When Apple first introduced its widgets platform in iOS 8, the company blocked developers from releasing apps that launched other apps via widgets added to the “Today View” in the Notification Center on the iPhone or iPad. However, Apple later relaxed the rules, allowing apps like Launcher, Workflow, and others to push the boundaries of widgets from being those that simply displayed information to those that allowed you to also take actions by way of other apps.
Today, a longtime favorite utility, Launch Center Pro, which describes itself as a “speed dial for everyday tasks,” is joining the competition with the release of its own Today View widget for iPhone.
The updated app has also expanded to support over 100,000 new apps, which is roughly 20 times more than any other iOS launcher app, making it now the one to beat when it comes to the breadth of the selection offered. With this extensive line-up, the new widget also supports more app actions, as well, so you can do just about anything you want right from from the iPhone’s Notification Center.
In case you’re not familiar with Launch Center Pro, this premium app from Contrast was designed especially for iPhone power users who wanted a quicker and easier way to launch quick actions from a single interface. Its app offers a variety of shortcuts that let you do a number of different things, like placing a call to a favorite friend, sending a photo to a group, scanning a barcode, searching Yelp for a nearby coffee shop, controlling your Nest thermostat by IFTTT, kicking off a FaceTime call, tweeting a GIF, and much, much more.
The idea is that users can customize their Launch Center Pro screen with their own favorite and commonly used actions to make it easier for them to perform those everyday tasks, without having to dig around on their iPhone for the correct app.
However, similar to competitor Workflow, this kind of functionality just makes more sense when accessed from a widget rather than its own app. That’s why it’s been great for end users that mobile developers have been able to move these shortcuts to the iOS Notification Center itself.
Now, four years after Launch Center Pro’s debut, the team has been able to make good on its vision of launching apps from the Notification Center. Yes – that was actually the original plan for this app, explains Contrast founder David Barnard.
“When I first conceived of Launch Center way back in the fall of 2011 it was as a hack to launch apps and actions from Notification Center,” he says. “Apple didn’t like that and rejected the app We almost killed the app completely, but decided to release it anyway.”
Now the app is coming full circle, it seems.
Though this is not the first company to introduce a widget that allows you to launch other apps, its implementation is my favorite to date. I prefer the simple, polished layout it offers – four app actions per row, and displayed as square-shaped app icons with a short description underneath. Using icons makes it easier to tap on the right item while in a hurry, whereas I sometimes hit the wrong line when using Workflow, I have to admit.
That said, Workflow goes in deeper in terms of its automation capabilities, while Launch Center Pro is focused more on being a great launcher. Users don’t really have to pick between the two, though – both can be installed on the same device and used as needed.
In addition, compared with some other launchers, Launch Center Pro has a ton of different actions available. There are actions for apps like Dropbox, IFTTT, iBeacons, geofencing, Giphy GIF search, barcode and QR code scanning, and it supports over 450 apps with specific actions (meaning, not just launching the app itself).
Now that the Launch Center Pro widget is out, the plan is to continue to expand the feature set and functionality offered. For example, they’re already working on 3D Touch Quick Actions for the app which will work on the newly announced iPhone 6s and 6s Plus.
Barnard doesn’t detail company revenue, and because of having regular sales it’s hard to pin down what this app has brought in over the years. But Launch Center Pro is one of the more popular launcher apps on the market, with hundreds of thousands of downloads.
That’s a decent showing for a paid app that appeals to a largely power user crowd. Notes Barnard, the app has traditionally been focused more on productivity nerds, but its “Action Composer” has made it easy for anyone to create simple actions.
Arguably, the new widget support could also introduce this app to a wider, more mainstream crowd as it offers a different use case beyond simply being more productive – it now makes taking action via apps even faster than before.