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Tasker: One App to Rule Them All
device
jducoeur
My thanks to kcoram for this pointer to Tasker, which has to be the most insanely complicated but useful app ever written for a phone. It's Android-only, and likely to stay Android-only, because it's a bit hard to imagine Apple allowing anybody to do anything this powerful on an iPhone.

Basically, it's a visual, event-based programming environment for your Android phone. You describe a particular state (a time range, an application running, turning the phone upside-down, whatever) and what you want to do during that state (change the brightness, turn off the sound, move files, play music, etc), and it will do that at the appropriate times. From the look of it, it's preposterously flexible: there's an entire wiki (and not a tiny one) dedicated to how to make use of it. I suspect that it's not my mother's cup of tea, but for the power-tools geek who wants to make their phone really behave, it looks completely charming.

I've only just started playing with it, but I figure that, for six bucks, it's well worth the money for any one of the dozens of things I can probably use it for. Fabulous little toy...

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I'd be curious to see if you notice a drop in battery life. I've looked at Tasker, and while it seems nifty, it looks like it's overkill for what I might want, and I'm worried that the constant state monitoring might further erode battery performance, which is mediocre, at best.

A plausible concern. I'll need to run it longer to have good data, but it looks at this point like it's taking a moderate but not excessive amount of battery -- ballpark of 5% of overall usage. Not trivial, but it's currently showing as about tenth on the usage list. (No need to be anecdotal about the battery life, since the phone monitors power usage.)

As for overkill, I can't actually agree: I've barely scratched the surface, and I think I've already figured out how to fix my two biggest gripes about using the thing in the car. (When I plug it into the car dock, I want it to read incoming SMS messages to me out loud, and I want all phone calls to turn on the speakerphone.) That level of control is pretty sweet, and the thing is getting more impressive the more I look at it...

I haven't found a great deal of granularity in the default battery usage monitor. The only time I recall seeing it list individual applications are when they make heavy use of the GPS. Perhaps I'm missing a setting, or need to find a better monitor on the market.

I don't have the Moto car dock, yet, and was debating between that and a more generic mounting clamp of some sort. I know there's a car dock app that I assumed activated when the phone was in the Moto dock, but haven't had a chance to play with it. I would have thought the things you're describing were exactly the sorts of things that the dock app should let you control.

Far as I can tell, the battery meter just ignores anything below 1%, and it doesn't separate out things that wind up in the kernel. But it does separate out apps, and seems to show me the ones I most care about.

And I agree in principle that the car dock app ought to be able to do that sort of thing, but it's really not that smart -- it's mostly just a launcher with some big buttons. Far as I know, it does little or nothing to control the behaviour of the apps it launches.

(To be fair, getting the UI controls right for stuff like this is kind of complex: it's not totally surprising that it requires a high-power environment like Tasker to manage it. But yeah, the car dock is pretty simplistic...)

I downloaded Tasker last night, and have set up a bunch of profiles. I'm quickly coming to the more useful than overkill camp.

I'm still puzzled by your description of the battery meter. The only time I recall seeing individual apps listed there were those that were making constant GPS use. For example, in the six hours since I unplugged from the charger this morning, I haven't done much more than use it while biking. As I was getting ready to leave, I fired up Pandora and started streaming music for the ride, and once I was outside, I loaded My Tracks, to record my route using the GPS. I locked the screen off, since it was hidden by my holster, anyway. On coming back, I uploaded the track stats to a Google Docs spreadsheet, but that was mostly it. But Tasker was running all this time, too. And my battery usage now shows as:

My Tracks: 69%
Display: 14%
Cell Standby: 13%
Phone Idle: 5%

That's it, and covers most of what I see in there. Display is usually the biggest percentage, when I've been using the phone a fair bit.

Huh -- don't know why the discrepancy. I see more usage than that; mine currently shows:

Phone idle: 24%
Cell standby: 18%
Display: 14%
Android System: 13%
Email: 8%
Android OS: 7%
TasKiller: 7%
Wi-Fi: 4%
Facebook: 2%
Twitter: 2%
Gmail: 2%

The only real surprise there is TasKiller, but I've been starting to conclude that I need to move away from the interactive mode of that app. Tasker doesn't even make it into the list, on its first full day of simply running-in-the-taskbar use. (It was more conspicuous yesterday, but I spent a bunch of time in it, fiddling around.)

Which version of Android are you using? And are you still on the Moto Droid? The two phones I've used were both on 2.1, and had similar battery usage meters. I've never seen entries for Andoid System or Android OS, for example, either. Odd that Moto would have such a different meter in the Droid X.

My phone is running GMail, of course, but that account is just for phone syncing, and rarely gets mail. I have K9 mail connected to four IMAP mailboxes via Idle Push (i.e. I get instant Push notifications if any of them get mail). They've never shown up in the battery usage meter, either. It'll be interesting to see if that changes when they push Froyo out to the Droid X in a week or two (maybe).

I played a bit with some task killers when I had the Galaxy S phone, before returning it for the defective GPS. Having done some more reading and experimenting, I stopped, and just let the system clean up after itself, for the most part. I can still target and kill a particular app with the System Info app if I need to, and Startup Auditor lets me prevent a few bits of bloatware from ever running. I never installed a general task killer since I got the Droid X.

I'm on a Droid 1, running Froyo (2.2). Are we talking about the same battery meter? I'm looking at this from Home -> Settings -> About phone -> Battery Use; AFAIK, it's the Android-standard battery meter.

I use my communications tools *very* intensely, including Gmail; indeed, Gmail proved to be the phone's killer app for me. I'm a bit surprised that Facebook is taking up so much battery time, and may need to squash that, since I don't use it that one heavily. (Twitter gets more of a pass, since I do have the latest-tweet widget on my home screen.)

I suspect I'm more paranoid about task killing than I need to be, although I do like to have the fine-grained control available to me. In particular, everything I've seen seems to indicate that Android is smart about cleaning up *memory* usage, but not necessarily *power* usage. Whether it's worth the hassle still remains to be seen...

On the Droid X, they moved it so that it's Home -> Settings -> Battery Manager -> Battery Use. There's no battery usage info in About Phone. It still looks the same as the usage meter that was under About Phone on the Galaxy S, which showed about the same info I'm seeing.

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Hmm. Both of those *might* be possible in Tasker, although I'm not sure offhand. It definitely allows customization of phone and SMS based on both time and the other party; not sure whether it will do so for email alerts. I'm still learning the system...

Huh. I had hoped that Android would do a better job of giving you that control out of the box. Not being able to customize alerts from email based on rules is one of the limitations I find baffling in the iPhone, but it sounds like you have to use RIM to really get fine-grained control of that...

You can do this using Tasker and the K9 email client, which is apparently the only one that currently supports Tasker. This isn't a hardship for me, since I was using K9 before Tasker, anyway.

It's not pretty or elegant, and it probably takes more profiles that it should, but it's doable. Basically, one of the things Tasker can trigger on is new email, and the trigger can optionally specify regexp matches for sender and/or subject. I'd much prefer to be able to say "Is this sender in my address book" but that doesn't seem implemented, alas. (Or I haven't found it.) I was, though, able to set a custom notification ringtone if I received mail from our family domain. It would be possible to add a time constraint to this, too.

Generally, I've found Android to be way more flexible than the iPhone. If something can't be done on Android, it's likely because nobody has yet gotten around to implementing it, rather than Steve Jobs insisting that you shouldn't be able to do that.

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