If you thought you were just limited to spy on a cell phone using your touch screen to interact with your Android phone, you are, unfortunately, seriously mistaken. There are a lot of additional inputs compatible with Android, and you should consider if maybe they will have an important impact on your productivity in Android.
Some of the simplest Android inputs are Bluetooth headsets. Many of them have only one button, but behind a single press of that button is a lot of power. You can initiate a Google Voice Search, call people, send text messages, and give a lot of other commands to your phone using a Bluetooth headset’s button. Bluetooth headphones often have microphones as well, and these include more buttons, giving you the ability to pause and play music, skip songs, and change the phone volume.
But there’s much more you can do in Android than just connect a few extra buttons to your phone. If your Android device supports USB Host mode and On-The-Go (OTG) cables, you can plug a lot of interesting peripherals right into your phone’s microUSB port. Even if you don’t have one of these cables or your phone does not support hosting USB devices, some of these peripherals come in Bluetooth variants that work great with Android devices.
An example of a particularly useful USB device you can use is a USB mouse. You might not have known this, but connecting a mouse over USB (or Bluetooth!) will actually place a cursor on the Android screen, much like a desktop operating system. This lets you navigate through your phone without the touch screen, clicking rather than tapping on things. The operating system can also detect when your cursor is over top of onscreen elements, enabling you to use hover dropdown menus even on non-mobile-friendly websites.
The USB keyboard is similar, and offers a massive productivity increase. These can also be connected over Bluetooth. Anything that requires a text input is immediately upgraded, because you’ll be able to use the keyboard to type swiftly into the screen. Some software keyboards have special support for connected keyboards. SwiftKey will slim the keyboard interface into only a spellcheck when you have connected a physical keyboard. The keyboard can also be used to control the menus in the launcher. Arrow keys are used to choose which app to launch. Pressing the super (Windows) key on a keyboard will bring up Google’s voice search, and pressing Ctrl+Alt+Delete will, in the typical Linux fashion, reboot the phone.
Then there are some less conventional peripherals that offer unique additional functionality in your Android device. If you have a USB HID gamepad, like the Xbox 360 game controller, you can connect it to your Android device. The joysticks can be used like the arrow keys with a plugged-in keyboard, moving around web pages or selecting apps to open in the launcher. If you prefer a Bluetooth gamepad, there is a Bluetooth HID specification that lets devices act as wireless gamepads. An example that is designed for Android games is the MOGA Pro, which can also be used for any other device that requires a Bluetooth HID input. Of course, the most common use for connecting a gamepad to an Android device is to play a game from the ever-growing list of games that have gamepad support in Android.
Android Marshmallow supports MIDI inputs over USB, which will have some interesting impacts on mobile music production. Now you can plug in a device that carries MIDI music signals over USB and use it to send realtime music data to a music production app in Android.
There is some serious productivity potential in using additional inputs to your Android device. Maybe there’s more you can get done without a full computer than you thought.