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Launch Center Pro 2.3 Extends iOS Automation

Released today on the App Store, Launch Center Pro 2.3 is a major update to Contrast’s app launcher and automation tool for iOS that further enhances integration with online services, improves how actions are built and triggered, and that refines several aspects of an app that’s become a key piece of my workflow.

I’ve been covering Launch Center Pro since its humble Pro-less beginnings, and the app has changed dramatically over the years. What started as a simple launcher for apps graduated into a full-blown automation utility for URL schemes and native iOS features, which allowed us to create a complete guide to get started with the app on your iPhone and iPad.1

Launch Center Pro 2.3 brings important improvements that make the app an even better companion for common tasks and advanced workflows. The update is packed with features – David Barnard wasn’t joking when he said that it feels like a 3.0 release – and I believe that Contrast did a great job in integrating them with the rest of the app.

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Creating and Sharing Text Files In Launch Center Pro

When Launch Center Pro 2.2 was released last month, I mentioned the addition of Dropbox actions for creating and modyfing text files, but I didn’t share any action example because I couldn’t find a possible use of the feature in my workflow. This morning, I realized that my old workflow to generate and share text files with Dropbox could be simplified with Launch Center Pro, so I rewrote it using the app’s new Dropbox functionalities.

I often need to create text files and share them quickly with Dropbox. These are usually notes that don’t fit in a Twitter DM or long crash reports for developers of apps I’m testing. In my old workflow, I used to type file name and file contents in Launch Center Pro, then, with two steps of inter-app communication, upload the file with Drafts, get the shareable link back with Launch Center Pro, and start a new tweet with the link in Tweetbot.

The workflow still gets the job done but the new version is simpler, faster, and more flexible. It’s just three steps:

  • Type file name;
  • Type file contents;
  • Get public link to text file in Dropbox.

With a single action that doesn’t involve switching between apps, I can type a file name in a Launch Center Pro prompt, insert contents manually or by pasting, and hit Done to create a text file in Dropbox. Launch Center Pro gets the link of the just-created file and presents an iOS share sheet with a series of options for the file’s public link so that I’m not limited to Tweetbot anymore; I discovered that I often needed to DM or email a link, and with the old workflow I was forced to start a new tweet then select and copy the link manually from it. With the new action, everything happens inside Launch Center Pro in seconds and I can pick the best option for me (it’s usually “Copy”).

I was skeptical as to whether I would need Dropbox actions in Launch Center Pro, but this workflow shows some clear benefits of Contrast’s app – keyboard prompts and a native share sheet combined with Dropbox text features make for a quick and elegant note-taking and sharing experience.

You can download the action here.


TAKE ACTION - Action Menu Generator For Launch Center Pro

Nice work (and great name) by Jeff Mueller: starting from my idea for an action menu for Safari in Launch Center Pro, he made a web app to simplify the process of assembling the bookmarklet. You can choose from a set of emojis for icons, select one of the built-in actions (so you don’t have to write URL schemes), and hit Create Menu to generate a menu. It’s very simple and much better than writing code manually.

I hope that Jeff will add more app actions and emojis soon. Check it out here.

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Safari Action Menu In Launch Center Pro

Launch Center Pro action menu

Launch Center Pro action menu

Last week, I was looking at the way I use Safari and save links to other apps and services, and I realized that I wanted a unified action menu to group some of my most used bookmarklets together. While this can be done by creating a bookmark folder in Safari, folders require too many taps on the iPhone and I’d like to have better visual differentiation between actions with unique icons for each one of them. That seemed like a good opportunity to test the capabilities of Launch Center Pro (now on the iPad as well) when it comes to lists and JavaScript, so I got to work.

A fair warning: Though my solution works, the code isn’t pretty. Until Apple improves the way apps can share information with each other, we’re stuck with hacks like URL schemes, JavaScript, and manual encoding. If you want to customize what I came up with, you’ll have to manually edit URL schemes and test everything on your own. If you’re not concerned about a bookmarklet’s prettiness, go ahead – I’m fairly satisfied with the results. Read more


Launch Center Pro for iPad Review

Launch Center Pro

Launch Center Pro

Contrast’s Launch Center Pro, the app that started the small revolution of iOS automation in June 2012, arrives today on the iPad with a new version (sold separately at $4.99) that takes everything you know about Launch Center Pro for iPhone and scales it up to the bigger screen. Launch Center Pro for iPad doesn’t do anything dramatically different from its iPhone counterpart: you can create custom actions, play around with Dropbox and clipboard integration, and do all the things that were possible in Launch Center Pro 2.1 – only now on your iPad too.

Finally.

