Have you ever wished that your phone would automatically text your significant other whenever you leave work, or silence your phone when you walk into a cinema, or turn on your ringer when you wake up in the morning? Tasker is an automation app for Android that makes it possible to do all of these things and much more.
We've shown you the ins and outs of Tasker before, but today we'll hand you the tools and apps to make your phone more powerful, more easily. Whether you're a Tasker beginner or an automation pro, the apps in this post will make your phone easier to use, smarter and more battery efficient. You don't have to know the ins and outs of Tasker to install the apps here, but we've provided the tools for those of you who want to tweak the workflows. Let's get started.
What Is Tasker?
Tasker can watch for certain conditions (from phone orientation and location to y and z) and do certain things when those conditions are met, such as open applications, toggle system settings, send text messages, and even speak alerts. When you combine Tasker's automation tools with conditions that you set, for example, "arrived at work" or "out of range of my Wi-Fi network", based on your GPS location, you can see how much potential the tool really has.
Tasker App Factory is an add-on utility for Tasker that allows you to take the workflows you create and export them as standalone Android apps (APK files) that you can send to friends so they can use them, share on the web as your own work, or even post to Google Play as standalone apps. In fact, the combination of Tasker and App Factory makes building a certain type of app for Android much simpler than developing them from scratch. With App Factory, anyone can install and use your action as a normal Android app.
What Can I Do With Tasker?
We hinted at how powerful Tasker is above, but the sky's the limit when it comes to its real potential. Tasker is mostly used to automate things done on a regular basis, such as turning on the Wi-Fi at home and turning it off again when you leave the house. We've shown you some great Tasker profiles in the past, but now we're going to give you the app and the code.
Before You Get Started
Before you proceed, you'll need to be comfortable installing apps from sources other than Google Play. The first thing you'll need to do is tell your Android phone to allow you to install apps from places other than Google Play.
- From your Android phone's home screen, tap the menu button.
- Tap "Settings" and select "Applications".
- Make sure the checkbox under "Unknown Sources" is checked.
I'll also be walking you through installing the apps below in one of two ways:
The easy way: This just involves downloading the provided APK for each app and installing it on your phone. You'll need to download the APK directly to your phone, or use a service like Dropbox to get them onto your phone. Once the APK is on your phone, just launch it to install the app.
The hard way: Download the provided Tasker XML to your phone and import it to Tasker. You can either download the XML directly to your phone or use Dropbox as an intermediary, but once you have the XML on your phone, you can import it to Tasker one of two ways:
- Method 1: Open Tasker and long-press on the Project tab at the top of the window. Select "Import" and browse to where the XML file is stored on your phone.
- Method 2: Open the XML file directly, and when prompted for an application to read the XML file, select Tasker from the pop-up menu.
My Favourite Tasker Apps Bundled for Easy Installation
If you like what each app does, you can just install it and walk away. Don't worry if it doesn't seem to do anything at first -- it's running in the background and will respond when you need it.
Automatically Dim Your Screen at Night
What It Does: This task dims your screen completely during the late night hours when you're normally sleeping so your device doesn't turn on with an incoming message and drain your battery. By default, the app here dims the screen at midnight, and then turns the brightness back up at 6am.
- Open Tasker and select the "Profiles" tab. Then click the plus sign (+) at the bottom of the screen to start a new profile.
- Give your profile a name. I called it "Dimmer".
- You'll be prompted for your first "Context," or type of criteria for which the profile is active. Select "Time".
- Next, you'll be asked to specify the times from and to which the profile will be active. Set the "from" time to whenever you normally go to bed, and the "to" time to whenever you normally get up. Tap the checkmark.
- Next, you'll be prompted for a task to perform during that window. Tap New Task, and give it a name. I called mine "Dim Screen". The nice thing about creating tasks in this way is that they're saved for other profiles you may want to create later -- so if we want to create another action that dims the screen for a specific reason, we can reuse our work here.
