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What is Ambient Automation? The Future of Productivity at Magical

Luke Bailey

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Think of the most productive person you know. A real go-getter. You know the type? They get up at 5AM every morning, eat a well-balanced breakfast, and probably go to the gym or do some light meditation before work. (Namaste.)

By the time they get to their job, this hyper-productive person is “in the zone.” They’re organized, structured, focused, and efficient at what they do. Every day, they cross off items on their to-do list with unprecedented speed and accuracy. To their boss, they’re the ideal worker. To their coworkers, they’re an inspiration.

But if this person existed in 1965? They wouldn’t be half as productive as they would be today. It’s true—according to the Economic Policy Institute, productivity has increased by a massive 108% since 1965.

This is because no matter how focused you are, how organized your tasklist is, or how many green smoothies you eat for breakfast—your productivity still depends on the tools you have at your disposal. In 1965, these tools were comparatively quite slow and cumbersome. (Heck, even in the 1980s they weren’t great. Shout out to MS DOS.) But today? Technology has gotten exponentially faster and more automated … and productivity has skyrocketed as a result.

Now, the next evolution of this technology has arrived. It’s called ambient automation—and it’s poised to change the way you work.

Why are traditional automation tools falling short?

Traditional automation tools have been a great boon to productivity. Think of when General Motors first introduced Unimate—the robotic arm that could pour molten metal into a mold. Unimate could perform this task much more efficiently (and safely) than any of its human counterparts, improving the overall productivity of the automotive assembly line. Now, these types of robotic arms are a mainstay in any car factory.

Work Automate GIF by Mic

When it comes to productivity in a WFH or office setting, most modern automation tools are very similar to these robotic arms. They’re often designed to help you perform one task, and perform that one task very well. For example, a customer support person might use an app like Intercom to automatically create support tickets when someone asks a question on their website. Brilliant! 

But this type of automation can only be helpful … up to a certain point.

Here’s the big problem: the average business worker uses between 9-10 apps per day (and that’s not counting the countless different web apps we use). So automating just one particular task in one particular place will only get you so far. That same customer support person on Intercom might need to pull information from Salesforce to learn more about the account, dive into the backend of their website CMS to resolve the issue, and then use an app like Mailchimp to follow-up via email.

So while automating a single task or part of a task can be helpful—ultimately, this customer support person is still left with a ton of busywork. (And as we all know, busywork is the enemy of productivity.) Between feeding the information into each app and trying to make sure everything is connected—it’s no wonder the latest generation of business workers are feeling burnt out and constantly stressed.

That’s why the next generational leap in productivity depends not on individual task automations, but on bridging the gap to get these different apps to work together. Unfortunately, though, this is harder than it sounds…

The problem with integrations, custom code, and robotic process automations

If you want to automate an entire workflow across multiple different apps, most teams end up selecting one of these options:

  • Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS) Tools: These are tools like Zapier, which let you connect two apps together. For example, you can set up a “Zap” to connect Salesforce to Mailchimp, so an email goes out every time you create a new lead. The big limitation here is that these integrations are controlled by Zapier, and they’ll only work with certain apps. If you want to try to pull data from an internal web app, database, or a legacy tool that Zapier hasn’t built an integration for—you’ll be plum outta luck. (A realtor, for instance, won’t be able to find a Zapier integration for a website like Trulia.)
  • Custom Code or Manual Automations: Need to automate something a bit more complicated or custom? Frig it, maybe you decide to just use custom code or internal dev resources to do it yourself. This is a valid option, but it’ll only work if you actually have those types of costly resources available. (Not a coder? Don’t have devs sitting around ready to help you? Then this probably isn’t the option for you.)
  • Robotic Process Automation (RPA) Tools: The final option is to use a robotic process automation tool, which uses software to emulate human behavior. The downside here is that this can be majorly complex to set up—and it won’t come cheap, either. (A single bot will cost you anywhere from $5,000-$15,000 per year.)

As you can see, all of these options have specific challenges. But there’s also another big drawback that limits all of their impacts on productivity: they’re out-of-context. In order to set up or adjust any of these app-to-app automations, you need to exit your workflow, navigate over to your preferred solution, and start getting to work within the tool you’ve chosen.

