Getting to Grips with Launch Center Pro20 Dec 2018
A few days ago over on the Automators podcast forum I answered a query about making use of the iOS app Launch Center Pro, which had recently been updated. The post was fairly extensive and received a lot of positive feedback. I therefore decided to paraphrase it here on my own web site as a reference for those who follow my writing.
The posting came about in response to queries from a couple of users about use cases and a general utilisation of the app and so, in response, I decided to share some details about what it does for me. It focuses on the fact that Launch Center Pro offers me some specific features that I find useful, but for some of these features there are certainly alternative approaches. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as different approaches suit different workflows and different mind sets. Based on that I set out the following assertion for everything that follows.
Launch Center Pro isn’t necessarily an app for everyone, but it can be an app for anyone, from novice through to advanced iOS user.
Examining the Potential
Key Feature: Triggers
There are three trigger features that Launch Center Pro currently offers, along with some alternatives for how you might do the same with other apps and OS functionality.
- Manual selection - the user opens the app, selects an entry and the resulting action is triggered.
- You can create home scree links for web sites directly from Safari.
- Shortcuts allows you to create home screen links from within the app.
- I posted a Shortcut that effectively allows you to put any URL (in the same manner as Launch Center Pro) in a home screen link.
- Schedule - a notification which can be tapped to trigger an action can be set, based upon time and date. In fact multiple scheduled occurrences for the same offering can be set.
- Siri can be used with “Hey Siri, reming me about ‘this’ on Monday at 9 AM”.
- Apps like Due and Scriptable can be used to post actionable reminders.
- Geofenced Location (long to mid-range) - a notification which can be tapped to trigger an action can be set, based upon device (A/)GPS location.
- Again, Siri can be used with something like “Hey Siri, remind me about ‘this’ when I leave home”.
- Device Proximity (close to near range) - an actionable notification can be tapped to trigger an action when the device detects a particular iBeacon broadcast or is close enough to an NFC tag to trigger it.
- Note that only the latest iPhone models have background NFC scanning, older devices require a scanner app.
- URL Scheme - as well as using URL schemes to trigger other things, Launch Center Pro has it’s own URL scheme that can be triggered from other apps
Just to round this out with other non-Launch Center Pro specific trigger methods, I think it might also be worth mentioning a few other ways to trigger things.
- Push Notification - actionable notifications can be sent from other services such as Pushbullet, Pushover or potentially even Messages.
- I use external events on my Mac Mini and via IFTTT to trigger Pushover messages to my devices and these can include actionable URLs. This is like ESP (extra-sensory perception) for you device as it can trigger based on external criteria.
- Visual Notifications - QR codes can be read by device cameras and trigger actionable URL-based notifications.
- Unlike NFC tags, QR codes work for iPads.
- Martin Packer has been experimenting with using QR codes on grids of codes to launch things and I’m sure he’ll be sharing more on his results.
- Not useful in the dark … which may sound silly until you want to activate something at night when you walk into your house, or next to your bed when you dock your phone, etc.
- Not accessible for those with visual impairments
- No need to pre-program Launch Center Pro to recognise these as it is all just built into the OS.
Aspirationally, maybe one day Chirp (or Chirp Messenger these days) will once again enable sending of tappable URLs via encoded audio. Niche usage perhaps, but I think there’s scope in larger auditoriums and halls with no screen, for audio-based media such as radio programmes (podcasts already have show notes in player apps), and of course for the visually impaired.
Key Feature: Organisation
The number one core feature of Launch Center Pro is almost certainly that of organisation of actions. For this it actually has a multi-tier approach.
The first tier is to simply place an icon for an action on the app’s home screen.
The second tier is to create app home screen groups which when tapped on reveal a number of other actions. Think of it like a hierarchical menu system, but the action locations aren’t quite an ordered list but more a position based orientation. Note that if you are using an iPad, when you rotate the screen, the actions do not remain in place on the screen; e.g. an action in the top left in portrait will move to the bottom right in landscape.
The third tier is through the use of Launch Center Pro’s inbuilt list functionality. When configured for lists, Launch Center Pro will display a menu like list of options which can be in effect other actions … including other lists.
For example, this Launch Center Pro action URL will display an initial menu of two options - iOS apps and Mac Apps. Upon selecting one of those, a secondary list of apps will be displayed. Once selected, the keywords associated with the app and platform will be appended to a URL that will query the Automators forum for those words.
[list:List|Launch Center Pro=Launch Center Pro|Shortcuts=Shortcuts|Scriptable=Scriptable|TextExpander=TextExpander|Pythonista=Pythonista]|Mac Apps=Mac [list:List|Keyboard Maestro=Keyboard Maestro|Automator=Automator|TextExpander=TextExpander|Script Editor (AppleScript)=AppleScript]]
So what does this mean?