- Once you've named your task, you'll be dropped at the "Select Action Category" screen. Tap "Display", then "Display Brightness" to get to the brightness controls.
- Drag the brightness slider all the way down to zero (or a little higher if you're wary of dimming the screen completely, but you can always brighten it if you need to.) Leave all of the other settings at their defaults and tap the checkmark.
- You should be returned to the Profiles screen, where you started. Enable your profile by tapping the "On" button in the lower right corner of the screen. You may get a warning that if you have auto-brightness controls on, this profile might not work very well -- it's true: for the best effect, you'll want to turn auto-brightness off.
Open A List Of Installed Music Apps Automatically When Headphones Are Plugged In
What It Does: We've covered this workflow before, but Tasker has changed a lot since then. Run this app and watch: the next time you plug in your headphones, you'll see a menu of all of your pre-installed music players. This way you don't have to plug in and then go looking for your favourite music app. The app below lets you choose between Google Play Music, DoubleTwist and Pandora. (You may want to change this up with options available in Australia.)
If you have different music apps installed that you want in the menu, grab this XML file and import it into Tasker (aka, the hard way) -- it's a snap to change the applications in the menu. If you want to set it up from scratch, keep reading for step by step instructions.
- Open Tasker and select the "Profiles" tab. Then click the plus sign at the bottom of the screen to start a new profile.
- Give your profile a name. I called it "Headset Plugged".
- You'll be prompted for your first "Context", or type of criteria for which the profile is active. Select "State", then "Hardware" in the "State Category" screen.
- Tap "Headset Plugged". You'll be prompted for whether you want the action to take place whenever any headset is plugged in (the default), or just headsets with or without a microphone. I left it at "Any".
- Next, Tasker will ask what "Task" to perform when that headset is plugged in. Tap "New Task" and give it a name. I called mine "Music Menu".
- Next, you'll see the Task Edit/Music Menu. Tap the plus sign to bring up the Action Category screen.
- Select "Alert", and select "Menu" from the pop-up window that appears. You can leave these settings blank or give the menu a title if you like. I left them blank, but the important thing is the "Timeout" setting. By default, it's 30 seconds, after which it'll go away. If you want the menu to stick around longer, increase the timeout.
- Scroll down to "Items," which should be in the same screen. You should see a checkbox, an empty text box, and a greyed out "Actions" button. Tap that button.
- From the Action Category screen, tap "App", then select "Load App".
- Select one of the music apps you love. Tap the checkmark, and you'll go back to the Menu screen. You should see your app in the list now.
- Tap the plus sign in the Menu screen to add another app. Repeat the previous three steps for every music app you want in your pop-up menu. You can add as many as you like. When you're finished, tap the ckecmkark on the Task Edit/Music Menu.
Automatically Enable GPS When You Open Google Maps Navigation
What It Does: If you've ever forgotten to enable the GPS before firing up Navigation, you've suffered a very common Android malady. Unfortunately, Navigation is just too fast for the GPS in some devices, and the radio hasn't fully activated and connected before you start looking for directions. We've discussed other ways to fix this problem, but this app will take care of it easily.
Want to look under the hood? A pair of Tasker workflows power this app, you can import this XML file to Tasker (the hard way) to customise it. If you'd rather set them up from scratch, keep reading for step-by-step instructions.
- Open Tasker and select the "Tasks" tab. Then click the plus sign (+) at the bottom of the screen to start a new profile.
- Give your task a name. I called it "Navigation"
- You'll see the "Task Edit/Navigation" screen. Tap the plus sign and select "Task".
- Select "If", and in the text boxes that appear, type
%GPS ~ offand tap the checkmark.
- Back at the "Task Edit/Navigation" screen, tap the plus sign again and tap "Misc". Select "GPS".
- In the next menu, change the "Set" drop-down to "On". Tap the checkmark to go back to the task edit screen.
- Tap the plus sign again, then select "Task". (not Tasker!) Select "Wait" and move the "ms" slider to "50". Tap the checkmark. This tells Tasker to wait 50 ms while the GPS startup command processes before doing anything else.
