Posts tagged with "iOS"

Drafts 4 Review

Drafts is one of my all-time favorite apps on iOS, not only for its amazing utility, but also because it was the app that got me started writing about technology, so it has a special place in my heart. However, surveying what the app has looked like since its last big update over a year ago, it’s been clear to me that an unchanged Drafts would stagnate in the post-iOS 8 world. In the face of new methods of inter-app communication such as extensions, documents pickers, and widgets, surviving on URL scheme-based utilities alone would likely not be enough to keep Drafts relevant.

This is Drafts though, an app that has been at the forefront of iOS automation since the field began. I should not have been worried. Released today on the App Store as a new, iOS 8-only, and Universal app, Drafts 4 is an evolution which boasts a huge number of improvements and represents a much needed shift in direction. With a UI refresh, a smarter and more accessible interface for building actions, a fantastic Share extension, a customizable extended keyboard, an enhanced URL scheme, and the intriguing introduction of JavaScript scripts for text manipulation, Drafts 4 is Agile Tortoise’s statement that they are ready for the challenges of a modern iOS.

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Based on Launch Center Pro, Contact Center Simplifies Contact Shortcuts

Contact Center is not for me. The latest product from Contrast, Contact Center is a simplified version of Launch Center Pro that brings a subset of its features to a free iPhone app supported by ads and aimed at a less geeky and power-user audience. I don't need Contact Center. But, at the same time, I recognize that it's a great idea from the Contrast team, cleverly executed in this 1.0 release.

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The Slow Death of Buttons in iOS

Simone Rizzo has a good post on iOS and the progressive demotion of buttons, arguing that there's a reason Apple has started adding gestures to perform actions that used to be exclusively associated with buttons.

Assuming I’m right in spotting this trend of a) removing the need for buttons to interact with iOS or b) removing the need for the buttons to be on a specific point on the screen, the next obvious question is why. Why would Apple move away from an admittedly easy way of interacting with iOS, one that arguably sustained the initial success of the iPhone and iPad?

The addition of new gestures for key tasks (particularly navigation in iOS 7 and one-handed picture sharing in iOS 8's Messages) mixes well with iOS' new design structure, but I, too, believe that it signals upcoming bigger devices. (We'll see in September, I guess.)

The trade-off with relying on gestures too much is that, without clear borders, shadows, or realistic elements that indicate interactivity and state for buttons, the overall experience can be confusing and the interface difficult to use. A year later, I find myself occasionally struggling to make out buttons from labels, stopping my finger for a fraction of a second as I wonder “Is this a button?”. In other cases, I slow down my swipe because I can't remember if the app I'm in supports that Back gesture. I don't think I'm alone in this, but it's undeniable that gestures – whether suggested (like the Camera shortcut in the Lock screen) or implied – are becoming more prominent in iOS.

An OS that doesn't rely on buttons in fixed positions should make for a better experience when using a larger device. The issue with “button” design in iOS is still a hot topic in design circles, and I imagine that gesture discoverability will be as important if Apple is really working on a bigger iPhone. Perhaps some sort of guide to discover features could help.

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Automating iOS: A Comprehensive and Updated Guide to Launch Center Pro

Note: The following is a complete update of our original Launch Center Pro guide published in April 2014. It has been rewritten and updated for the latest 2.3 and 2.3.1 versions of Launch Center Pro with new sections, actions, videos, and more.

Released in December of 2011, Launch Center (the predecessor to Launch Center Pro) was one of the first apps to put the spotlight on URL schemes and actions. Promising the ability to launch "actions" instead of just apps, Launch Center leveraged URL actions to minimize the number of taps it took to complete common tasks on a variety of iOS apps.

In those days, URL schemes were a fairly obscure facet of iOS, and few apps supported them. App Cubby (the developers of Launch Center and Launch Center Pro, now known as Contrast) wanted to change that. With Launch Center 1.2, they introduced the "Supported Apps" list: a list of apps supporting URL schemes with quick links to load actions from those schemes into Launch Center.

A few months later, in June of 2012, App Cubby released Launch Center Pro. The evolution of Launch Center, Launch Center Pro substituted the old list view for a 3x4 grid of large, easily tappable actions.

Where Launch Center had clearly been a utility, Launch Center Pro was a second home screen. Tapping icons in a grid is natural to every iOS user, and LCP took advantage of that to feel instantly familiar. As the slick new app made waves in the tech community, awareness and support of URL schemes began to grow. Launch Center Pro was the spark that would ignite the fire for URL schemes and iOS automation.

In the following months the iOS automation landscape grew as new players entered. Pythonista brought powerful Python scripting to iOS, and Greg Pierce's x-callback-url specification was gaining steam among third-party apps. In January, 2013, Pierce released Drafts 2.5 (Drafts for iPad 1.5), adding custom URL actions via an action menu and powerful support for x-callback-url. This placed Drafts among the front runners for the most powerful iOS automation and inter-app communication possible on iOS. The rest of 2013 would not slow down the pace. Drafts, Launch Center Pro, and Pythonista continued to iterate and improve.

