With Android 7.1 Nougat, Google has introduced a feature called app shortcuts that will seem familiar to fans of Windows phone and the iPhone. But this feature goes well beyond similar functionality on other mobile platforms.
Yes, we’re getting into the weeds a bit here.
As I write this, only those lucky few with a Google Pixel or Pixel XL smartphone, or the even smaller crowd with a Nexus 6P, Nexus 5X, or Pixel C enrolled in the Android 7.1 Developer Preview program can experience this and other new Android 7.1 features. Sorry about that. But as I’ve done for over 20 years now, the focus remains on the new and cutting edge and, for many, the future.
In any event, Google is finally introducing its app shortcuts feature, tying together two major functional advantages of competing mobile platforms and, in doing so, creating something that is both unique and superior.
So what does that mean?
Back in Windows Phone 7 “Mango,” Microsoft introduced a platform feature called deep linking, which allowed apps to create secondary tiles that users could put on their Start screens to access specific functionality. The Weather app is an obvious example: While you can access the through its normal entry point using the standard tile or the app icon in All Apps, the app also lets you create secondary tiles for individual locations. So, you can “pin” special weather tiles for places like Dedham, Paris, and Amsterdam, for example. You do so from within the app.
Apple, meanwhile, added a feature called 3D Touch to iOS 9, though this functionality requires a newer iPhone. Working in tandem with an unnecessary haptic effect, 3D Touch lets the user press and hold on an app icon on the Home screen and display a context menu of options.
It’s like right-clicking on icons in Windows, yes, and while all mobile platforms have supported a “press and hold” action for some time now, displaying a context menu off an icon has been unique to iOS. Until now.
Android 7.1’s app shortcuts work like 3D Touch in iOS in that you can now press and hold on compatible app icons to display a context menu of app shortcuts. But they also improve on that idea by incorporating the deep linking functionality from Windows phone. That is, you can drag any app shortcut in an app context menu to the home screen and create a new shortcut icon, a new entry point, for that app.
The App shortcuts feature also doesn’t require haptic hardware or a newer phone because Google doesn’t treat its users like ATM machines. You just press and hold on an icon and it works. (Assuming that the app supports this feature.)
It is, in other words, the best of both worlds. And I feel that, by adding the deep linking functionality directly to the app shortcuts that appear when you press and hold on an icon, Google has made this feature easier to discover. Now, you don’t even need to dive into an app to discover the available app shortcuts.
App shortcuts are available on many of the Google-made apps that are included in Android 7.1, of course. Google Play Music provides shortcuts for such things as Recent Activity, My Library, and I’m Feeling Lucky, for example. And since I pretty much always want to go right to my own music collection in that app, using a My Library icon on my home screen may make more sense than using the stock Google Play Music icon.
Some built-in apps do not include any context menu at all, and perhaps some never will. But we’re already starting to see third-party apps support this feature. For example, Evernote now displays an app shortcut menu on Android 7.1.
In short, app shortcuts are nice because they provide a handy way for switchers coming from iOS or Windows phone to utilize functionality they’re used to in an even better way. And because this feature really helps you customize your phone in ways that will be meaningful to you and really help make it yours.
I just wish more people could experience it.
Tagged with Android N