So you know the basics of Android, but what next? Our first real stop on the road to mastering Google’s mobile OS is to help you understand how to manage and organize your installed applications, deal with settings and permissions, or get rid of applications you don’t want.
Apps are great, but the more you download, the more your phone feels cluttered, and those apps take up precious storage. Managing your apps is all about uninstalling the stuff you don’t need, and organizing your shortcuts so finding the app you need isn’t like finding a needle in a haystack.
We’ll also discuss managing your account from Google Play. You may not know that much about app permissions, so we’ll explain that, and we’ll also explain how to turn auto-updates off.
Finally, we’ll actually dig deep into the application settings to show you the amount of power that Android gives you over your apps. There’s so much there that you may not even know about: you can force apps to stop, clear out the data cache, and perform other troubleshooting steps when things go haywire.
Manage Your Home Screen Shortcuts
In the last lesson, we talked about the home screen and app drawer. Your entire collection of apps appears in your app drawer, but your home screen is where you can really customize things. You can show only the shortcuts you want, put them in folders, and otherwise organize them for maximum efficiency. Here are all the useful things you can do.
Adding a Shortcut to Your Home Screen
To add a shortcut to your home screen, first open the app drawer and find the app you want. Tap and hold on its icon. The app drawer will fade from view and you will see you home screen.
You can drop the icon wherever you want. Drag the shortcut to the screen edge if you want to place your shortcut on a different home screen.
Once you’ve chosen where you want to place the shortcut, simply release your finger.
Rearranging Shortcuts on the Home Screen
If you want to rearrange shortcuts so they’re in a certain order, you can easily move them around. Just choose the shortcut you want to move, long-press it, then drag it to where you want it to be. An outline of the icon will show up to show you were it’ll be placed. It’s all really intuitive.
If you want to move a shortcut to where another shortcut already resides, simply “nudge” the one you want to supplant out of the way. See the screenshot below and note how the Camera icon battles the Play Store for the honor of sitting in the bottom-right corner. Victory for the camera!
Removing Shortcuts from the Home Screen
To remove shortcuts from your home screen, simply long-press the one you want to delete, and then flick it to towards the top of the screen. It’s both effective and satisfying!
If you’re not the flicking type, you can also drag it to the word “remove” to get rid of it. It’s just not as fun.
Organizing Your Shorctuts in Folders
Folders are a great way to consolidate up similar types of shortcuts and place them in a group. When you tap on the folder, it will expand and you can pick the app you want to launch–kind of like having mini app drawers on your home screen.
To create a folder, you must have at least two shortcuts you want to group. Long-press one of the icons, drag it on top of the other, and release it when a white halo appears around the bottom shortcut. So easy.
You’ll then see that it forms a folder, which you can then add more apps to (again, by dragging them on top of the folder) and then move them around and order as you see fit.
You can also give the folder a name by tapping on “Unnamed Folder.” The keyboard will pop up, and you can name it whatever you’d like.
When you’re done, your home screen will look much nicer.
You can also put folders in the app tray along the bottom, which will appear on all of your home screens.
Uninstall Apps from the App Drawer
There are a lot of ways to uninstall an app, and we’ll talk about your different options later in this lesson. But the easiest way to uninstall an app is right from the app drawer.
Open your app drawer and press and hold the app you want to remove, the app drawer will then recede as if you were going to place a shortcut, but note that you also can drag the item to “App info” and “Uninstall” along the top of the screen.
If you do this with a built-in app such as the Play Store or Maps, you will simply be given the option to open “app info.” Remember, you can’t uninstall the default, built-in apps but you can disable them. But for any other app, you can uninstall it in one fell swoop.
Google Play is Google’s app store, and with nearly 2.5 million app as of September 2016, you’re sure to find something you need. For every iOS app out there, there is almost always an Android equivalent.
That said, what we really want to concentrate on is the stuff associated with your account–specifically the apps associated with your account, their permissions, and how apps update.
Android’s Permissions System, Explained
Permissions can be a confusing mess on Android, but fortunately Google has made them much easier to understand and control in modern versions of the operating system.
In the old days, whenever you installed an application from the Play Store, you’d be asked to blanket-accept permissions the app needed to run–such as write to the storage in order to save preferences, or monitor the state of phone calls so that it pauses when someone calls you.
Now, however, when you install an app, no permissions are granted–instead, each one has to be given when the app needs it. For example, Facebook requires no permissions when you install it, but as soon as you want to upload and image, you’ll have to grant it access to the device’s internal storage. (You only need to do this once–not every time you upload an image.) That way, if there are features you don’t use, the app won’t have access to certain parts or features of the device. It’s a really simple but effective way of managing permissions.
The following are many of the permissions you will find many apps will request (though there are more). If there is anything you may have a question about that we don’t cover here, we recommend you do a search or ask How-To Geek in the comments before proceeding with your install.
- Camera: Simply, an app can control your camera and take pictures. We’d say this is something you might want to pay a moderate amount of attention to if you’re using an app for which there’s no reasonable need for it to use the camera. Use common sense here and you should be fine.
- Read phone state: this permission exists to allow an app to determine whether it should pause when you take a phone call. Think of how Pandora or other streaming music apps pause automatically when the phone rings, and you’ll see that it has this permission. This permission can also be used to identify your phone and some app developers use this permission to ensure their product isn’t being pirated. In any event, keep an eye on this even though it’s largely harmless.
- Fine (GPS) location: This will allow apps to pinpoint (fine) location. You probably already use this in map and navigation apps, or other apps that require location services, like Pokémon Go.
- Coarse (network-based) location: Nearly identical to GPS, only less precise (coarse).