August 2013 brought Editorial, a new app by the same developer behind Pythonista, which revolutionized the field all over again. Not to be defeated, Agile Tortoise answered with Drafts 3.5, and App Cubby became Contrast as they released Launch Center Pro 2.0 and (soon after) Launch Center Pro for iPad. In May of 2014, Editorial 1.1 made waves once again, and was quickly followed by the huge Launch Center Pro 2.3 update (more on that later). Right now we have the next update to Drafts to look forward to, hopefully including the intriguing new action builder Greg Pierce has teased on Twitter.

Watching these developers fight it out has been an awesome experience. The intense, unceasing competition has brought iOS automation incredibly far in a ridiculously short amount of time. The power of these apps, the increasing support of URL schemes from third party developers and the attention from many independent websites such as MacStories, Unapologetic (my personal website), Geeks With Juniors, I Miss My Mac and many others which latched onto the idea and fostered it in the early days, have grown the field from a ridiculed thought (no one can do real work on an iPad!) to a subject often discussed in the tech press. Moreover, after this year's WWDC, the new Extensions coming in iOS 8 could redefine the field once again, and I can't wait to see how these developers will evolve their apps to compete in this impending new era of iOS automation.

Today, Launch Center Pro (or "LCP") has come incredibly far from its rudimentary beginnings. Once a simple app launcher held back by the lack of support for more advanced actions from third party developers, the expanding interest in URL schemes have let Contrast focus on beefing up LCP's internal functionalities. While on the surface it looks deceptively simple, and no more than a reskin of its original design from June 2012, 2014’s Launch Center Pro is brimming with hidden power and advanced capabilities.

Since no single resource has previously existed to bring you up to speed from a total beginner to a Launch Center Pro power user, my goal is to provide one for you here. Whether you had never even heard of Launch Center Pro until reading this, or you're a seasoned veteran of the app, this article will familiarize you with LCP's full feature set.

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Spotify Actions for Launch Center Pro

I recently tweeted about a change in the Spotify app for iOS – which I've been using to listen to music every day1 – that broke my shortcut to search for songs and artists from my Launch Center Pro action grid. I've been trying to identify the culprit and I've read documentation about Spotify's URL scheme and integration with the web app, but I haven't been able to figure out how to make searches typed in Launch Center Pro work with Spotify again. Therefore, I've tweaked my Spotify action setup and settled on a compromise that's (kind of) working for now.

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My Launch Center Pro Setup

My Launch Center Pro Home screen and Utilities group.

My Launch Center Pro Home screen and Utilities group.

Over the past two years, we’ve covered Launch Center Pro, one of my favorite apps for iPhone and iPad, several times here at MacStories. We’ve detailed major updates that were released by Contrast and published a complete guide to go from novice to advanced user; we’ve also focused on the hidden features for power users that the developers recently snuck into a seemingly minor update. And yet, in spite of the coverage, I’ve never really addressed the question that I often receive from MacStories readers – How do you use Launch Center Pro?

In this post, I’m going to detail the actions and groups that I use with Launch Center Pro every day. I keep Launch Center Pro in my dock, and I use it for actions that are both work-related or simple shortcuts to my favorite music streaming app or animated GIFs. I’ve realized that quickly mentioning an action or including examples in a review isn’t the best way to explain how I’m using the app, and hopefully this post will provide a good overview of my practical use for a fantastic utility that I rely on.

Below, you’ll find a breakdown of my Launch Center Pro setup with sections for the app’s Home screen and groups. The screenshots will show my iPhone setup, but I keep the same actions on my iPad. Whenever possible, each action will have a download link to install it on your device.

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Redeeming App Store Promo Codes with Launch Center Pro

Yes, that promo code has been used.

Yes, that promo code has been used.

I was taking a look at my Launch Center Pro action library over the weekend, and I realized that I didn't have a shortcut to quickly redeem App Store promo codes.

Whether it's a promo code for an app pitch or a gift card I need to redeem on my iTunes account, I constantly find myself opening the App Store app, scrolling to the bottom, tapping Redeem, pasting the code, and confirming everything with my password. But we're not prehistoric iPhone users, and this can be automated. And even better, the tweaks introduced in Launch Center Pro 2.3.1 make the process seamless yet flexible.

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Launch Center Pro 2.3.1 for Power Users

My Launch Center Pro home screen and Utilities folder.

My Launch Center Pro home screen and Utilities folder.

Earlier this month, I wrote that Launch Center Pro 2.3 extended iOS automation by integrating with IFTTT and bridging the gap between iOS apps and web services. Launch Center Pro 2.3.1, released today and seemingly a minor update, is packed with major changes for advanced users who want to build complex URL actions in the app.

If you’ve struggled to build actions that connect multiple apps in Launch Center Pro before, you’ll want to check out the new version and read through the full documentation on Contrast’s website. We’re still working on a big update to our Launch Center Pro guide, but, in the meantime, I’m going to give you an overview of what’s possible to achieve with Launch Center Pro 2.3.1.

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