Podcast 34: 📚 Reflecting on 5 years of Action Launcher with Jesse Wilson

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In December 2012, the first version of Action Launcher released. In this episode, long-time Action Launcher user Jesse Wilson hosts yours truly in a discussion about the ensuing five years.

This is a wide ranging discussion, covering not just Action Launcher itself, but a number of topics including how app development has changed during that time, our evolved feelings device system updates, how to help surface features in an app and much more. But don't be fooled, there's plenty of Action Launcher chat here 😀.

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Action Launcher's 27.0 update arrives, bringing a weather widget, App Shortcuts enhancements and more

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By popular demand, an inbuilt weather widget is now available.

Action Launcher's Android O style App Shortcuts and Notification Dots can now be colored to match either your wallpaper, or the color of the icon itself.

Action Launcher's custom search bar widgets, created via the inbuilt Quickbar editor, can now be placed anywhere on your home screen.

And rounding out the "by popular demand" enhancements, in addition to having the colors of items like your folders and All Apps drawer match your wallpaper, you can now adjust the transparency of these items via Action Launcher's Quicktheme settings.

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And of course all these enhancements work seamslessly with Action Launcher's recent addition of Google Now integration.

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The full change log for Action Launcher 27.0 is as follows:

• NEW: Weather widget (Alpha). Requires Android 6.0 or later.
• NEW: Adjust the color of the App Shortcuts panels via Quicktheme.
• NEW: App Shortcuts, Shutters and Covers can be tinted with the highlight color of the controlling icon via Quicktheme. Allows for Twitter's App Shortcuts panel to by light blue, WhatsApp's to be green, etc.
• NEW: Ability to adjust the transparency of the All Apps page, search box, folders, Shutters and more via Quicktheme.
• NEW: Quickbar (aka the custom Google Search bar) can be placed as a standalone widget anywhere on your layout.
• NEW: Revamped Quickbar icon picker, and the number of icons available for Quickbar customization has increased from ~200 to ~950.
• NEW: Option to disable widget padding (Settings -> Desktop -> Advanced -> Widget padding).
• IMPROVEMENT: Fixed a nasty memory leak related to the animated clock icon that was causing excessive battery drain and general performance issues.
• FIX: Misc. stability fixes.

Links:

Action Launcher's July 2017 update arrives, bringing Google Now integration, Notification Dots, Android O style App Shortcuts and more to today's devices

Action Launcher v26 arrives today. As with last month, it's another monster of an update.

Android O style Notification Dots, App Shortcut styling, notification previews, oh, and Google Now integration for all:

action_launcher_july_2017_update.gif

That's more than enough for a single update right? Not so!

For those that prefer numerical unread badges over Notification Dots, Action Launcher v26 also sees Unread Count graduate from its previous Alpha status, and expand support to all apps. Even better, you can now granularly control which apps display unread badges, and also use Android O's notification previews in conjunction with Unread Count:

action_launcher_unread_badges_with_notification_preview.png

Android O's widget picker has also been integrated:

action_launcher_android_o_widget_picker.gif

For those keeping score, Action Launcher currently has full support for:

  • Android O style Notification Dots including notification previews.
  • Android O style App Shortcuts.
  • Android O style animated clock icon and custom widget.
  • Android O style widget picker.
  • Google Now integration.

If you want all of Pixel Launcher and Android O on your device, today, Action Launcher is the answer.

The full change log for Action Launcher v26 is:

• NEW: Google Now integration for all! Requires installation of the Action Launcher Google Plugin application.
• NEW: Full Notification Dots support!
• NEW: Long-pressing an shortcut will display a preview of app's notifications and allow notifications to be dismissed ala Android O. Available when using either Notification Dots or Unread Count.
• NEW: Unread Count support extended to all apps that have a current notification.
• NEW: Android O style App Shortcuts panel.
• NEW: Allow granular control as to which apps display Notification Dots/Unread Count.
• NEW: Android O style widget picker, which displays all relevant widgets for a given shortcut.
• NEW: Directly engage Action Launcher's Quickedit panel via a shortcut's long-press popup UI.
• NEW: Dedicated "Icons & App Shortcuts" settings page, which is home to all icon related settings.
• NEW: When Google Pill widget is on the left screen edge and Google Now integration is enabled, display a tinted edge background as per Pixel Launcher.
• NEW: Option to adjust the scale of icon indicators.
• NEW: Revamped interface for selecting the apps that are hidden from app drawers.

Action Launcher is available as free install via the Play Store.

Action Launcher + Google Now

Google Now integration is available for all Action Launcher users running Lollipop or later.

action_launcher_google_now_integration.gif

To use it, the Action Launcher Google Plugin app must be installed. Due to technical reasons imposed by Google, this app is not available via the Play Store. Instead, it must be manually downloaded and installed.

Obviously requiring an additional app to be installed outside the Play Store is not ideal, but until Google provide an official API for 3rd party launcher developers to include Now integration in their apps, this is the best option available.

But on the positive side, once this app is installed, Now integration works seemlessly, so its arguably a small price to pay.

A few notes of warning about Action Launcher's Google Now integration:

  1. Digital Ashes is offers no guarantee as to the ongoing stability or availability of Google Now integration in Action Launcher. This functionality may be removed at any time for reasons including but not limited to Google objecting to its use and/or Google changing their applications such that support is no longer possible.
  2. Digital Ashes accepts absolutely no responsibility for any negative, unintended or unforeseen consequences as a result of manually installing the Action Launcher Google Plugin application.