- Tap the plus sign again, and select "Task". Tap "End If" and tap the checkmark.
- Finally, tap the plus sign one last time and select "App". Then choose "Load App" and wait for your installed application list to load. When it does, select "Navigation". Leave everything else at the defaults and tap the checkmark.
OK, that's half the battle! What we've done is tell your device to fire up GPS before loading the Navigation app, so while Navigation is loading and you're putting in your destination, GPS should be warming up, getting your position, and connecting to its network. That would be all you need to do, but we also have to make sure GPS is properly turned off after you close navigation as well, so we need a profile for that:
- Open Tasker and select the "Profiles" tab. Then click the plus sign at the bottom of the screen to start a new profile.
- Give your profile a name. I called it "Nav Exit".
- You'll be prompted for your first context; select "Application", then "Navigation". Tap the checkmark.
- Next, you'll be prompted to select a task. Tap "New Task" and give it a name. I went with "No Waiting".
- Tap the plus sign to open the Action Category screen and select "Task".
- Tap "Wait" and set the MS slider to 1, and tap the checkbox. You'll go back to the Task Edit screen; tap the checkbox here too.
- You should be back at the Tasker profiles screen. Long-press under your new "No Waiting" task. A pop-up menu should appear. From here, tap "Add Exit Task".
- Tap "New Task" and give it a name. I called mine "GPS Off".
- Tap the plus sign in the Task Edit screen and select "Misc".
- Tap "GPS" and make sure the "Set" drop-down is set to "Off". Then tap the checkbox.
There we go: with this profile in place, whenever Tasker notices that we've exited the Navigation app, it'll wait 1ms and then turn off GPS to save our battery -- and to keep Navigation from waiting too long to do it. This is an updated version of this GPS fix from the Tasker Wiki, only with up-to-date steps, as that version was written for a much older version of Tasker.
The only thing we have to do now is create a home screen shortcut to our original "Navigation" task. You'll want to use this shortcut in place of a shortcut directly to the Navigation app from now on -- after all, our Tasker task turns on GPS in advance so we avoid that "Waiting for GPS" problem, right? You're probably familiar with this process, but here's how, just in case:
- Go to your home screen, and tap the menu button and tap "Add". (Or long-press anywhere on the homescreen.)
- Select "Shortcuts" from the menu that appears.
- Scroll through the list until you see "Task Cut" and tap it. You'll see a list of your Tasker tasks. Select "Navigation".
- You'll see the task outline. Tap the Image Select button (to the right of the plus sign). You can choose an application icon, a built-in icon or a Tasker icon. Since we're replacing the actual shortcut to Navigation with this one, why not use the icon for Navigation? Tap "Application Icon" and scroll down to Navigation. Select it to return to the Shortcut screen.
- Tap the checkmark, and the Tasker task will appear on your desktop, with the icon you selected.
You only need the shortcut if you're not using the app. If you are using the app, the launch task has been set to be when you launch the Navigation app.
The Best Reader-Submitted Tasks
When we covered Tasker and App Factory's update last week, we received some impressive uses from readers. Here are a few of the ones we really liked.
Use Tasker As An Always-On Tool To Find A Lost Phone
What It Does: Lifehacker reader Helixthe2nd uses Tasker to monitor his incoming SMS messages for a "911" code sent by someone who absolutely needs to get a hold of him, even if he has the phone set to vibrate or sounds turned off:
Also having it monitor for texts that have a code in it that signals like 911. If a person just absolutely has to get a hold of me and my phone is on silent, they can text me and force my phone to yell until I deal with it. I don't care if I'm at work or a movie theatre, if my significant other needs me because of an emergency I'll make sure she can get in touch with me.
Specifically useful for those of us who mute our phones while we sleep but don't want to miss an important middle of the night call or message, or if we're in a meeting and have our phones muted or set to vibrate but are worried we'll miss an important or urgent message.
