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Hey, Google: Maybe it’s time to take a lesson from Samsung

Whew! I don’t know if you heard, but Samsung held its first super-duper-neato special event of the year on Tuesday, and the company’s got a few new phones for us all to ogle.

The devices themselves seem fine enough, in their respective ways. I’ll sum ’em up quickly for you, because what I really want to talk about is something a bit deeper. So here’s the lowdown:

  • The Galaxy S20 is Samsung’s new main 2020 flagship. It comes in three models, all with 5G in the U.S., and they’re all about as Samsung as it gets: big screens, small bezels, and All The Specs™ — loads o’ numbers that look impressive on paper (108 megapixels! 8K video! 120Hz screens! 16GB of RAM!) but ultimately mean very little when it comes to real-world impact. They’re also expensive: $1,000 on the lower end and all the way up to $1,600 for the maxed-out top-of-the-line model.
  • The Galaxy Z Flip is a new horizontally-folding foldable phone — basically a better version of the recently released Motorola Razr, from the looks of it, and an interesting technological advancement but almost certainly something no normal person should actually buy at this point.

That’s the ultra-abbreviated version, anyway. The reality is that Samsung’s bound to sell a boatload of its Galaxy S20 phones, as it generally does with its primary new flagships — and that’s the area I really wanted to explore.

First, a quick pinch of context: Aside from creating appealing devices, Samsung has worked hard over the years to build up brand awareness and loyalty. Initially, that was driven by bold, memorable, and ubiquitous marketing — but then, at least in part, it turned into a bit of a self-propagating cycle. By that, I mean that the longer someone sticks with a particular style of Android phone and the more times they upgrade from one generation of that phone to another, the more likely they are to make that same sort of upgrade the next time the need arises.

Think about it: How many people do you know who bounce between different brands within Android? In my experience, outside of a small subset of enthusiasts, most people don’t even entertain the notion. They’ve had Galaxy phones for the past few cycles, so when the time to upgrade comes around, the only question they consider is which model and style of Galaxy phone they want to get. Just as smartphone platform preference has largely become tribalized, smartphone brand preference within Android seems to have turned into a mostly static quality.

And the effects of that go even deeper: When someone who doesn’t yet have a strong brand preference within Android looks to make a buying decision — an average phone-buyer, whether for individual or company-wide purposes — what do they think about first? More often than not, it’s what brand they know and see everywhere they look, both in the hands of their colleagues or companions and in the most prominent positions on store shelves. Once that cycle starts, it’s difficult to disrupt.

Samsung knows that, and it showed us this week just how carefully it’s working to reinforce that cycle — in a way that’s almost the polar opposite of what Google does with its Pixel line of phones.

Think about these bigger-picture takeaways from this week’s Samsung event and how much of a contrast they illustrate between Samsung’s smartphone selling approach and Google’s:

1. Samsung revealed that Galaxy S owners are waiting longer than ever to upgrade their devices.

This first one’s mostly just for context, but it’s important: The average upgrade cycle among Galaxy S owners, specifically, jumped from 22.6 months in 2016 to 26.6 months in 2019 — an increase of 18%, according to Samsung. That mirrors the industry-wide pattern we’ve been hearing about for a while now, but seeing Samsung acknowledge the same trend specific to Galaxy S owners — and seeing it get stated with the flat-out assumption that those Galaxy S owners are gonna upgrade to a new Galaxy S phone and not any other brand’s offering — is pretty telling.

It also leads us directly to our next point:

2. For the first time, Samsung is going to keep producing its previous-generation phone — the Galaxy S10 — and will sell all of those models for $150 less than their original prices.

This is something Apple has long done but most Android device-makers (Google included) have yet to come around to — and by golly, it makes so much sense, it almost hurts.

Yes, Samsung’s Galaxy S20 prices may be mildly outrageous, but if you don’t want to drop a cool grand or more on a bunch of cutting-edge technology you probably don’t need, well, now you can get last year’s still-quite-impressive Galaxy S10 phone for a much more palatable $750 price. Heck, you can go as low as $600, if you want to drop down to the still-perfectly-nice S10e model.

Google did this ever so briefly with the Pixel 2 back when the Pixel 3 came out, which gave me hope that it was adopting a similarly smart strategy — one that would be especially sensible with Pixel phones, by the by, being that they’re the only Android devices to receive a full three years of guaranteed operating system updates — but it turned out the company was just selling off whatever stock it had left as opposed to continuing to produce the older model as a deliberate, ongoing strategy. Alas.

