You can’t talk about automating your Android without mentioning Tasker, which basically allows you to fully automate your Android device based on your every whim.
Once Tasker is mentioned in conversation, there is usually discussion about how utterly powerful and flexible it is. Shortly after this, there is further discussion about how all this power resides in an app that is not all that user-friendly. There is some truth to this.
Tasker is insanely useful and configurable, but it can get overwhelming. However, I believe that anyone can understand and use Tasker without getting a second degree. We’ve previously covered the basic concepts and features of Tasker, so this post will go into detail on how to make Tasker work for you.
If you want to know more about the app, check our our full review of Tasker!
Contexts, Actions, and Profiles
At the heart of everything in Tasker is the concept of an if-then conditional statement. If a certain set of conditions are true, then Tasker will execute a specific Action. This certain set of conditions is referred to as a Context. We run into these situations every day:
- If it’s raining, then take an umbrella.
- If the car needs gas, then fill it up.
- If hungry, then eat.
- If mother-in-law calls, then send to voicemail.
Not sure on that last one, but you get the picture. When you take your set of conditions or Context and combine it with the Action you aim to complete, this is called a Profile in the world of Tasker. This opens up the realm of possibilities to have your device react to the world around it automatically. For instance:
- If the device is placed face-down, then disconnect the current call.
- If the headset is connected, then pop-up a menu of media applications.
- If the device is charging in the car, then switch to car mode.
- If the GPS detects that the phone is away from home, then turn off WiFi until returning.
Your First Profile: GPS Automation
One of the biggest struggles most people have with their Android and other mobile devices is battery life. This is why there are so many apps on the Android Market that aim to save your battery (such as Juice Defender). One of the easiest ways to save your juice is to turn off stuff like WiFi, Bluetooth, and GPS when you’re not actually using them – the problem lies in remembering to turn these features off and having to go through the hassle of turning them back on when you need them. This is one area where Tasker shines.
Let’s create a Profile that will automatically turn on GPS when you launch certain apps, and turn it off again when you’re done.
Once you launch Tasker, hit the ‘+’ sign to create a new Profile. Naming things in Tasker is optional and you can always go back and name things later, but let’s go ahead and call this one “GPS Automation.” Hit the green check mark to continue.
Since we want something to happen the moment we launch an application, our First Context here will be Application.
It will take a minute, but Tasker will eventually load up all of your installed applications. Scroll through and choose any applications you think should have GPS enabled on launch. As you tap each app, you will see it highlighted to let you know it will be included. You don’t have to do anything special to include multiple apps in this Context. Hit the green check when you’re done.
Now that we’ve defined our Context, we need to select a Task. This is the thing that happens once our Context becomes reality. In this case, we need the GPS turned on when these specific apps are launched. So, we hit New Task to get started here.
A Task can actually be a set of actions that you want the phone to do. Once you create your task, you can start adding actions to it. Click the ‘+’ sign to add your first action.
Now, we need to select a category. We’re looking to turn the GPS on, so we need the find this action. For some reason, Tasker puts this in the Misc category. You’ll notice that the actual GPS action has a gear icon on it. This means that, once we set it to turn on in your Context, it will automatically return to whatever state it started in when our Context is no longer valid.
We are now done creating a simple Profile for automating our GPS when launching certain apps. Again, because the GPS action is a standard setting, our job is made easier. It turns on when we launch our specified apps and turns back off once we exit the app. This all happens automatically without us having to think about it.
Once you’ve click the green check, you’ll be back at the main Tasker screen which lists all your profiles. You should see the one we just created here with a green check next to it. If you get tired of having your GPS activate automatically when you need it and shut off when you don’t, you can disable the profile by clicking the green check next to the profile. This disables it.
Shut Up at Work
You’re in a big meeting concerning an extremely important project. Everyone is focused on the speaker, but is suddenly distracted as someone’s phone starts belting out “My milkshake brings on the boys to the yard.” You realize in horror that the noise is coming from your own pocket and everyone eyes you impatiently as you fumble to get your Android quiet. There are few things more embarrassing than your phone ringing at the wrong time, but Tasker is here to help.
This next profile will check your calendar for you and automatically put your phone on silent when you’re supposed to be in a meeting. First things first, let’ s create a new profile by hitting the ‘+’ button on the main Tasker screen. Names are optional, as always.
For this Profile, our First Context will be a State.
As the name implies, a State context refers to the current state of your Android device. These contexts let you take action when your phone is docked, positioned in a certain way, connected to a power source, or any of a bunch of other options. For this profile, we need to choose the App state category.
The next step is to select an App Action, which will be Calendar Entry in this case. This allows us to take an action based on the state or details of our calendar.
The Calendar Entry state is extremely flexible. You can choose to be very specific, specifying Title, Description, and even which calendar to check. You could also choose to be vague by only specifying a few values or all events at which you’ve indicated you will be busy. For our use, we will look for events with the title set to “Meeting.”
Hit the green check and we are now ready to set up our task. This time, we jump into the Audio category and choose the Silent Mode action.
Silent Mode has three options to choose from: Off, Vibrate, and On. These options are pretty self-explanatory, so I’ll explain them:
- Off – your device will ring as usual.
- Vibrate – your device will only vibrate.
- On – your device won’t make a peep.
Depending on your preference, you’ll either want On or Vibrate. I usually opt for vibrate even when I need the device silent because I’m worried I’ll forget to turn my ringer back on and miss everything. As far as Tasker goes, you should be able to choose Silent without worries because Tasker will automatically fix your ringer once your meeting is scheduled to be done.
Wi-Fi At Home
Here is a simple profile that also aims to save battery by controlling which radios are turned on. You probably have Wi-Fi at home. You might be aware that using Wi-Fi not only saves your data plan, but also uses less battery than your standard cellular data connection. The problem is, we often forget to turn on this feature when it’s available or we just walk around with Wi-Fi enabled at all times. Either case drains your battery unnecessarily, so we will automate this process.
Not only does this Profile aim to save your battery, but it also allows us to use one of the more interesting Contexts in Tasker: Location! As your First Context, choose Location and then New Location. This brings up a map where we can get a fix on our current location. Since we’ve already touched on the fact that GPS drains battery, it also worth mentioning that it doesn’t work well when you’re inside. For these two reasons, we want to disable GPS for our location in this profile.
Disable GPS by hitting the GPS button. The green light should shut off. We want to use the Net option here, which uses less battery and is accurate enough for our purposes. If you have your WiFi on while getting a fix for your current location, it should give you more accurate results.
Once you’ve got a fix, hit the green check to choose a task. For our Action Category, we will Choose Net and then WiFi. Be sure to set it to On.
Done. That’s it.
Keep It Simple, Stupid!
As I said earlier, it’s generally accepted that Tasker is the most powerful and flexible app around for automating your Android. It’s also widely accepted that it’s the most complicated and difficult app to get your head around. Just because Tasker is capable of duplicating the advanced functionality of apps like Juice Defender or the Reminders feature of iOS 5, that doesn’t mean you have to understand all its gory details.
The key to not getting overwhelmed by Tasker is to keep it simple. You don’t have to understand all the available options and abilities to get amazing use from this app. The first profile I created simply used the Say action to say something funny when I plugged in my charger (yes, Tasker can make your Android talk). The most useful currently is a variation of the Meeting profile above. Just have fun with it and see what happens!