How to Install It: You have to change "911" to "000" for Australia, so you won't be able to install this one the easy way. You can tinker with the workflow in Tasker (the hard way), and we've also got the XML file so you can import it using the steps above. Be sure to change the "911" references to "000".
Use Tasker to Enable "Night Mode", Which Disables Sync and Adjusts Notification/Ringer/Media Volumes
What It Does: Lifehacker reader Justin Novack commiserated with us on how awful an idea it was for Android to merge notification volumes together -- email/SMS/alert notifications are the same volume as the ringer, which is the same volume as media playback. To get some sleep at night without worrying he'll miss an important call, he came up with this profile, which disables sync so his phone won't sound in the dark for every email, SMS or other notification he gets in the middle of the night. But the volume is still up so he'll here if someone calls.
Use Tasker To SMS Ahead On The Trip Home From Work
What It Does: This is another one from Justin, who described it like this:
The bottom script is the pièce de résistance, and the topic of discussion among all my friends. At a certain location, during a certain time, a text will be sent to my loving girlfriend letting her know I am on my way home. Being in IT, I never know when i am going to leave work. Rather than cook and have to reheat, SHE suggested I text her when I leave work, but I thought this was easier. :)
How to Install It: This one's a little tricky and will definitely require some customisation before you run it. You can import this XML file into Tasker and change the variables there, or you can download the XML to your computer and open it in a text editor modify it so it'll work on your phone.
First of all, you'll have to set the %Home variable, change the phone number (in the script it's "800-867-5309!") to the number you want to text, and you'll have to set the GPS location that you want to be the trigger for the SMS.
A few others have their own web tutorials that are worth looking over:
- Lifehacker reader Tony Bullard shared his DIY notifications system with us a while ago, but it's worth another good look if you're ready to ditch your nagging to-do app in favour of real, automatic recurring reminders.
- misterlee35 found a great walkthrough on how to make Tasker build a minimal, attractive SMS/call/email count on your desktop so you can see what you've missed.
- Dan Purnell stumbled on a pair of great recipes. The first one is a desktop shortcut for "Movie Mode", which simply sets the phone to vibrate with one tap, and another that starts recording audio through the phone's microphone without any indication that recording is taking place on-screen for all of those secret meetings you want to record. In fact, the whole thread is full of useful links and recipes.
- Ben Blincoe found a developer who's published many of his Tasker tasks to Google Play in the form of apps, including AutoRemote and AutoShortcut.
More Advanced Tasker Applications
These Tasker applications are great to get started with. Once you're familiar with Tasker though, you may want to take on some more challenging projects. For example, reader Bob Igo uses Tasker in conjunction with his home automation system to do everything from open the garage door when he gets home to announce when he's leaving the house. You can see some of the Tasker profiles he's developed and what they're used for at his Github page.
Similarly, make sure to check out the Advanced section in the Tasker Wiki for some ideas on more involved applications for Tasker that will test your skill with the app. For example, instead of just building a Tasker profile that gives you an icon to tap to set your phone to "Movie Mode", like we mentioned above, why not build one that tells Tasker to mute your phone automatically when you're at the GPS location of your favourite cinema? Or instead build a Tasker profile that, when you arrive at work each day, joins your office wireless, changes your phone wallpaper, and sets the phone to vibrate, but as soon as you're out of range of the office wireless, it turns the ringer back on, changes the wallpaper, and turns off Wi-Fi until you get home (where it can join your home network?)
The possibilities are endless, and only limited by the amount of time you want to put into automating your device.
Go Forth And Tweak!
The learning curve for Tasker and App Factory can be a little steep, but it's important to be patient, keep trying things and see what works. As you build profiles and tasks that work for you, test them out and see if they work. Make sure your syntax is correct, and you'll be set in no time. Also, don't hesitate to check out resources like the Tasker Wiki and the Tasker User Guide if you run into trouble. If you want to export your profiles as apps, App Factory makes it easy, and the App Creation Guide makes it even easier.