And then there’s the biggest point of all:

3. Samsung is bending over backwards to encourage current Galaxy owners to upgrade.

Sure, the Galaxy S20 might be a thousand bucks — but if you’ve got a Galaxy S10, you can trade in your old phone and get the new one for a mere $400 (unlocked and off contract). Got a Note 10? Samsung will give you a $700 trade-in credit and sell you the new model for $300.

Even older Galaxy models come with decent trade-in discounts. The Galaxy S9 and Note 9, for instance, give you $300 off the price of a new phone. And if you’re coming from a Pixel, the Pixel 4 will net you a $600 credit, bringing the S20’s price down to $400. The 2018 Pixel 3 will get you $300 off the S20’s starting price. And even the midrange Pixel 3a will get you $200 off the price of a shiny new S20 phone.

Google has its own trade-in program for Pixel phone purchases, too, but it pales in comparison. The company offers a maximum of $265 in credit for a Galaxy S10 — less than half of what Samsung gives for that same device. Even for its own previous-gen Pixel 3, Google provides a maximum trade-in value of $165 toward a Pixel 4, compared to Samsung’s $300 credit for that same Google-made phone.

A widely cited adage states that acquiring a new customer costs five times more than retaining an existing customer. Samsung may not provide anywhere near Google’s level of post-sales software support — and hell, it even quietly sells its users’ data! — but when it comes time to think about a new phone purchase, Samsung clearly knows the value of reinforcing its relationship with existing customers and motivating them to stick with the Galaxy brand. Google, on the other hand, seems to make little more than a token effort.

(And this isn’t just on the phone front, either, incidentally: Over on the smart speaker side of things, where Amazon is absolutely slaughtering Google despite having an objectively worse product, Amazon wisely encourages Echo owners to trade in their older devices in order to receive a store credit plus an instant 25% off any new Echo product. Google puts out plenty of new smart speaker models but does absolutely nothing to encourage that same sense of brand loyalty and repeat purchasing among owners of its aging products.)

When I think about all the stuff Samsung announced this week, the phones are certainly everything everyone hoped they would be — eye-catching, technologically impressive, and probably the precise right amount of push forward needed to maintain Samsung’s mobile-tech dominance. But the circumstances surrounding those phones seem far more significant to me, especially in that bigger-picture sense of what Samsung’s doing to support its technology and reinforce the loyalty it’s worked so hard to create.

We can talk endlessly about the ways Google could position its Pixel phones and market them to the masses, but even if it manages to win over new users, it needs to come up with a smarter strategy for maintaining its momentum and creating a self-propagating cycle of customer loyalty. And, as Samsung’s reminding us all this week, it doesn’t have to look far to find an example of exactly how that oughta be done.

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[Android Intelligence videos at Computerworld]

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Come on, NSA, it’s time to join the fight against Windows hacking

It’s no secret that hackers the world over target Windows vulnerabilities in order to wreak havoc, hold up data and networks for ransom, pull off money-making scams, and disrupt elections and the workings of democracy. They target Windows for a simple reason: volume. The operating system is on the vast majority of desktop and laptop computers worldwide.

Over the years, the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has unwittingly helped hackers in some of the world’s most dangerous and notoriously successful attacks by developing tools to exploit Windows security holes, rather than alert Microsoft to those vulnerabilities. Some of the tools have been leaked to hackers and used in massive attacks, including the EternalBlue cyber-exploit, which was used in the WannaCry global ransomware attack that affected computers in more than 150 countries and is estimated to have caused billions of dollars in damage.

The NSA may be changing its ways, but perhaps not completely. In mid-January, the agency alerted Microsoft to a severe Windows security breach rather than develop tools to exploit it. Microsoft patched the hole, and the world — and your computer and data — is now safer.

That’s all to the good. But the NSA hasn’t gone nearly far enough in helping keep Windows safe from hackers. To understand why — and what the NSA ***should be doing — let’s start by looking back at EternalBlue and Microsoft’s very public spat with the NSA about its role in the attack.

In 2017, malicious Windows software developed by the NSA called EternalBlue was leaked by a group called the Shadow Brokers and used to launch WannaCry, the largest ransomware attack the world has ever seen. The software exploited the 30-year-old Windows networking protocol SMB1 that even Microsoft acknowledged at the time should no longer be used by anyone, anywhere, at any time.

