June 24, 2012, 7:25 AM — It's easy enough to navigate your Mac without any add-ons. You can maneuver around through folders to find what you're after, and use the Spotlight menu to search for files and launch apps more quickly. Power users tend to prefer third-party utilities like LaunchBar ( Macworld rated 5 out of 5 mice ) or Alfred ( Macworld rated 4.5 out of 5 mice ). These are keyboard-driven apps that make quick work of common actions for tech savvy users.
There's no direct equivalent to such keyboard-based utilities on the iOS. But Launch Center Pro from App Cubby offers a robust, touch-driven interface that affords power users an impressively clever way to navigate the iPhone or iPod touch more quickly.
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The iPhone home screen is fine for launching apps--though it certainly gets unwieldy to navigate when you have many screens full of apps. Launch Center instead focuses more on actions: Though you can configure Launch Center simply to launch apps, you can also often trigger specific actions within those apps, saving you taps and time.
The easiest way to explain what Launch Center Pro can do is by way of example. When you first install the app, some of its stock options include Flashlight, (Brightness) Toggle, and Google Prompt. The first option turns on your iPhone's LED flash to serve as a flashlight. The second toggles between two brightness settings for your device--without requiring that you switch to the Settings app to do so. (You can customize the brightness levels the button toggles between.) The Google Prompt pops up a text field; tap the Go button and you're quickly thrust into Safari with the results of your search already loading.
The next three stock buttons are Dial Contact, New Email, and New Message. While the latter two simply switch you directly to the associated app (Mail or Messages) on the appropriate screen for composing a new message, the Dial Contact button presents a clever interface for calling someone: It's a search box. Start typing your contact's name, and search results appear instantly, with dedicated buttons for the different numbers you have saved for that person.
Those actions are all fine, but are, in fact, rather mundane examples of what Launch Center Pro can do. For me, Groups are where the app really shines. Groups are collections of actions, accessed by tapping and holding on the Group's icon. For example, if I tap on hold on my custom Lauren action (named for my wife, and represented oh-so-sweetly with a heart icon I selected), the other icons that appear on-screen give me immediate access to placing a call to her at home or on her cell phone, sending her an iMessage, composing an email, or launching Find My Friends.
I similarly set up a group called Contacts, which offers icons for placing calls (and, in some places, iMessages) to the people I contact the most. The more I use Launch Center Pro, the faster my muscle memory becomes: There's no doubt that I can more quickly place calls, contact my wife, or toggle the LED flash with Launch Center Pro than without.
The process of customizing Launch Center Pro to your liking isn't effortless; it takes some time to set things up the right way. But doing so is actually kind of fun: You tap the pencil icon at the upper right and the screen shifts to a blue graph paper background. You can rearrange shortcuts, remove icons, and create new actions and Groups with relative ease--it's just time consuming. You can create custom icons for different actions by choosing from several backgrounds and a slew of glyphs, though those glyphs could benefit from better organization. I've been tweaking my Launch Center Pro screen for the past several days as I realize more about how I can best use the app, and I'm increasingly delighted by its utility.
Launch Center Pro is a sequel to App Cubby's $1 Launch Center, an app that focused on putting these shortcuts and actions into Notification Center for you. Launch Center Pro can do that too, although I much prefer the pseudo-home screen approach for my personal workflow.
There are a few flaws, all of which are minor. I could find no way to get Launch Center Pro to simply launch the Mail app; there are actions for creating new messages, but I wanted to build a Group that offered both an icon for simply launching Mail and a second for composing a new blank message. I'd like more stylistic options for creating Group icons, which are limited to grayscale imagery, versus the far more colorful options for actions. And I'd love the ability to import and export groups so that I could more easily share powerful Launch Center Pro combos with friends.
As I said, though, the flaws are minor; the app's strengths are many. Perhaps the highest praise I can give Launch Center Pro is that it finally kicked Safari out of my dock--a position the browser has maintained since my first day with an iOS device. I stuck Safari in the bottom row of my Launch Center window so that I can launch it quickly with a follow-up tap, and my screen also has a selection of bookmarks for quickly accessing my favorite sites, so the prime real estate suits Launch Center Pro just fine.
In his spare time, staff writer Lex Friedman puts the "power" in "power user."