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The best launcher apps for iOS

Michael Simon | June 19, 2015
iOS navigation has matured to the point where it doesn't matter where our apps are hiding anymore--with a swipe and a few taps we can navigate through the deepest of folders in just a few seconds. Power users can manipulate iOS to do their bidding: We can launch apps, make calls, and send messages without needing to jump through a single home screen hoop, thanks to a little help from the Notification Center, Siri, and even Spotlight.

Best for automation: Workflow 

When I started this roundup, I assumed my winner and runner-up would be Launch Center Pro and Workflow ($3), but as I delved deeper into what they do, I realized something: They're not competitors, they're companions. And to say that Workflow is a runner-up to Launch Center Pro is to do both apps a disservice.

It's not even really fair to call Workflow a launcher. Where Launch Center Pro is at its heart an environment for simple shortcuts like opening apps and searching Spotify or Google Images, Workflow is a desktop-caliber automation tool. Instead of keystrokes common with its OS X counterparts, it uses a simple interface of color-coded rectangles that helps you quickly get in and out of your actions. 

But while you can use it to launch apps if you must, it's far better served for condensing a complex series of steps into a single button. Some of the sample workflows offered within the app are Pizza Assistant (which dials your favorite pizza and schedules a reminder to pick it up) and Time Machine (for viewing photos you snapped a year ago), but its clever drag-and-drop interface makes it easy to test all sorts of action combinations until you find the right mix. 

It's not so much that Workflow can do things Launch Center Pro can't, it's that they work incredibly well together, so much so that one of the options in Workflow's action composer is adding it to a free spot on your Launch Center Pro home screen. And with an excellent use of iOS 8's extensions, you rarely even have to open the app on its own unless you want to create a new action or workflow.

Like Launch Center Pro, a deep knowledge of URL schemes will help unlock Workflow's tremendous power, but the app does a remarkable job keeping things as simple as possible, offering a tremendous library of stackable actions that lets the most amateur of automators set up multi-step workflows for a wide variety of apps. And if the lengthy list of actions is over your head, Workflow offers a great gallery of pre-made processes that will transform your iPhone without needing to lift a finger. Well, at least not more than one.

Best for contacts: Contact Center

Launch Center Pro does plenty of things to make it easy to call, text, and message our friends and loved ones, but those who have a lot of people to interact with each day will be better served by checking out Contrast's other launcher app.

Contact Center (free) looks and acts so much like Launch Center Pro, I'm surprised the two apps haven't been merged by now. It would be easy to add a dedicated screen just for contacts, but keeping it separate does have its charms, freeing up space for extra workflows in the main app and allowing for super-fast messaging in the other. You don't find a mountain of actions like in Launch Center Pro, but everything you need to stay in touch can be found inside: You can set actions for sending group messages and mass emails at a tap, or tap into the Photos app to quickly share and attach pictures. And my personal favorite: It even links up with Giphy so you can find hilarious GIFs to send to your friends.

 

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