How to create one-button automatic "apps" on your Android

Make repetitive tasks really easy with a few setup maneuvers

The coworking space I co-founded has a nifty lock that you can open with a text message. To explain exactly how it works would divulge a bit too much, and take far more space than I really have here today. But suffice to say: you text a certain number from your own certain number, with a certain phrase, and then the door clicks open for a few seconds.

Easy enough on most days. But I live in Buffalo, NY, where the winter weather is sometimes like this.

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It's like this, quite often.

When the weather is like that, I don't want to take my gloves off, I don't want to have to find a contact, I don't want to type out anything—please, just let me press a button and get in. I just want something on my home screen that does an auto-text.

Some people would tell me and our coworking space to build an app. Apps for small businesses are not easy to come by. Either you have the money to pay a developer to make it for you (or the chocolate and whiskey and cookies to reward a very kind developer), or you figure out how to code the thing yourself. But we already figured out the hard part; the thing I wanted was just a kind of automated shortcut. Then I remember Tasker.

Tasker is, by itself and by default, an automation tool. "When I'm connected to my car by Bluetooth, turn the ringer volume all the way up." Or "When I get a call from a certain number, show a big alert pop-up." I've mentioned Tasker 'round these parts a few times. Setting up if-this-then-do-that tasks can be a bit time consuming, battery-taxing, and hard to trust, however.

But Tasker can also give you simple shortcuts to do a few things at once. It can even turn those shortcuts into an app you can give to others, if you want to get crazy. Today I'm just going to walk through the first part; the app-making magic will come later.

Note: If you really just want a simple way to automatically send a certain text message to a certain number, and make shortcuts for that text, you could pay $1 for Tap2Text's unlocked version. It's cheaper than Tasker, but not as flexible.

First, install Tasker, then open it up and step through any of the dialogues or warnings it pops up. Don't worry about them, either: Tasker can do some crazy phone-bending stuff, but what we're trying out is really easy.

Now your job is to create a "Task" that does one, two, or however many things you want. Swipe or tap to get to the "Tasks" list, then click the "+" icon at the bottom. Name your task ("Test Texter," in my case) and you'll be sent into the "Action Edit" screen. Tap the "+" at the bottom again, and you'll add an action from the expansive list of possible actions. In this example, we're making Tasker text a certain phone number with a message. Choose Phone, then "**Send SMS.**"

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Picking out your action.

Enter the number you want to text in "Number" (or click the magnifying-glass-like Search button just above and to the right of the Number field). Enter the text to send in "Message," and, if you want to keep track of when you fired this text, check the box next to "Store in Messaging App." When you're all done, tap the "<" arrow and Tasker icon in the upper-left corner.

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Setting up the auto-text

So! Now you have a Task ("Test Texter") that has one specific action ("Send SMS").

Want to add it to your home screen? For most phones, it's as simple as holding down your finger on a blank space on the home screen, then scrolling through the list of widgets, shortcuts, or both widgets and shortcuts until you get to "Task Shortcut." Tap that (or drag it to your home screen), and you'll be asked to choose from a list of your Tasks. Pick the thing you just made ("Text Texter"). You'll go into the list of Actions, to make any last-minute edits.

But! Before you go any further (by tapping Back or hitting the upper-left corner), click that somewhat obscure grid of gray icons in the lower-right corner. That way, you can pick out an icon for your little auto-thingy, either from a list of built-in icons, or by grabbing a (mostly free) icon pack from the web.

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Tasker shortcuts, made to look like apps

As you can see, I've built a few custom Tasker shortcuts for myself: for the coworking door, for this example, and for, well, sending a randomly shot photo of my dog to my wife. I grabbed a "Green Floral" icon pack from Ipack to make my icons more app-like and less utilitarian.

These shortcuts are almost like private apps. Very soon, I'll dig into how to box up, sign, and give out your apps as actual APK files you can pass around to friends for installing. That's when things really get fun.

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