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Save Photos As Reminders with Fantastical and Launch Center Pro

Fantastical and LCP

Fantastical and LCP

I recently realized that I wanted a way to quickly save photos or screenshots as todos, and being Fantastical 2 my todo manager (with Reminders) and Launch Center Pro the fastest way to take pictures and upload them to Dropbox, I combined them in two workflows.

I made two simple actions that mix the Launch Center Pro and Fantastical URL schemes to save a Dropbox image link as a reminder in Fantastical. You retain the ability to type natural language in a Launch Center Pro prompt, and Fantastical will also automatically recognize the URL and put it in the URL field of a reminder.

Some details worth noting about the actions:

  • The first one lets you take a new photo; the second one grabs any image from the Camera Roll;
  • Both actions will upload an image to Dropbox in the Photos/LCP/ folder; you can change this once you install the action;
  • Fantastical is set to create a reminder for the received text through the reminder=1 flag in the URL scheme.

Getting all the encoding right was a bit tricky at first, but the actions should work without any further configuration on your end. Feel free to modify them: with my basic structure in mind, you can replace Fantastical 2 with Drafts, Dispatch, or any other app that can receive text via URL scheme. I just find it handy to be able to quickly save photos in Fantastical as tappable links, but the workflow is really up to your imagination.

You can download the actions here:


Launch Center Pro 2.1: Fleksy Keyboard, Lists, Photo Attachments, and Share Sheets

Launch Center Pro 2.1

Launch Center Pro 2.1

In October, Contrast released Launch Center Pro 2.0, a free update to their shortcut launcher and automation tool for iOS that brought a new interface for iOS 7 and, among other minor additions, Dropbox integration. Launch Center Pro is one of the three apps I keep in my dock[1], and I use it several times a day to create new tasks in Fantastical, launch Google searches, open my favorite websites, and more.

Today, Contrast is launching Launch Center Pro 2.1, a seemingly not-so-major update that, however, brings important changes to the app, including a new way to build visual actions and support for the new third-party Fleksy keyboard. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that version 2.1 is just as important as 2.0 for heavy users of Launch Center Pro. Read more


Launch Center Pro 2.0 Review

Launch Center Pro, developed by Contrast (née App Cubby), can be considered the app that spearheaded a small revolution among iOS power users. Initially envisioned as a Notification Center tool, following an Apple rejection in late 2011 the app was released as Launch Center; in the summer of 2012, App Cubby completely reworked the inner workings and design of Launch Center and turned it into Launch Center Pro, allowing users to create custom actions with personalized URL schemes and therefore kicking off a series of months that saw the apperance of several other apps focused on actions, URL schemes, and automated workflows. In looking back at the past year of iOS automation, I think that Launch Center Pro 1.0 was a major turning point in that it proved that many iOS users wanted to create actions and workflows to save time and be more productive.

In March 2013, App Cubby released Launch Center Pro 1.1, which focused on TextExpander integration in URL schemes, Action Composer tweaks, and deeper system integration with clipboard actions for text and more. The app’s library of supported third-party apps kept growing as more developers took the opportunity to address the interest sparked by Launch Center Pro to add URL schemes to their apps. I remember, however, that back then App Cubby’s David Barnard – the same developer behind the recently released and successful weather app Perfect Weather – started telling me about his plans for the future of Launch Center Pro and expanding to other supported services, apps, and devices.

With today’s Launch Center Pro 2.0 for iPhone, a free update for existing customers, Contrast wants to ask: in the era of Drafts actions and Control Center, can Launch Center Pro still have a spot on a user’s Home screen, and possibly in the dock? Read more


Amount Conversions From Launch Center Pro

In September, I reviewed Amount, an elegant and easy to use unit converter for iPhone:

Amount is easy to use and ready for iOS 7 with a full-screen design and neat animations. It isn’t packed with advanced functionalities, but I’d definitely recommend it as a unit converter app for everyone.

Today, the app has been updated with a URL scheme that can be used to launch specific unit conversions from other apps. As documented by the developer, this is the URL scheme to use:

amount://convert?number=NUMBER&category=CATEGORY&unit=UNIT

The commands are rather self-explanatory: given a numeric input, a category (currency, length, data, etc), and a unit, you can launch Amount’s conversion screen with information already filled in for you. While you can set up this kind of shortcut with any app that lets you create URL scheme actions, the obvious implementation takes advantage of Launch Center Pro’s numeric keypad to simplify the process of typing numbers.

amount://convert?number=[prompt-num]&category=currency

With the action above, I can quickly type a numeric input in Launch Center Pro, tap launch, and then select the primary unit for a currency conversion in Amount, which will then display multiple results inline without switching screens. It’s a handy shortcut, and it doesn’t change Amount’s cool visualization of converted results.

Amount is available at $0.99 on the App Store.