Why does this matter? Because on many teams, you are decidedly not the person in charge of the Zapier integration or the RPA bot. Who is in charge? Probably one of the developers on your team, or someone in your IT department. This means everything you’re doing has to grind to a halt while you put in a ticket request and *hope* they decide to prioritize the small change or update you want to make to the automation.

So if you’re hoping to improve your productivity as a non-technical worker? None of these tools are likely to move the needle as much as you hope, because you’re not in control of the automation itself. It’s happening somewhere in the background of your workflow (or somewhere else entirely, within yet another app). You’re unable to make changes, adjustments, or take advantage of new automation opportunities that come up as you work on your daily tasks.

Simply put: traditional automation isn’t present in your workflow. It’s hidden automation. And because it’s hidden—that means there’s a big blind spot that’s hiding how productive you can actually be.

What is ambient automation? Entering a new era of productivity

While traditional automation tools operate in the background, ambient automation apps are always present while you work and are easy to call up anywhere you need. With ambient automation, you can easily automate new processes or edit existing automations without ever needing to navigate to another application or interrupt your workflow.

Put simply, ambient automation is automation that is in-context and omnipresent. Apps that fall into this category are able to identify automation opportunities automatically as you work and suggest easier ways of doing things. (Right there, where you’re working.) This takes much of the guesswork and complexity out of automation—making it easier for anyone to become more productive as they work.

For example, Grammarly is an ambient automation app that allows you to automatically improve your spelling, grammar, and writing clarity as you type. With Grammarly, the app works everywhere you type—across platforms like Google Docs, Salesforce, Notion, Slack, Gmail, Twitter, and LinkedIn. But while a traditional automation tool might have you copy and paste your text into the app to discover where there are errors, Grammarly is always present and able to make suggestions right within the context of your messages.

In a similar way, Magical has been redefining how users move information between web apps and web pages. It can recognize when you’re copying and pasting the same information more than once, and remember that pattern to help you automate it the next time you do it. No need to set up a complicated backend or get your developer to switch on any integrations. You simply choose which variables you want to pull over, and the app does the rest.

The Magical app also has an “everywhere” presence—users can call it up anytime, anywhere within their Chrome browser by simply clicking on the magical green M-button or typing out a simple “//” command. This way, rather than have your automations hidden behind a wall of code, they’re always top-of-mind and just a click or keystroke away. In some cases, the app will even proactively alert you about new automation opportunities to help you save more time and become even more productive.

Editor’s Note: Does this type of always-on functionality set off privacy alarm bells for you? Don’t worry, Magical does not collect or store your keystrokes. We take privacy and security very seriously—which is why your keystrokes on websites never leave your computer. The expansion of shortcuts occurs locally on a user's computer, without communication with Magical. You can test this by expanding shortcuts while your computer is offline.

How does ambient automation work with Magical?

Here are a few more ways you can use Magical’s ambient automation features to spend less time on repetitive tasks:

  • In-Context Dropdown: As a user moves around the web, typing, copying and pasting, etc., a simple “//” command will open a drop-down menu of shortcuts you’ve saved—snippets of text, code, or other information. Select the shortcut you want and the information will appear instantly.
  • Automatic Form Fills: Magical can automatically fill any form or field with info from your open tabs. This is especially useful for managing and updating internal databases and external databases such as a CRM (Salesforce, Hubspot, Copper), ATS (WorkDay, Lever), or issue tracking tools (Jira, Shortcut).
  • Copy and Paste Nudges: If you’re copying and pasting the same thing more than once, Magical will prompt you to create a new shortcut to save yourself some time. This helps you identify new automations before you even know you need them.
  • M-button - Magical’s M-button follows you as you type and helps you save time with simple automations. The M-button appears when you are about to type a message or copy and paste data and remind you that you can use Magical to automate the task.

By surrounding yourself with automation, you can discover new possibilities for your productivity. In fact, teams who use Magical save an average of one day per week—and that number just keeps climbing higher. 🚀

Use ambient automation to boost your productivity today

Here at Magical, improving your productivity has always been the goal. The app is built around saving you time by slashing through your repetitive (and soul-crushing) tasks. Faster data entry, spreadsheets that fill themselves, and a smarter text expander experience have helped us make a name for ourselves. 

But Magical is so much more than just a simple “productivity app.” At its core, Magical is an ambient automation app. And the team here is betting big on how this type of technology can transform the way you work.