If you are looking to simplify how you operate, then you can stick with just a set of your most commonly used actions and have them on the app home page. Then you have a one stop shop that not only allows app access, but access to a bit more than that as Launch Center Pro does also allow you to enter into apps at particular locations, trigger specific actions, etc.
If you are looking to bring a bit more order then you probably start to look at grouping actions. This is at worst simply and answer for everyone who’s been crying out for folders in Shortcuts (and in Workflow before that - though I still want something better there, but at best it can help you logically partition actions like you might do with contexts in GTD or particular sets of operations for particular apps.
Finally you can start “overloading” individual actions with menu systems that let you choose from related sets of actions. You could of course accomplish this with Shortcuts, but I actually think it is easier to build lists like this for Launch Center Pro than the more visually based Shortcuts. Scriptable could likewise build similar menus, but there’s more overhead to do that there unless you create a few helper functions … but if you already have Launch Center Pro.
Of course as you move along these options, you can also blend those elements together.
In summary, it is giving you the potential to gather and structure things in a way that would hopefully make more sense to you and be quicker to access. If it isn’t quicker, then either you don’t need it for that, or you’re looking at actioning the wrong things.
Key Features: A Bit of Other Stuff
Launch Center Pro also has a number of other functional elements that can make things easier to accomplish than in some other automation tools.
- It integrates with TextExpander, so you can take advantage of your pre-built snippets.
- There’s special provision for simplifying photo attachments.
- Some handy direct Dropbox file interactions.
The today widgets are potentially very useful, but personally the flexibility I currently have with the Launcher app outweighs Launch Center Pro significantly, due to its functionality to show the widgets at particular times and locations.
There’s also access to capture text at a prompt, use the clipboard, etc., but the ones above I think can make a notable difference for some workflows over and above other app solutions.
Using Launch Center Pro
Thinking about how to make use of Launch Center Pro
There are lots of potential uses that have been documented over the years, and more are appearing all the time as the app capabilities grow. Literally anything you can trigger with a URL scheme, you can tigger with Launch Center Pro. If you are looking to organise ‘things’ then you just use the app. If you want to use it to improve your efficiency, then you’ve got to dig a bit deeper than just making it an app launcher.
- Think about things that you need to trigger periodically - schedule them with Launch Center Pro.
- Think about things you always need to trigger when you arrive somewhere or leave somewhere - trigger them with Launch Center Pro using geo fencing or iBeacons.
- Think about things you would like to trigger purposefully with minimal effort (given the right device) - trigger them with Launch Center Pro using NFC tags.
- Think about occasions where you don’t just want to access an app, but where you want to access something particular within the app - build a ‘deep link’ URL in Launch Center Pro and trigger it from there.
- This can be particularly useful for apps which have different views/contexts/workspaces/projects.
- Think about things where you have a list of potential actions you would like to simplify, but also speed up selection of, your options - overloading an action with multiple possible actions as a list or putting them into Launch Center Pro groups will get you yo your goals faster.
I primarily tend to think of it as a helper app for my other automation uses, particularly in the ways it can trigger other actions through things like geo-fencing and scheduling.
The thing is, whilst you might pick up the odd idea here and there, I think Launch Center Pro might well be one of those apps where the specifics come down to the individual and discussing the generalities and approaches is potentially more beneficial than specific examples. That being said…
Finally … an actual example
Beyond the more automated triggers, I personally do also use it as a launcher for specific scenarios. I have several niche scenario groups and some that are work related and so not for open discussion here. However, one that I think should be understandable as an example is an action group I have that I regularly access when I’m at the martial arts club where I teach.
- I have Launch Center Pro actions that jump me into particular reference documents stored in GoodReader. This is deep linking.
- I have an action that links to pre-prepared maps I have for other training locations my students may have need to visit. This is a list of bookmarks.
- I have links to things that rely on my always on Mac Mini:
- I have an action that triggers a custom Shortcut that connects to my Mac Mini over SSH and triggers the printing of a new set of club packs.
- I have an action that jumps me to a cloud hosted file I generate regularly (via other scripts an automations on my Mac Mini) that lists out student license expiry information.
- Finally, for completeness, I also have a link to Google translate for those moments where my very limited knowledge of English-Japanese translation fails me an I need a prompt.
I hope that this helps people understand some of the capabilities and potential uses of Launch Center Pro, and sparks a few ideas of how people can use both Launch Center Pro, and maybe even other iOS apps to accomplish more. For me Launch Center Pro has been on my devices for quite some time, and whilst I might not use it every day, I certainly use it many times a week, and it fits very nicey for some of my more productive workflows.