- Call phone: Ask yourself what the application does. Is it a dialer, or some such other app that needs to make phone calls? The real risk here is that an application could use your phone to call a service that then charges you money. Just know that this is one of those permissions you really need to pay attention to.
- Send SMS or MMS: Similar to above, in that a rogue app could conceivably send texts on your behalf such as signing you up for services that you don’t want. Again, pay attention to this one.
- Read or Write External Storage: There’s nothing unusual about an application needing to access your device’s storage. Where else are you going to store your photos and texts? But, with great power comes great responsibility, and this permission has the potential to wreak great damage. So make sure you trust the app.
- Read calendar data, write calendar data: Pay attention to this one. Obviously, if the app has a need to know and modify your calendar, then it’s no problem. But it could be a perfect way for a rogue app to discover your schedule and other personal data. If it doesn’t seem like a necessary feature for the app in question, think hard about granting it.
- Read contacts, write contacts: This one is very important. You don’t want to grant permission willy-nilly here. This constitutes a serious privacy issue if a rogue app can access your contacts. Pay attention to this one and make sure the app you’re installing is legitimate and really needs to access your contacts.
For the most part, all this boils down to common sense: if a permission seems directly related to a feature in the app, there’s a good reason it’s requesting it. If not, something might be fishy.
Your Play Store Apps
Tap the upper-left corner of the Play Store to access a slide-out menu. Here you’ll see a couple of actions related to apps: Apps & Games, and My Apps & Games. This is also where you’ll find Google Play’s categories, like Movies & TV, Music, Books, and Newsstand.
If you tap “My Apps & Games,” you’ll be take directly to a list of all the apps you’ve installed from the Play Store, which is where you can update them if needed.
If you tap on an app, you’ll get the option to uninstall it, open it, or–if there’s an update available–update it.
Back in the Play Store menu, the rest of your account info is just below the category list: Account, Redeem, Send gift, Whishlist, and Settings.
The two important options here are Account and Settings.
Account is where you’ll manage your payment methods, family plan (if applicable), regular subscriptions that are processed through the Play Store, any pending rewards you may have waiting, and view your purchase history.
Each of these categories is pretty self-explanatory, aside from maybe the “family” option. This is where you’ll manage who is part of your family, as well as have granular control of which applications, movies/TV shows, and books are shared across your family library.
The Settings section of Google Play lets you decide if, among other things, apps notify you when there are updates, whether apps auto-update, and if new apps auto-add widgets to the home screen. This last part can be a concern if you experience home screen lag (explained in Lesson 4) or you may simply not want apps automatically adding stuff to your home screen without your input.
This is also where you can set Parental Controls, as well as the option to require authentication for purchases in the Play Store. That can be a big one if you let a little one play with your phone.
Managing Your Applications from the Apps Settings Screen
To assume total control over the apps installed on your device, though, you need to use Android’s Settings menu, not the Play Store’s. You can access App Settings by pulling the notification shade down and pressing the cog icon, then navigating to “Apps.” It’s worth noting that on Samsung devices, this setting is found under Applications > Application Manager.
When you first open the “Apps” settings page, you see your apps displayed in alphabetical order, along with how much space each one is taking up.
By default, system apps are hidden. These can be displayed by tapping the three-button overflow menu, then selecting “Show system.” They can be hidden again by doing the same process.
Tap on any app to open its “app info” screen. Here you are given all the details you need about this app: the amount of storage it’s using, data used from a certain date, granted permissions, allowed notifications, default settings, how much battery it has used since the last charge, and how much memory (or RAM) it’s currently using.
Tapping each option will provide more information and available actions. For example, tapping the “Storage” option will allow you to delete the app’s data, effectively resetting it to “new,” as well as delete any stored cache files.
Clearing an app’s data is a surefire way to free up storage space, but caveats abound. In many cases, clearing data can undo personalizations and other simple things like sign-in information. So for example, if you clear the data from the Facebook app, you will have to sign back in the next time you launch the app.
Cache data, on the other hand, is fairly safe to delete; however, bear in mind that when you use that app again in the future, it will just fill that cache back up. (That also means if you’re on a limited data plan, it will eat into your monthly allotment.) Music streaming apps like Google Play Music or Spotify are notorious for storing a couple of gigabytes of data (read: played songs) in the cache, so if you’re in a pinch for space, this is a good place to start.
For the most part, though, clearing the cache is more of a tool to troubleshoot misbehaving apps, rather than freeing up storage.
Speaking of misbehaving apps, you’ll also want to look at the two butotns at the top of the App info page: Uninstall and Force Stop.
While the first setting is self-explanatory, there are a couple of reasons why you would want to use the latter option. Let’s say you notice an app that won’t close, or you have an app that’s using an abnormal amount of resources or sucking your battery dry. Forcing it to stop can be a preferable option to restarting your device, if only to see if that particular app is the troublemaker.
It’s also worth noting that for system apps–things that were pre-installed out of the box–you may not see an “Uninstall” option, but rather a “Disable” option. This does exactly what you think it does: renders the app useless and removes its entries from the app drawer and home screens.
No, you’re not technically uninstalling the app–it’s still on your device, occupying storage space, but it’s no longer accessible to your system and it will disappear from your app tray, which is a great way to get rid of pre-installed apps you don’t want (I’m looking at you, Samsung).
With this lesson, we have given you the knowledge to easily manage your apps without needing to download a single add-on app. By being able to control app activity and their associated shortcuts, you can help ensure your Android experience is smooth and clutter free. You also can now take control of your app permissions and make better, more informed decisions about what you install.
In the next lesson, we will talk at length about how to best prolong your devices battery life and hopefully allow it to, at the very least, last the day.