App Launching with Automator

Before we can set up the NeoTrellis M4 buttons to launch our apps, we need to lay the foundation with software that can assign keyboard shortcuts to launch apps.

We're all accustomed to using certain keyboard shortcuts (e.g., control+c or command+c for copy) and media keys built into our keyboards (play/pause, mute, vol+/vol-). Some are universal and work in most apps, some are system wide, and most operating systems even allow a small degree of freedom in creating custom key combos to launch applications. However, this is often restrictive.

There is, therefore, a whole world of customizable macro script applications and services that can run on your computer in order to allow maximum control. You can search online for many options, here we'll cover three in particular, Automator, Quicksilver, and Windows 10 Taskbar.

Automator

Automator is built into every macOS computer, so if you're on a mac, you've already got it!

Automator is incredibly powerful, as it can be scripted to do nearly anything and is neatly integrated into the operating system. It is commonly used to automate repetitive tasks, such as resizing and renaming huge groups of image files at the push of a button.

It can also be used as an application launcher, based upon keyboard shortcut entry. Here's an example of how you can set up Automator to launch Firefox with the keyboard combination of command+option+ctrl+1

It's possible to create app launching shortcuts directly from the System Preferences without using Automator, but this is a good way to learn to use Automator, which is capable of much more sophisticated macro-like behaviors as well.

Launch Automator

First, open Automator by finding it in your /Applications folder and double-clicking it.

Automator will start up and you'll be presented with a document type chooser window.

Click on the Service gear icon, then press the Choose button.

Action

Now, we have an empty service window waiting to be given an action. Click on the Actions box in the upper left corner of the interface, then click the Utilities item in the Library turndown to filter the actions to a smaller list. Then, click on Launch Application to highlight it.

Launch Application

Now, you can drag the Launch Application action over to the empty workspace on the right, this will add it to the service.

Input & Dropdown List

Next, we need to fine-tune some options. First of all, let's choose the application we want to launch from the dropdown list, in our case Firefox.app. Click where it currently says Contacts.app to show the full list popup, then find and click on Firefox.app.

Many services are set up to receive input of some kind, such as a file to manipulate, a bit of text to adjust, and so forth. Our service will not need any input, so we will change the Service receives selected field from the default of text to no input.

Test

It's a good idea to test out your action at this point -- simply click the Run button in the upper right corner and it will launch (or switch to) Firefox.

We want this service to run no matter where the system has focus, be it in the Finder, or a Terminal session, or inside of Photoshop, when we hit the shortcut to invoke the Firefox.app service, it should run. Therefore, we will leave the in field at the default of any application.

Save the Service

That's all there is to our service, so let's go ahead and save it. Click on File > Save... and then give it the name Firefox App Launch and click Save.

That does it for the Automator section of the process. The service has now been saved and is accessible by the entire operating system. (Confusingly, it saves with the ".workflow" extension, even though we specified that it is a "service", you can ignore this.) You can quit Automator now.

If you're curious about it, the .workflow file is saved to the /Users/your_name/Library/Services/ directory, a.k.a., ~/Library/Services

Keyboard Shortcut Setup

Now that we have created the service we need a way to invoke it with a keyboard shortcut. We'll do so from the Keyboard system preferences. Click on the Apple Menu > System Preferences...

Once the System Preferences window opens, click on the Keyboard entry.

Click on the Shortcuts button at the top, and then the Services entry on the left. This window allows you to set and change keyboard shortcuts. Scroll to the bottom of the list on the right and you'll see our Firefox App Launch service.

If you really wanted to skip using Automator, jump to the App Shortcuts menu item on the left instead.

Click on the Firefox App Launch service and then click the Add Shortcut button.

The field wants you to type your shortcut, so go ahead and press command+option+ctrl+1

Now, you can close the Keyboard Preference window and test it out! Press command+option+ctrl+1 and you'll launch or switch to Firefox!

Later, we'll set up the Launch Pad Trellis M4 to send the same four-button shortcut at the press of a single, color-coded Firefox-orange button!

This guide was first published on Dec 01, 2018. It was last updated on Dec 01, 2018.
This page (App Launching with Automator) was last updated on Jul 15, 2020.