadsheet in Google Drive. If you prefer, you can also choose a different method, such as an email log. Once you’ve set up this action, tap Finish to enable the automatic routine is enabled.
To log the times when you leave the location, you’ll need to go through the same steps to add another location-triggered action. IFTTT can automate a variety of other actions, creating routines that start when you reach a certain location, receive a text, or experience a change in weather. To see what’s possible, check out some of the other options for Android and iOS.