Launch Center Pro wants to make your iPhone faster

Looking for the app for the right job has always been an obsession. Whenever someone asks me how to do something on their iPads, iPhones and even desktop machines, the task is always associated with the name of an app. You wanted to read your RSS subscriptions without using a browser... yes, that was Reeder. Add a new task in that colourful app? That's called Clear. These actions are always associated with apps.

Allowing people to launch actions within apps instead of hunt and pecking through the springboard is a massive time saver. As soon as you have more than two screens filled with apps and their own folders you'll see the advantages of it. Launch Center Pro wants to help you to access the most frequent things you do with your iPhone quickly. Avoid swiping through pages of apps and menus to get to simple things like calling your friends, texting a sweet thing to your girlfriend or looking up something on Google.

The new Launch Center Pro sports some new changes that could have easily be included in a major release of the previous app. Instead, these are being sold as a new different app. I'm a little sad to see the old app go but I have no issues supporting the development of new ideas. This leaves, however, a sad precedent for the company, since the original Launch Center didn't do what it said on the tin and got killed with this new app.

The biggest change is a brand new UI based on a grid of icons that pretty much anticipates the share view to be used in iOS 6. Instead of having to go through a list of actions, now every action is presented on a 4x3 grid with icons at real resolution. The new layout is much more visual and definitely grows on you over a couple of hours of use. The new view is not only pretty but more visual, allowing you tap on things without having to read its description.

Embracing this visual idea, Launch Center Pro allows you to edit and customise the look of the icons. This is very useful for two reasons. First, two different actions using the same app can have separate icons. Second, it allows you to use eye-catching colours to differentiate different things. For example, the Phone and Messages app have the same bright green background. Here you can choose to go for one of the limited background colours available and the generous selection of glyphs included to create something that works for you. 

To overcome the space limitation of the grid view, Launch Center Pro also includes some groups of folders that contain extra links to your actions. Unlike the iOS folders you know, in Launch Center Pro you need to tap and hold until they open and they drag your finger to the desired action. This can be initially confusing but you get the hang of it quickly.

For the casual user, the feature list includes some handy presets that you probably know already. Flashlight, which I used a lot, has a quick switch there. Now there's a screen dimmer where you can tinker with the screen brightness quickly. Unfortunately, Launch Center Pro still cannot access some of the phone's settings like Bluetooth or WiFi, forcing us to navigate manually to make these changes ourselves. I know this has nothing to do with App Cubby, but it would make Launch Center Pro the killer app Launch Center was when it was allowed to do this.

Since bookmarking app actions is now the main idea, I tried setting up some custom solutions I thought I could use everyday. Adding a new action is as easy as tapping the pen icon on the top right, selecting an empty spot with the plus sign and go through the list of compatible services. We've been promised that this list might grow in the future, so I'm pretty much reporting what I see on day one. 

The really interesting ones are those apps with several actions included. Messages for example, allows you to start writing a new message or send a message to one of your contacts. The combinations can get a bit more complex, introducing data copied on the clipboard, such as sending the copied URL to Instapaper. From the apps I have installed, it seems that Facebook is the clear winner, allowing you to see news feed, go to read messages and check notifications. Instagram, Instapaper, Simplenote, Skype, The Hit List, Things and Tweetbot are also there. I'm missing some compatibility with other apps — I'd love to have a quick link to convert currency.

AppCubby recommends giving the app a privileged spot on the menu bar. I think having it handy on the multitasking bar is more convenient and you don't need to sacrifice anything.

How useful is all this? 

This isn't a drug that will do miracles and it requires you to visit the app regularly to remember the choices. Texting some friends last night to watch a football game together required some back and forth texting different people. The notification center on the lock screen took me directly to the last message, making Launch Center Pro useless. 

If you live in a handful of apps, the multitasking tray when you double click the home button can work as a very convenient app launcher. Sure, you don't get to the specific action, but you get where you left last time. Probably the secret to enjoy it to the maximum is with those tasks that just require a lot of taps, reading small text and tapping small search boxes. Let's be honest, a Twitter search on Tweetbot requires some brain power.

Overall, Launch Center Pro feels like a much better implementation of action bookmarking on your iPhone. The experience is more personal, adaptable and possibly quicker than with the original Launch Center. There is potential to tinker with it, as I will do to get the currency conversion (maybe linking a website?), but this doesn't mean it isn't accessible for more casual users. You will still need some knowledge and serious thinking to realise which shortcuts are actually useful for you and your workflow, which most people won't want to spend much time thinking about. 

As I mentioned earlier, most new users find trouble remembering the names of apps and what they're are for, so making Viber, Skype and Whatsapp easier for my mom is always a good thing. I'm excited about it. I'm also looking forward to see the community get behind it and come up with some ideas for it too.