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What is Ambient Automation? The Future of Productivity at Magical

Think of the most productive person you know. A real go-getter. You know the type? They get up at 5AM every morning, eat a well-balanced breakfast, and probably go to the gym or do some light meditation before work. (Namaste.)

By the time they get to their job, this hyper-productive person is “in the zone.” They’re organized, structured, focused, and efficient at what they do. Every day, they cross off items on their to-do list with unprecedented speed and accuracy. To their boss, they’re the ideal worker. To their coworkers, they’re an inspiration.

But if this person existed in 1965? They wouldn’t be half as productive as they would be today. It’s true—according to the Economic Policy Institute, productivity has increased by a massive 108% since 1965.

This is because no matter how focused you are, how organized your tasklist is, or how many green smoothies you eat for breakfast—your productivity still depends on the tools you have at your disposal. In 1965, these tools were comparatively quite slow and cumbersome. (Heck, even in the 1980s they weren’t great. Shout out to MS DOS.) But today? Technology has gotten exponentially faster and more automated … and productivity has skyrocketed as a result.

Now, the next evolution of this technology has arrived. It’s called ambient automation—and it’s poised to change the way you work.

Why are traditional automation tools falling short?

Traditional automation tools have been a great boon to productivity. Think of when General Motors first introduced Unimate—the robotic arm that could pour molten metal into a mold. Unimate could perform this task much more efficiently (and safely) than any of its human counterparts, improving the overall productivity of the automotive assembly line. Now, these types of robotic arms are a mainstay in any car factory.

Work Automate GIF by Mic

When it comes to productivity in a WFH or office setting, most modern automation tools are very similar to these robotic arms. They’re often designed to help you perform one task, and perform that one task very well. For example, a customer support person might use an app like Intercom to automatically create support tickets when someone asks a question on their website. Brilliant! 

But this type of automation can only be helpful … up to a certain point.

Here’s the big problem: the average business worker uses between 9-10 apps per day (and that’s not counting the countless different web apps we use). So automating just one particular task in one particular place will only get you so far. That same customer support person on Intercom might need to pull information from Salesforce to learn more about the account, dive into the backend of their website CMS to resolve the issue, and then use an app like Mailchimp to follow-up via email.

So while automating a single task or part of a task can be helpful—ultimately, this customer support person is still left with a ton of busywork. (And as we all know, busywork is the enemy of productivity.) Between feeding the information into each app and trying to make sure everything is connected—it’s no wonder the latest generation of business workers are feeling burnt out and constantly stressed.

That’s why the next generational leap in productivity depends not on individual task automations, but on bridging the gap to get these different apps to work together. Unfortunately, though, this is harder than it sounds…

The problem with integrations, custom code, and robotic process automations

If you want to automate an entire workflow across multiple different apps, most teams end up selecting one of these options:

  • Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS) Tools: These are tools like Zapier, which let you connect two apps together. For example, you can set up a “Zap” to connect Salesforce to Mailchimp, so an email goes out every time you create a new lead. The big limitation here is that these integrations are controlled by Zapier, and they’ll only work with certain apps. If you want to try to pull data from an internal web app, database, or a legacy tool that Zapier hasn’t built an integration for—you’ll be plum outta luck. (A realtor, for instance, won’t be able to find a Zapier integration for a website like Trulia.)
  • Custom Code or Manual Automations: Need to automate something a bit more complicated or custom? Frig it, maybe you decide to just use custom code or internal dev resources to do it yourself. This is a valid option, but it’ll only work if you actually have those types of costly resources available. (Not a coder? Don’t have devs sitting around ready to help you? Then this probably isn’t the option for you.)
  • Robotic Process Automation (RPA) Tools: The final option is to use a robotic process automation tool, which uses software to emulate human behavior. The downside here is that this can be majorly complex to set up—and it won’t come cheap, either. (A single bot will cost you anywhere from $5,000-$15,000 per year.)

As you can see, all of these options have specific challenges. But there’s also another big drawback that limits all of their impacts on productivity: they’re out-of-context. In order to set up or adjust any of these app-to-app automations, you need to exit your workflow, navigate over to your preferred solution, and start getting to work within the tool you’ve chosen.

