There were some interesting features announced as part of the launch of Google's Pixel phones. While some are exclusives to the new handsets, others are a part of the new Android 7.1 Nougat. One of the headlining features for the new OS version is the App Shortcuts API, a way for apps to offer fast access to select screens and functions. If you've been looking forward to trying it out, the Google Now Launcher in combination with today's developer preview fully supports app shortcuts and there's already plenty of examples to try out.
Sony isn't making the most compelling Android phones these days, but it does at least try to put out good software. It's one of the most developer-friendly OEMs and it was even the first to release the N preview on non-Nexus hardware. Now, Sony has the distinction of being the first to do something else. The latest version of the Xperia Home beta has a Google Now pane just like the Google Now Launcher—no other OEM has done this on its custom launcher.
There's still time to squeeze one more Action Launcher update in this year, and it's a big one. The latest version of Action Launcher makes a myriad of tweaks and adds two new icon-related features, one of which will sound a little familiar.
The Microsoft Garage has given birth to a myriad of interesting apps with limited utility, but everyone needs a home screen, right? Microsoft made Arrow Launcher available as a beta over the summer, but now it's available in the Play Store for everyone to try. It'll take some getting used to, though. This isn't just another AOSP re-skin.
People were understandably excited when Nova Launcher added icon normalization to the beta app. This feature automatically scales app icons to make the sizes more visually consistent. It's been a few weeks, but icon normalization is ready for prime time as part of the new v4.1 update in the Play Store.
A new version of Chris Lacy's Action Launcher is rolling out today, and it brings an all-new feature that makes it a snap to search your apps. Well, I guess it technically makes it a swipe. Quickfind is a built-in search box in the app list that's accessible with a simple gesture. That's not all that's new—there are a number of other thoughtful tweaks and changes in v3.6.
Your phone and the services connected to it know a lot about you (creepy, right?), and Bento Launcher is designed to use that data in order to bring relevant information to your home screen. Bento is entering a new phase today, starting with a name change. It's called Scout Launcher, and it's now available to everyone.
In line with their recent trend of developing for all platforms, Microsoft has quietly released a semi-private beta of a launcher app called Arrow. The early release sports an interface reminiscent of Aviate, but appears less devoted to contextual recommendations. While the current version is fairly basic, the big ideas may still be on the horizon.
The first thing I noticed is that Arrow replaced the stock icons for system apps like Phone and Messages, which isn't in and of itself a bad thing but an unexpected behavior.
The main screen is divided into three sections. There is a row on top for recent apps, a larger area in the middle for frequently used apps, and the bottom row for user-selected quick access apps.
Action Launcher is getting an update as we speak with a completely new feature. It's called the Quickbar, and it finally puts that search bar on the home screen to good use. In v3.5 you can add your own shortcuts and custom actions to the bar for easy access.
At this point, there is no real shortage of "smart" launchers in the Android ecosystem. Of course, we have to put "smart" in quotation marks, because there still is a void in terms of truly good products trying to do that. So when I tell you that Bento is a new entrant in this bustling market of context-aware launchers, you shouldn't ask, "do we need another one?" You should ask, "is this the one that will really do a great job?"
Bento is a venture capital-backed project that is in a semi-private beta at the moment. As I go over the app in its current state, it's important to keep in mind that it is not a finished product at this point and is not the kind of wide-release beta that you might be accustomed to.