The exploit lives on and has been used to launch successful ransomware attacks against the city of Baltimore and other municipalities. The New York Times noted in 2019: “Security experts say EternalBlue attacks have reached a high, and cybercriminals are zeroing in on vulnerable American towns and cities, from Pennsylvania to Texas, paralyzing local governments and driving up costs.”

When the WannaCry attack was first launched in 2017, Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote a blistering blog post about the NSA’s role in it. He noted that when the NSA finds security holes in Windows and other software, rather than alerting the appropriate vendors so they can quickly patch them, it instead stockpiles them and writes software to exploit them. He wrote: “This attack provides yet another example of why the stockpiling of vulnerabilities by governments is such a problem. … Repeatedly, exploits in the hands of governments have leaked into the public domain and caused widespread damage. An equivalent scenario with conventional weapons would be the U.S. military having some of its Tomahawk missiles stolen.”

He added, “The governments of the world should treat this attack as a wake-up call. They need to take a different approach and adhere in cyberspace to the same rules applied to weapons in the physical world. We need governments to consider the damage to civilians that comes from hoarding these vulnerabilities and the use of these exploits.”

Finally, he concluded that a Digital Geneva Convention should be convened, “including a new requirement for governments to report vulnerabilities to vendors, rather than stockpile, sell, or exploit them.”

Since then, there’s only been radio silence from the NSA. Presumably, the agency has been continuing to uncover Windows security holes and write malware to exploit it.

However, in mid-January the NSA changed its approach — at least for a moment. It uncovered an exceedingly dangerous security hole in Microsoft’s CryptoAPI service, which Windows uses to determine whether software being installed is legitimate, and to establish secure internet connections with web sites.

Kenn White, security principal at MongoDB and director of the Open Crypto Audit Project, explained to Wired magazine just how dangerous the hole is: “This is a core, low-level piece of the Windows operating system and one that establishes trust between administrators, regular users, and other computers on both the local network and the internet. If the technology that ensures that trust is vulnerable, there could be catastrophic consequences.”

For once, the NSA did the right thing. Instead of hoarding the Windows vulnerability and writing malware to take advantage of it, the agency warned Microsoft about it. Microsoft quickly issued a patch. There’s no evidence that any hackers have been able to take advantage of the hole.

All that is to the good. But the NSA hasn’t said it will follow Smith’s recommendation to report all Windows and other vulnerabilities, rather than stockpile them and write malware to exploit them. The Times reports, “It was not clear how much of a strategic shift the agency’s announcement amounted to. The agency presumably is still hunting for vulnerabilities and flaws that could allow them to infiltrate Iranian computer systems, as well as those used by Russia, China and other adversarial countries.”

As we’ve seen, though, the NSA’s actions in doing that make the United States and the world a less safe place, not a safer one. Microsoft’s Smith is right. In the same way governments of the world recognized in the Geneva Convention that some weapons and ways of waging war should be outlawed, they need to ban countries from stockpiling cyber-vulnerabilities and writing Windows malware and other software to take advantage of them. What the NSA did in January was a good first step. But it should follow through and never again stockpile Windows and other vulnerabilities, and instead report them to software makers so they can plug them and keep us safe.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Top web browsers 2020: Edge passes IE for the first time, 4-1/2 years after launch

After three months of gains, in January Microsoft’s browsers flipped to the “Decline” setting and shed user share. And for the first time, Microsoft’s newer browser, Edge, posted a larger share than the aged veteran Internet Explorer (IE).

According to data published Saturday by analytics company Net Applications, Microsoft’s January browser share – a combination of Edge and IE – fell by six-tenths of a percentage point to 13.6%. On its own IE dropped almost nine-tenths of a point – that browser’s largest one-month decline since September 2019 – but Edge’s increase of three-tenths of a percentage point nullified some of the older browser’s loss.

For January, IE recorded a user share of 6.6%, while Edge posted 7%. It was the first time since Edge’s mid-2015 debut in its original form that that browser bested IE. (Microsoft relaunched Edge on Jan. 15 as a browser built atop Chromium, the Google-led open-source project whose technologies also power Chrome.)

Although IE might again occasionally edge Edge in user share, the trend will almost certainly be IE’s continued decline. The browser will be supported on Windows 7 for three years and Windows 10 for likely as long, but it’s a dead end kept alive only to keep enterprise customers from revolting. Even Edge’s integrated “IE mode” will eventually be retired.

Meanwhile, Edge’s portion of Windows 10’s browser activity – a measurement Computerworld has touted as a better indicator of the browser’s mettle than user share on all personal computers – ended January at 12.3%, the same number as the month before, hinting that there was little new demand for the revamped Chromium-based Edge on Windows 10, or the other platforms (Windows 7, Windows 8.1, macOS) that it runs on, for that matter.

