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Get at your favorite apps, contacts, music and app features more quickly with these great launchers
You might wonder about the need for a launcher app on your iPhone. After all, the bulk of the iPhone’s interface is essentially a big launcher. You prod an icon on a Home screen to open an app, or a saved web link from Safari. And beyond that, there are further ways of quickly getting to the apps you love.
For example, you can drag down on any Home screen to view Siri suggestions — a small selection of apps your iPhone thinks you might need there and then (these are selected on the basis of recent usage and also usage patterns.) If you fancy something that’s not displayed, a search field provides a quick way to get at it. And if you don’t want to type anything, you can ask Siri to open an app of your choosing, or to call a contact.
But there are systems that enable you to go beyond Apple’s offerings, powering up Notification Center with customized objects and groupings, providing direct access to specific types of content and app features, and giving you tools to fashion personalized workflows. In this round-up, we explore our favorites.
Launch Center Pro
$4.99/£3.99 • v2.6.2 • 39.9 MB • By Contrast
Launch Center Pro somewhat acts as an alternative to the Home screen, but rather than giving you links to apps and bookmarks, it enables you to create shortcuts for specific actions, and also groups of related actions that can be navigated using a single thumb.
The main layout is a three-by-five grid. Into each of these slots can be placed a single item or a group. The app comes with the bulk of its spaces pre-populated, including the likes of a shortcut for taking a selfie, tweeting a GIF, and messaging a contact. The items at the center of the grid are groups for actions relating to photos, bookmarks, contacts, searches, and apps.
Triggering a standalone item is simply a case of tapping it and then, where relevant, following instructions or entering content. With groups, you must hold your thumb on the icon and then slide across to the action you wish to trigger. The system is intuitive, simple and soon becomes second nature.
Crafting your own actions is also quite simple. Tap an empty slot, and choose whether you want to create a group or action. With an action, you choose a name and icon, and optionally schedule or notification triggers. You then use the ‘Action Composer’ to define your action. Creating a shortcut to a specific section of Settings is as simple as choosing ‘System Actions’ from the composer, and then navigating to ‘Settings’ and picking an option. Advanced actions can be more involved, with a range of apps allowing deeper access; nonetheless, these are still unlikely to be beyond the grasp of the typical iPhone user.
Although Launch Center Pro’s main interface is the central repository for all your shortcuts, it’s possible to trigger a select few elsewhere. Four can be assigned to 3D Touch when the app icon is pressed down on compatible hardware. And there’s a Today view Notification Center widget for speedy system-wide access to a larger set of shortcuts.
One possible downside of Launch Center Pro is the aforementioned grid. There are no multiple pages, and so fervent users may rapidly find space at a premium. Still, if you look at it as a launcher for anything iOS itself can’t handle by default, and if you also try to be focused with your selections, Launch Center Pro can vastly improve your iPhone experience, simply by virtue of saving you time when performing common actions.
$2.99/£2.29 • v1.5.1 • 55.9 MB • By DeskConnect, Inc.
Although Launch Center Pro enables a certain amount of automation, Workflow goes much further, offering scope for complex automation flows based around a series of actions. It’s the kind of thing that as a concept might have many iPhone owners flee in fear, but Workflow’s take on fairly tricky subject matter is friendly and approachable.
Newcomers can get started by browsing the gallery, which includes dozens of pre-made actions. These include the likes of ‘Home ETA’, which figures out how long it’ll take to get home from wherever you currently are, logging actions related to health (water and caffeine intake, weight, runs), and the amusingly titled ‘Pizza Assistant’, which looks for local takeaways, has you make a selection, and then sets up a phone call for you to place an order.
Much like Launch Center Pro, actions can be triggered from within the app, 3D Touch or a Today view widget. However, Workflow also enables you to add actions to an iPhone Home screen (much like you can with a Safari shortcut). Additionally, you can craft workflows specifically for the Today widget, an Apple Watch, or an Action extension.
The building part is, naturally, more demanding than grabbing items from the gallery, but it’s not too onerous. Workflow includes a quick tutorial for creating and sending an animated GIF, and this details how to build actions by dragging and dropping components into a workflow. You can also delve into installed gallery items, to figure out how they’re constructed and make similar workflows of your own.
So if you’re willing to put in a bit of time and effort, Workflow is a time-saver and also an interesting app to sit down and experiment with. That said, even if you only grab Workflow for the pre-existing gallery items and never make any workflows of your own, it’ll likely pay for itself soon enough.
Free or $2.99/£2.29 • v2.0.3 • 31.8 MB • By Cromulent Labs
This app initially fell foul of Apple. When Notification Center’s Today view was opened up to developers, Cromulent Labs figured it would be the ideal place to stash a launcher for your favorite contacts, apps and music. Apple disagreed and killed the app. Fortunately, sanity later prevailed, and Launcher returned, triumphant.
The app itself is much simpler than the others in this round-up. Using the Launcher app, you add objects to the Launcher widget. In each case, you choose a category — contacts, apps, system commands, music and web shortcuts. Options can in many cases then be defined. For example, create a contacts object and you decide the method of contact (calling, email from Mail, email from Gmail, and so on). App launchers mostly just open an app, but some apps provide deeper access and control, such as immediately jumping to a certain profile in Facebook or opening a specific shooting mode in ProCamera.
In the free version, you can add up to eight items, and that should give you a feel for the app. Buy the IAP and you get up to 24 items per widget, and can add up to six widgets, perhaps theming them along the way (so you could have one for music, one for apps, and one for contacts). Restrictions in iOS make this side of things a touch clunky — in Notification Center, each widget is named ‘Launcher’ and has a number — but that’s really our only grumble with this app. And as a means of very rapidly accessing content and contacts that are important to you, Launcher is hard to beat.
$4.99/£3.99 • 30.1 MB • v1.7.0 • By 32Parrots LLC
An excellent alternative to Workflow, Alloy simplifies the launching of apps, actions and workflows. Its own launcher system dynamically offers items, based on habits and location. Alloy is quite involved — although there’s a directory of pre-made workflows and the interface is nicely conceived, it’s not especially immediate. But put in the effort, and Alloy can become a great time-saver.
Free with ads or $2.99/£2.29 • 23.0 MB • v1.0 • By Contrast
If you’re keenest on the contacts elements of Launch Center Pro, that’s what Contact Center is all about. The app works for free, albeit with an ad across the bottom row of its grid. You can pay a one-off IAP to get rid of this. However, the app’s not been updated in a long while, and so runs zoomed on iPhone 6 and above.
Free + IAP • 6.9 MB • v1.6 • By Cromulent Labs
This launcher is essentially the music part of Launcher as a standalone app. You can therefore create Notification Center buttons to start playing favorite albums and playlists. With the Pro IAP ($0.99/79p), you can include song info and player controls, along with adding three or more rows of items.