Replacing Apple’s Spotlight: Raycast productivity tool uses keyboard shortcuts

You’re listening to Spotify while emailing and an annoying song starts playing. Only Spotify is buried under your various work-related windows: Chrome, Slack, Outlook, ClickUp, etc. Your Mac no longer has a play/pause button, despite its flashy Touch Bar. It takes longer than you care to admit to find Spotify and finally skip that damn song.

“When you think about your daily workflows, there are so many little things that annoy you,” said Thomas Paul Mann, co-founder of productivity tool Raycast. “You have friction everywhere. We want to get rid of it. »

Many of the hottest productivity startups try to be hubs, hosting every possible workplace app and integration. Slack wants to be the “digital HQ”, wants to be the “Work OS”, and ClickUp wants to be “one app to replace them all”. Raycast is the opposite. It’s a self-proclaimed “productivity layer” and looks a bit like Apple’s Spotlight search bar. You call Raycast via a hotkey of your choice. Then you can search for apps or commands, like toggle play/pause on Spotify.

Raycast deliberately limits certain aspects of the user experience to keep things simple. For example, although you can create an Asana task and add a short description in Raycast, you cannot use Raycast to update that description. You’ll need to open Asana to write a more in-depth and fleshed-out description. Mann said he appreciates tools that focus on a use case.

“A lot of times we only use a fraction of a tool and then a ton of other stuff that I don’t really need,” Mann said. “When I think of a tool, I want it to be very focused on something in particular and to be really, really good at it.”

Mann and co-founder Petr Nikolaev launched Raycast in 2020. The two met while working as engineers on Spark Augmented Reality at Facebook, but after three years decided they wanted to build something something unique to them. “As engineers, we never really understood why software is slow and not enjoyable for us,” Mann said. What if they could create an app that allowed engineers to access all of their tools with just a few keystrokes? So they created Raycast. Today, it has over 10,000 users.

Raycast is similar to the Alfred and Command E login tools, encouraging users to set up hotkeys and hotkeys for common commands. If you’re hardcore, you’ll never need to use your mouse with Raycast. The goal is to build muscle memory and make navigating around the computer seamless. You open Raycast with a “global hotkey”, like command+spacebar. Then you can search for apps and save keyboard shortcuts for the apps you use most frequently. Mann uses the +n option to open Notion and the +i option to see issues assigned to him in the Linear dev tool.

Think of Raycast at the center of your computer’s web, extending to your various other applications. The app comes with plug-ins ready to use, like the ability to browse bookmarks, view calendar events, or join a Zoom meeting. But Raycast’s greatest asset is its community of engineers. Mann and Nikoleav focused on developers in its first user base, as they can build extensions on Raycast. Open API. by Raycast shop has over 250 extensions, including integrations with tools like 1Password and Google Translate.

Photo: Raycast

“We knew early on that this was a tool for the community, and we needed a platform where people could build extensions,” Mann said. “There’s a lot that we might not even be aware of. The beauty of productivity is that it’s very personal.

the the personal plan is free, but the team is working on launching Raycast for Teams. This will cost teams $10 per user per month and allow for shared extensions. Mann recently opened early access to the tool’s Slack community; 76 people have already expressed their interest.

Raycast’s Slack is very active, as users are invited to join the minute they download the app. People can report bugs, suggest extensions, and ask for coding advice. To ensure the trust of Raycast users, Mann is committed to responding to feedback and sending updates as quickly as possible. “We don’t do any marketing, we just tweet about it, and people share it with their friends and businesses,” Mann said.

Bruno Vegreville, CEO of Parisian calendar app Hera, is a longtime Raycast user. His favorite features are “Set Slack Status,” so he can update his status without visiting the app, and “Snippets,” a note library he needs easy access to. Its investor mailing list, for example, is pasted into its Raycast Snippets.

Vegreville likes to play with new tools, but he’s wary of permanently adopting tools that might complicate his stack. “I try not to overcomplicate it,” Vegreville said. “I feel like that’s often one of the pitfalls of the productivity community, that we try to optimize everything.” But Raycast integrates perfectly with its other tools. The interface is simple and the app stays in the background, waiting to be called to attention with a quick keyboard combination.

Sometimes Raycast is so good at being an understated productivity layer that Vegreville forgets it’s there. It’s not in your face when you open your computer, so it’s easy to get caught up in work, moving between other tools. This is one of the drawbacks of Raycast’s approach. “It’s hard to forge an identity and take up space,” Vegreville said. Raycast combats this, he says, by creating a vibrant and active user community.

Raycast may not be for everyone, especially if you have trouble remembering keyboard shortcuts. But Mann agrees with that; Raycast doesn’t need massive adoption just yet. Instead, it’s focused on following up on suggestions from Raycast’s opinionated community.

“You just surround yourself with them and observe so many little things that you hadn’t thought of before,” Mann said. “That’s how Raycast was shaped.”

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