Edge’s user share performance will be worth watching in 2020, as Microsoft has staked everything on the all-Chromium clone of Chrome, what with IE relegated to a legacy role and the original Edge a complete flop. Going for the new Edge: Microsoft’s reputation in supporting its software in the enterprise, primarily through its management chops. Against it: Chrome’s dominance in corporations, unequal management be damned, and strangely enough, Microsoft’s odd decision to force Chrome in Office 365 environments to default to Bing as its search engine.

If Microsoft perseveres – resistance has mounted, with users and IT administrators denouncing the decision – and weds Chrome to Microsoft Search for Office 365 tenants, it’s annulling one of the most obvious reasons enterprises would adopt Edge.

That just seems odd.

Firefox slumps to share low not seen since 2016

In January, Firefox gave up two-tenths of a percentage point of user share, sliding to 8.1%, the lowest mark since August 2016.

Last month was the eighth straight that Firefox’s user share was lower than 9 percentage points, also a record. (Firefox had a four-month slump in the summer of 2016, but it bounced back, climbing to 13% before it again started the decline that continues.)

Nor is the forecast anything but depressing for Mozilla. That prediction – based, as always, on the 12-month average of changes – now has Firefox slipping under 8% as early as April and falling to 7% by September. Both dates are sooner than the forecast of a month ago because of the January dip.

That’s the last thing Mozilla needs at the moment. It’s 2018 finances showed slightly greater expenditures than income. More recently, the organization admitted it had failed to make its revenue goals, which had included significant subscription moneys, and laid off 70 employees.

Firefox-related subscriptions can’t save Mozilla if Firefox has fewer and fewer users.

Can anything unseat Chrome?

Chrome turned it around – somewhat – in January, adding three-tenths of a point to its user share to end the month at 66.9%. (Ironically, that was the same number Chrome hit in February 2019.)

The small gain put an end to a three-month stretch of losses, a first for Chrome. It also softened the impact of Chrome’s 12-month downturn so that Computerworld‘s forecast now predicts the browser stays about 66% well through this year and all of next. Without considerably more turbulence in Chrome’s share movement, there’s no chance Google loses its top-of-the-heap spot.

Considering the weakness of Firefox, the only viable threat to Chrome has to be Edge, Microsoft’s attempt to supplant the leader with, well, the leader’s step-sister.

Safari’s explosive growth? Yeah, that didn’t happen

And here we thought that Apple’s Safari was making a huge comeback on the Mac. Not so, said Net Applications.

“Due to changes made to the user agent in iPadOS 13, iPads were identified as macOS devices,” the California metrics vendor wrote on its website. “This change propagated progressively from September to December and required an adjustment to the data in that timeframe.”

In other words, by mistakenly tallying iPads running iPadOS 13, which launched in September, as macOS-powered devices, Net Applications overestimated not only the share of macOS but also of anything running on it, like Safari.

In Safari’s case, the differences between the contemporaneous shares and those recently adjusted to remove the iPadOS data were dramatic. In December, for instance, Net Applications had pegged Safari’s user share as 6%.That month’s adjusted share: just 3.8%.

The other months from September on showed similar variance between original and adjusted shares. November’s 5.3% (reported at the time) fell to 3.6% (adjusted by eliminating iPadOS); October’s 4.8% became 3.4%; and September’s 4.4% sunk to 3.4%.

In January, Safari added another five-tenths of a percentage point to climb to 4.2%, meaning that during 2019 Safari grew by less than one-tenth of a point, not the gargantuan-in-comparison 2.3 percentage points Computerworld reported a month ago.

Frankly, the very large gains by Safari should have raised eyebrows and questions. Instead, Computerworld posited that Safari’s growth “demonstrated that Chrome can be vulnerable, at least in some spaces.”

How naive.

Net Applications calculates user share by detecting the agent strings of the browsers people run to reach the websites of Net Applications’ clients. The firm tallies visitor sessions to measure browser activity.

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Time waits for no code

This pilot fish working for a large aerospace and defense contractor finds the time reporting onerous, and the reason is not a badge of honor for the company. It had gotten into a bit of trouble for telling employees to add cost overruns from fixed-price contracts to cost-plus contracts.

Since the government doesn’t like being bilked, the company had to refund a lot of money and implement new time-tracking and -reporting procedures.