Why does this matter? Because on many teams, you are decidedly not the person in charge of the Zapier integration or the RPA bot. Who is in charge? Probably one of the developers on your team, or someone in your IT department. This means everything you’re doing has to grind to a halt while you put in a ticket request and *hope* they decide to prioritize the small change or update you want to make to the automation.

So if you’re hoping to improve your productivity as a non-technical worker? None of these tools are likely to move the needle as much as you hope, because you’re not in control of the automation itself. It’s happening somewhere in the background of your workflow (or somewhere else entirely, within yet another app). You’re unable to make changes, adjustments, or take advantage of new automation opportunities that come up as you work on your daily tasks.

Simply put: traditional automation isn’t present in your workflow. It’s hidden automation. And because it’s hidden—that means there’s a big blind spot that’s hiding how productive you can actually be.

What is ambient automation? Entering a new era of productivity

While traditional automation tools operate in the background, ambient automation apps are always present while you work and are easy to call up anywhere you need. With ambient automation, you can easily automate new processes or edit existing automations without ever needing to navigate to another application or interrupt your workflow.

Put simply, ambient automation is automation that is in-context and omnipresent. Apps that fall into this category are able to identify automation opportunities automatically as you work and suggest easier ways of doing things. (Right there, where you’re working.) This takes much of the guesswork and complexity out of automation—making it easier for anyone to become more productive as they work.

For example, Grammarly is an ambient automation app that allows you to automatically improve your spelling, grammar, and writing clarity as you type. With Grammarly, the app works everywhere you type—across platforms like Google Docs, Salesforce, Notion, Slack, Gmail, Twitter, and LinkedIn. But while a traditional automation tool might have you copy and paste your text into the app to discover where there are errors, Grammarly is always present and able to make suggestions right within the context of your messages.

In a similar way, Magical has been redefining how users move information between web apps and web pages. It can recognize when you’re copying and pasting the same information more than once, and remember that pattern to help you automate it the next time you do it. No need to set up a complicated backend or get your developer to switch on any integrations. You simply choose which variables you want to pull over, and the app does the rest.

The Magical app also has an “everywhere” presence—users can call it up anytime, anywhere within their Chrome browser by simply clicking on the magical green M-button or typing out a simple “//” command. This way, rather than have your automations hidden behind a wall of code, they’re always top-of-mind and just a click or keystroke away. In some cases, the app will even proactively alert you about new automation opportunities to help you save more time and become even more productive.

Editor’s Note: Does this type of always-on functionality set off privacy alarm bells for you? Don’t worry, Magical does not collect or store your keystrokes. We take privacy and security very seriously—which is why your keystrokes on websites never leave your computer. The expansion of shortcuts occurs locally on a user's computer, without communication with Magical. You can test this by expanding shortcuts while your computer is offline.

How does ambient automation work with Magical?

Here are a few more ways you can use Magical’s ambient automation features to spend less time on repetitive tasks:

  • In-Context Dropdown: As a user moves around the web, typing, copying and pasting, etc., a simple “//” command will open a drop-down menu of shortcuts you’ve saved—snippets of text, code, or other information. Select the shortcut you want and the information will appear instantly.
  • Automatic Form Fills: Magical can automatically fill any form or field with info from your open tabs. This is especially useful for managing and updating internal databases and external databases such as a CRM (Salesforce, Hubspot, Copper), ATS (WorkDay, Lever), or issue tracking tools (Jira, Shortcut).
  • Copy and Paste Nudges: If you’re copying and pasting the same thing more than once, Magical will prompt you to create a new shortcut to save yourself some time. This helps you identify new automations before you even know you need them.
  • M-button - Magical’s M-button follows you as you type and helps you save time with simple automations. The M-button appears when you are about to type a message or copy and paste data and remind you that you can use Magical to automate the task.

By surrounding yourself with automation, you can discover new possibilities for your productivity. In fact, teams who use Magical save an average of one day per week—and that number just keeps climbing higher. 🚀

Use ambient automation to boost your productivity today

Here at Magical, improving your productivity has always been the goal. The app is built around saving you time by slashing through your repetitive (and soul-crushing) tasks. Faster data entry, spreadsheets that fill themselves, and a smarter text expander experience have helped us make a name for ourselves. 

But Magical is so much more than just a simple “productivity app.” At its core, Magical is an ambient automation app. And the team here is betting big on how this type of technology can transform the way you work.

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