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Android launchers are again officially interesting

Android launchers are again officially interesting

Launchers are one of the most powerful and unusual features of Android and yet they are also one of the least understood elements of the platform.

Ask your regular Android phone owner what launcher he or she is using, and you’ll probably get something more than a provocative look (and maybe a quick tibia kick) instead. However, ask a powerful user about their launch preferences, and you’ll probably launch a 45-minute conversation about the merits of the latter options.

I? I’ve always been on the back end (which is a big surprise, I’m sure). I liked the presence of Android launchers from the Froyo days, an old-fashioned reference and quite nerdy at the moment that, if you receive it, you are probably also a fan of Android launchers. And if you’re not yet familiar with Android launchers, these are specialized apps that replace the entire home screen and app drawer environment with something different – something that’s usually more customizable and often less cluttered than your phone’s default settings.

For me, launchers have long been the unique type of power, flexibility and customization that Android offers, which you certainly can’t find in that other smartphone operating system. And, although they are often rejected as an unnecessary indulgence for geeks, I think they have the potential to be not only useful, but also the right transformation for anyone who owns a phone and / or ostrich, regardless of their coefficient (or beak). geek. . coefficient).

The reason is that launchers can do much more than change the look of the home screen or anything else superficial. An Android smart launcher can completely change the way you use your phone and interact with the information on it. It can improve your efficiency and reduce distractions. And it can even make an aged mobile gadget feel new, addictive and full of new features – features you wouldn’t even find in any hardware available that you could buy today.

And this brings us to this present moment and the reason why I am writing this column. The purpose of this article is simply not to be poetic about the joys of Android launchers and the benefits they offer (as much as I like to dance above the podium). Not. It’s to talk about why I’m suddenly excited about Android launchers and optimistic about their future for the first time in a long time.

As I said, I’ve always liked Android launchers and everything they represent and I’ve been using them since I was just a little phone with an old pair of pants. But lately, I’m a little frustrated with the state of the Android launch line.

Now, don’t get me wrong – there’s no shortage of great, well-maintained launchers on the Google Play Store. We have some amazing developers around these parts and they are doing a spectacular job.

But for some time, the selection of the Android launcher has felt a little … outdated. There are a lot of polished and professional options, for sure, but most high-profile titles have started to look like different modest twists on the same basic concept: the idea of ​​»empty canvas grid with all Google features and lots of options» dominated the idea by the classic (and yet as exceptional as ever) Nova Launcher.

We lost the number of players who take the same basic concept and present it in a slightly different way. I mean, look, everything’s fine. Some of them are even pretty good! But they are all essentially different twists on the same basic concept. There is little that is distinctive and certainly not much that is interesting in this area.

Personally, what I find most interesting about Android launchers is when they manage to create something creative and original, something that brings a really new perspective in the field of the Android home screen. And after what felt like an eternity of fine similarity, but mostly uninspired, we finally start to see some very interesting things.

Take, for example, the newly released Niagara launcher. I’ve been covering and closely following Niagara since its inception in 2018, and I’ve always been impressed with the innovative way we reconsider how an Android home screen should work. Niagara abandons the traditional grid for a careful structured collection of shortcuts for the most used applications. It is a stubborn and distinctive position and makes a bold, minimalist and extremely efficient hub to get to the things you open the most, without having to go through all the usual fun.

Android Launcher: NiagaraJR Home Screen

In the Niagara home screen view, all the other apps, the ones that aren’t in that main place on the single home screen panel, exist in a list of letters that you scroll up and down. -along each edge. from the phone screen. This easy-to-use, step-by-step interface is exactly what led me to my description of the app’s «ergonomic efficiency» (an expression the app has since adopted as part of its Play Store description; enter a humble arc here) in my previous review.

Android launchers: NiagaraJR applications

However, with its recent beta release, Niagara has added much more to that already impressive framework. The launcher now includes its own cleverly designed calendar and weather widget, for example, and tapping that area of ​​the screen opens a sleek panel with more detailed calendar and forecast information. Honestly, I think it’s better and more carefully considered than most independent calendar widgets out there.

Android Launcher: Niagara AgendaJR

Niagara has a lot of other touches in mind, but it’s not the only recent Android launcher trailer that gives me back the excitement in the area. One of my old favorites, Action Launcher, is also receiving a much-needed new love right now. Action Launcher used to describe the kind of original, creative, and innovative approach we talked about with Android launchers, but then, well, things seemed to slow down. The app hasn’t received a single update in over six months, and the updates it received before that break weren’t really amazing.

But then, just as I was marveling at Niagara teasers, developer bam: Action Launcher announced a future update that makes regular Android widgets in the launcher stackable, just as Apple offers with the initial implementation of the iOS widget . This is something new. This is a useful thing. This is something that propels the platform and offers an option to improve efficiency that no one else on Android offers. That’s what we missed!

Android Launcher: WidgetJR Stock Launcher

The feature is currently only available on the app’s beta channel and is a bit uneven, as you might expect from a developing article, but it’s still promising. And it is exactly the kind of sign of life and inspiration that has been missing in this area for far too long.

Another such sign of life comes from a developing jug called Ratio. The report must be one of the strangest Android home screen experiences I’ve seen, with a category-based tile view that automatically arranges your apps in the main dashboard, a series of native-type views application widget. on another panel and an ambitious system that aims to create the exact type of optimized messaging center that I still hope to see as part of Android one day, on the other hand. Forget those uncertain hopes and dreams; Ratio is actively working to achieve this right now.

Android Launcher: RatioJR

Look now: all these concepts may not appeal to you. I’m definitely not okay with myself. But that’s not the point. The problem is that Android launcher developers are experimenting again. They are testing new concepts and their goal is to bring something different to the experience of using the phone. They work to rethink what you really need on a home screen and what might be the best way to present and organize your information. And exploring its concepts, even those still in development, forces you to rethink everything you think you know about how a phone should work.

This is how progress happens, both at a broader technological level and in terms of our own endless searches for individual optimization of mobile technology. And for the first time in a long time, God, it looks like we’re done floating and we’re ready to start thinking creatively again.