Codes had to be looked up, and fish can easily spend more than a quarter of an hour per day just entering his time. Since the reporting is done in increments of 15 minutes, he asks what the charge code is for entering time. Too soon. No one appreciated the humor.

Some time after that, there is an edict: Don’t report unpaid overtime. Employees have learned that all their time has to be accounted for, so they’re entering extra hours that they worked but didn’t get paid for. That made HR and legal nervous, and thus the crackdown.

Unwanted side effect: Everyone wanted staff to do their work during that unpaid overtime, so it wouldn’t be charged to their contract.

Sharky would love for you to take some time to send me your true tales of IT life at [email protected]. You can also subscribe to the Daily Shark Newsletter.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Save time with efficiency-boosting Android apps

Your phone is now essentially your personal assistant — and like any aide, it needs the right set of tools to do its job effectively.

The good news? As an Android user, you’ve got no shortage of efficiency-enhancing options. Unlike other mobile platforms, Android affords you the opportunity to customize and control the core user interface to make it better suited to your needs. And while the more advanced UI-adjusting tools tend to be targeted at the power-user crowd, you don’t have to be a card-carrying geek to take advantage of what they offer.

Behold: six innovative apps that’ll empower your favorite high-tech helper and allow it to reach its full productivity potential.

Price: $2

Google is pushing Android toward a gesture-driven future — but even if you’re lucky enough to be running Android 10 already, you don’t have to limit yourself to the gestures Google gives you.

You can actually create your own custom gesture system right now with Edge Gestures. The app allows you to add all sorts of time-saving shortcuts into your device and make them work exactly the way you want, either as a supplement to Android’s own system-level gestures or as a standalone replacement.

Edge Gestures lets you create up to three gesture-sensitive hot zones on your screen — on the left, on the right, and along the bottom of the display. Realistically, you’ll probably only need to activate one of those, as each contains more than enough opportunities for custom commands via combinations of tapping, swiping, and holding movements. For instance, you could set the app to take you back to your home screen anytime you long-press anywhere in a hot zone, to open Android’s Overview section whenever you swipe up on the area, and to act as the system Back key whenever you swipe right on it.

You can create similar sorts of actions for adjusting your screen’s brightness, opening your notification or Quick Settings panel, and toggling Android’s split-screen mode. You can also enable a “pie control” option that adds a tiny translucent button onto the hot zone. Pressing and holding that button pulls up a pie-shaped semicircle of your favorite shortcuts; you can then swipe to any of them for easy on-demand access to those apps from anywhere.

Android efficiency apps - Edge Gestures JR Raphael / IDG

Edge Gestures’ “pie control” feature lets you easily access your favorite apps from anywhere.

All of this makes for a more natural and ergonomic phone-using experience, especially on a device with a larger screen (where it typically takes a fair amount of finger yoga to reach the top or bottom areas of the display). And the possibilities with this thing are practically endless — which takes us to our next efficiency-enhancing item:

Price: $2

Give your custom gestures some extra pop with Popup Widget 3 — a thoughtfully crafted app that works hand in hand with Edge Gestures to summon some impressive powers.

Created by the same developer as Edge Gestures, Popup Widget 3 lets you keep any regular Android widget at finger’s reach, no matter what you’re doing on your phone. You just assign the widget to an action — like swiping over to the right from your Edge Gesture hot zone — and then whenever you perform that action, the widget will appear as a floating box over whatever else is on your screen.

Computerworld > Android efficiency apps > Pop-up widget JR Raphael / Computerworld

With Popup Widget 3, you can always keep your inbox a single swipe away.

That means you could pull up and scroll through things like your inbox, your message list, or your personal notes simply by swiping your finger on the side of your screen — without ever having to switch apps or interrupt your workflow.

Price: free

In most desktop computing environments, you can launch any app anytime by using the always-present taskbar (or Dock). It doesn’t matter what programs are open or what you’re actively doing; there’s rarely a need to “return to your home screen” in order to scroll through your full collection of apps and open something new.

On the mobile front, it’s typically a different story. But you can change that by installing Taskbar, which brings an always-present app-launching interface onto your Android device. The bar is just a small and translucent arrow that lives in the lower-left corner of your screen. Tap it, and you’ll see a familiar all-apps button that pulls up a list of every app installed on your device — along with, if you’d like, a list of your recently used apps and/or pinned favorites.

android efficiency apps taskbar JR Raphael / IDG

Taskbar brings a desktop-like touch to your mobile device, and yet it’s barely noticeable when you aren’t actively using it.

