February 13, 2014, 3:23 PM — It's one of the little joys of the Android way, the fact that you can just up and change your homescreen, or launcher, so that you have a whole new way of launching apps, searching, and interacting with your phone or tablet. Let me tell you about one homescreen that has actually stuck with me for more than a few days.
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There are not hard numbers on how many people are intentionally using alternative launchers, but I have to imagine it's not even close to a majority, or even one-third minority. I write "intentionally" because the owners of phones made by HTC, Sony, LG, and other manufacturers have alternative launchers, or "skins," pre-installed. Still, it's a target for developers. The brief Facebook Home experiment was basically a launcher app, and Yahoo took time at its CES keynote this to note its acquisition of Android homescreen Aviate.
Regardless of what percentage of Android owners are looking for non-native launchers and installing them, there are a lot of them. Navigating that wide body of choices is tricky. There are hacker-ish power mods, like ADW Launcher. There are launchers that look a lot like Google's default homescreen setup, and sometimes give older phones an unofficial upgrade, such as Nova Launcher and LauncherPro. And there are dozens and dozens of homescreens/launchers that add strange graphics, weird features, and super-specific themes, like a "transparent launcher" that uses a constant camera feed as a background.
I have installed and used ADW, LauncherPro, Facebook Home, Go Launcher EX, Smart Launcher, and Aviate. I usually find myself switching back to my phone's default launcher for one of four reasons:
- Performance: If things feel slow, if the homescreen or its functions crash, it's not worth the switch.
- Too much work to set up: Yes, it's good to have things just the way you like, but how much of an improvement is the new setup over what you had before?
- Can't find anything: Step into your Uncle Larry's shoes and realize that, at least with your old launcher, you knew where the gosh-darn Maps could be found.
- I don't work that way: Homescreens that try to force you to categorize things in regimented ways ("Fun," "Work," "Shopping") likely don't match up with the weird ways in which we all organize our lives.
Let's get to it, then: EverythingMe (or sometimes EverythingMe) is a launcher/homescreen I've grown to like lately. Like a new roommate who makes you nervous when he shows up with a guitar, but you come to find he respects quiet hours and plays Django Reinhardt tunes quite faithfully.
What I like about EverythingMe is its balance between its big new idea, contextual app suggestion, and the familiar apps/folders/widgets Android interface. You could, if you wanted, mostly ignore EverythingMe's suggestions and smart folders and rearrange it just how you had your old homescreen. But you should try out a few of its more clever features.
(Note: After writing the bulk of this piece, I found out that EverythingMe and Mozilla seems to be working toward making a "Firefox Launcher" together. Ain't that something.)
The universal as-you-type total phone search is very fast and full of useful links. Type in a letter and you get both apps and contacts, sorted by how frequently you access them. Type in a phrase, and you can search it on Google, Yahoo News, and more common web search links.
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There are, as mentioned, apps and folders. EverythingMe takes a shot at automatically grouping your apps into folders based on their category: News, Weather, Music, Social, TV, and so on. And it adds in a few of its own, even if you lack for apps: Recipes, Funny, I'm So Bored. It's pretty easy to remove apps from those folders and move them into others. They are often useful, though, as they add contextual widgets in the folder: hyper-specific forecasts from Forecast.io in the Weather folder, news on sports and finance in those folders, a quick preview of your location in Google Maps inside "Around Me."
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What's more, more "apps" are offered below your list of installed apps, except they're just convenient webapps. They open a web version in their own little web container, and they don't take up storage or much memory. I can't tell you how many times the "Texts From Last Night" link in the "I'm So Bored" folder has come in handy during brief moments when I need a laugh (TFLN is definitely Not Safe For Work, by the way).
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And then there is the Prediction Bar, the row at the bottom of the main screen that rotates around with a clock (that's also a handy Alarms link). Those four links are tied to what you use most, and what you use most at this time of day. In the morning, it leans toward news, weather, and in-bed-lazy-reading. In the "My Day" option that pops up later, I see my email client, Dropbox, Chrome, Google Drive, and built-in widgets showing me my next calendar appointments.
EverythingMe is not a new homescreen religion: it wants to let you import standard apps and widgets from your old homescreen, and you can undo almost every aspect of it, except for the central search bar. EverythingMe does just enough predicting and auto-loading and categorizing and webapp suggesting that it feels more like hiring an interior designer for your phone, rather than tearing out your walls and floors and starting over. That's why I like it, and have been using it for nearly two weeks and counting.