Microsoft’s on{x} for Android

Have you heard about Microsoft’s latest smartphone automation technology? It’s called on{x} (pronounced ‘on-ex’) and it allows you to automate your Android phone based on various triggers.

Through a combination of their website interface and mobile application that you install on your Android phone, on{x} allows you to use JavaScript to automate actions when certain triggers are activated. Triggers include things like, weather, time, battery level and location to name a few. One example of this functionality touted on their site (on{x}) is, “When I leave work, text my wife ‘I’m on my way home'”. Based on your location, your phone will automatically send your wife the text message. Another example, using a weather trigger, shows how detailed you can get; “Remind to take an umbrella the first time I unlock my phone, if it is going to be rainy”. As you can see, through a combination of triggers and actions you can get a bit more functionality from your phone.

I mentioned earlier that this technology uses JavaScript for its programming. Fortunately for many of you, you don’t have to be a programmer to use on{x}. The site uses what it calls recipes, which are editable human language sentences that are connected to the underlying JavaScript code. This provides an easy way to search for a previously written recipe and tweak it for your own use without ever having to touch any JavaScript code. For instance, with the recipe “Show me the weather forecast every day at 8:00 am if the expected temperature is below 50 Fahrenheit”, you can simply click on the time, temperature, and direction criteria to and change each value. Using a recipes interface like this opens up the new opportunities for non-programmers to customize their mobile phones using a simple natural-language syntax.

I’ve played with recipes for a day or two now and it really is an exciting technology that has great potential. Of the many “automations” I’ve experimented with, the first draw back I can see is GPS use. Any recipe that uses location as a trigger causes your phone to have your GPS constantly active which is a huge power drain. Obviously it is necessary for on{x} to monitor your location if you want your phone to know where you are, but having your GPS on for the eight hours while you are away from a wall charger is definitely going to take a toll on your phone battery. The only solution is to leave your phone tethered to a wall charger while you work which for some may not be an option. Also, what happens when you run out to grab lunch? That can be solved with some forward thinking changes to your recipe. One can simply change the recipe to “When I leave work, text my wife ‘I’m on my way’, if it is after 3pm”.

If you have an Android phone, head over to the on{x} website and give it a try. See what different ways you can come up with to automate your life and write about them here!

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