You can even customize the main app list to omit certain apps or to prioritize specific apps that you want to appear before any others. And a bonus: Taskbar works on Chrome OS, too, giving you an interesting additional option for accessing Android apps on your Chromebook.

Price: free with limited phrases or $3.50 for unlimited phrases and advanced phrase lists

Tired of typing the same stuff over and over? (Who isn’t?) Texpand and its even more capable Texpand Plus sibling can save you time by storing your most commonly used expressions — your mailing address, phone number, stock responses to emails and messages, or even variables like the current date — and then letting you pull them up and insert them into text fields via your own custom macros.

You might set *a to represent your address, for instance, and *d to represent the current date. Anytime you type those macros into a text field, a box will pop up with the associated phrase you set. All you have to do is tap it to insert the words — or if you’d rather skip the confirmation and just have your text fill in automatically, you can set Texpand to do that, too.

With Texpand Plus, you can even create lists of phrases that get triggered by certain macros and then appear for your field-inserting selection.

Android efficiency apps - Texpand JR Raphael / IDG

Texpand can insert phrases or let you pick from lists of phrases whenever you type a specific macro.

There’s just one asterisk: Texpand is incompatible with a handful of apps — which unfortunately includes Gmail, Google Docs, and Chrome. The developer came up with a reasonable workaround for those scenarios, though: You can keep Texpand available in your notification panel and then drag and drop your phrases directly into apps where the macros won’t work.

Either way, it’s a significant upgrade to your mobile typing experience.

Price: free with $7 in-app upgrade for advanced features

No matter how much you may supplement it, your smartphone’s home screen invariably serves as a starting point for your mobile productivity needs — and a simple step up from your device’s default setup can make it much more useful and efficient.

The key is to employ something called a custom launcher, which takes over the entire home screen environment and replaces it with a more versatile and/or powerful alternative. You can find launchers for practically every style and purpose on Android, but one that’s long stood out to me is an inventive little creation called Action Launcher.

Action Launcher has oodles of interesting features and opportunities for customization. One such example: It allows you to store on-demand widgets in every home screen icon, which helps you packs a lot of functionality into a single space without creating any clutter. You just swipe upward on an icon to open its widget, effectively letting you peek inside the app and gain access to its key elements right then and there.

android efficiency apps action launcher JR Rapahel / IDG

Action Launcher lets you swipe up on an app’s icon to access its widget, keeping your home screen uncluttered and yet packed with valuable functionality.

Another helpful feature lets you customize your home screen’s long-press menu to make it more practical for your own personal needs. You might give the menu a direct shortcut to your device’s battery stats, for instance, or a one-touch option for browsing your phone’s storage. Functions that are typically several steps away can thus be at your fingertips — and you can take care of most basic productivity tasks right from your home screen, without having to waste time poking around.

Price: free with $2 in-app upgrade for custom themes

Last but not least, give your standard system app drawer an upgrade with LaunchBoard, a handy app that makes it speedy as can be to find any app you need from your home screen — regardless of what sort of setup you’re using.

The way LaunchBoard works is simple: Once you place its widget on your home screen, you’ll see a special keyboard that remains open and ready for fast-finding action. When you want to open an app, all you do is tap its first letter within that keyboard. In a split second, LaunchBoard will pull up a list of all apps that begin with that letter — no searching or scrolling required.

android efficiency apps launchboard JR Raphael / IDG

Tap a letter in LaunchBoard’s widget-based keyboard, and you’ll be able to get to the app you want without any searching or scrolling.

You can set frequently used apps as favorites, which makes them appear at the start of the results whenever their letter is pressed. You can also always access your favorites by tapping a special heart icon within the LaunchBoard keyboard — and you can pull up a list of recently used apps by tapping a clock icon in that same area.

And here’s where things get especially interesting: In addition to serving as, well, a launchboard for your apps, LaunchBoard can act as an expedited way to find and get in touch with any of your contacts. Once you activate the appropriate option within LaunchBoard’s settings, its keyboard will pull up contacts by letter with the speed of lightning (either showing them alongside your apps or instead of your apps, depending on your preference). And a single tap of any contact can either initiate a call or a text; all it takes is a toggle of a setting to change your preferred behavior.

Use LaunchBoard in conjunction with some of the other tools in this collection, and what you need will always be nearby and easy to manage — no matter what you might be doing on your device at any given moment. And that, dear readers, is what efficiency is all about.

This article was originally published in July 2017 and most recently updated in December 2019.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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