With that said, of course every effort will be made to offer Now integration on an ongoing basis, but until Google provide an official means to use Google Now, its level of support cannot be fully guaranteed.

Thanks for your understanding, and happy swiping! 😃

To install Action Launcher: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.actionlauncher.playstore

To install Action Launcher Google Plugin, download the file via APKMirror or directly.

The first beta of Action Launcher v26 is out, featuring Android O style notification dots, widget picker and more

Android O's final release is fast approaching, and Action Launcher is bringing many of O's launcher related features to current versions of Android with today's release of Action Launcher v26.0-beta1.

The highlight of the release is full notification dot support, as well as Android O style App Shortcuts UI.

action_launcher_android_o_notification_dots.gif

Android O's revamped App Shortcuts UI is arguably a step back visually from the distinct bubbles introduced in Android 7.1, but it has key advantages, particularly as it allows for both App Shortcuts and additional controls display for an icon.

Action Launcher takes full advantage of this new UI, allowing for easy access to the Quickedit feature, to make replacing an app's icon, rename it, etc. even easier.

action_launcher_android_o_shortcuts_and_icon_editing.gif

Action Launcher v26.0 also sees the introduction of an Android O style widget picker, accessed via the new App Shortcuts UI:

action_launcher_android_o_widget_picker.gif

The full change log of Action Launcher 26.0-beta1:

• NEW: Full notification dots support! Notification dots display on icons, and long-pressing an shortcut will display a preview of app's notifications and allow notification to be dismissed ala Android O. Requires Lollipop or later.
• NEW: Android O style App Shortcuts panel. Requires Lollipop or later.
• NEW: Android O style widget picker, which displays all relevant widgets for a given shortcut.
• NEW: Directly engage Action Launcher's Quickedit panel via a shortcut's long-press popup UI. Requires Lollipop or later.
• NEW: Dedicated "Icons & App Shortcuts" settings page, which is home to all icon related settings.
• NEW: Option to adjust the scale of icon indicators.
• NEW: Revamped interface for selecting the apps that are hidden from app drawers.

Note: Additional features are planned to arrive as the v26.0 update progresses through beta. Action Launcher v26.0 will be released publicly just as soon as it's ready.

Grab Action Launcher from the Play Store here: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.actionlauncher.playstore

Join the public Action Launcher beta here: https://play.google.com/apps/testing/com.actionlauncher.playstore

Action Launcher's June 2017 update is out now

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Action Launcher's June 2017 update is here, and it's a big one. A previously unearthed Android O feature, a host of new features, some sweeping changes that will impact the app for years to come and a slew of other enhancements combine to form the single biggest Action Launcher release in years.

A new (old) name

Going forward, the app will drop the "3" suffix and instead solely use the name "Action Launcher".

This name change is intended as a clear statement to current and future customers alike that the current version of the app is, and will remain, the home for current and future Action Launcher development.

You can read more about this change, as well a new app version numbering system and a whole lot more, here.

A new look

Action Launcher is preparing for the world of Adaptive Icons and post-Lollipop era material design with a brand new look that encapsulates the Action Launcher of today and tomorrow:

A new, previously unknown Android O feature comes to Action Launcher

Did you know that all signs are when Android O ships, Pixel Launcher will support an animating clock icon for the Google Clock app? Neither did anyone else!

Check here for the full lowdown of this discovery, but the good news is you don't have to wait to use animating clocks, as its available today in Action Launcher, on your device.

action_launcher_android_o_animated_clock.gif

But wait, we've not gotten to the rest of the update yet!

Pixel Launcher features by default, for everyone

As of this update, Action Launcher moves on from the Lollipop era and makes all new installs of Action Launcher default to Pixel Launcher styling. You'll get the sliding All Apps drawer, folder styles, animated caret indicator and more. Furthermore, all of these features, many of which previously required the one-time Plus in-app upgrade, are available for free.

Pixel Launcher styling for App Shortcuts

Action Launcher was the first launcher to support Android 7.1's App Shortcuts, and also the first to bring app shortcuts to earlier versions of Android (5.1 or later).

A consequence of releasing App Shortcuts before Pixel Launcher was that it wasn't yet clear how Google intended for launchers to support and display App Shortcuts. Since Android 7.1's release, that dilemma has been answered, and Action Launcher now uses Google's official "hold to activate" mechanics, as well as the bubble UI:

action_launcher_app_shortcuts_bubble_ui.png

New icon indicators

Action Launcher's informative and iconic icon indicators (say that 5 times quickly!) have been given a brand new look:

action_launcher_icon_indicators.png

One terrific usability enhancement the new icon indicators bring is the ability to use App Shortcuts and Action Launcher's Shutters (which reveal an app's widget) on the same shortcut:

app_shortcuts_and_shutters.gif

Please note, that if you would like to disable these indicators and embrace the guessing game as to which apps do and don't support App Shortcuts, you can do so.

But wait, there's still more

Action Launcher's June 2017 update contains a host of other enhancements, tweaks, optimizations and fixes.

The full change log for version 25.0 of Action Launcher is:

• NEW: Action Launcher 3 has been renamed to Action Launcher, and has a shiny new icon to prove it!
• NEW: Use an animating, Android O-style clock icon for the Google Clock app (requires Lollipop or later). This animating clock is also available as a standalone widget.
• NEW: By default, all new installs of Action Launcher will use Pixel Launcher style All Apps, folders and everything in between.
• NEW: Many Pixel Launcher features that previously required Plus are now free for all users. Furthermore, the app is now far less aggressive in prompting users to upgrade to Plus.
• NEW: Full integration of Pixel Launcher's UI styling for displaying App Shortcuts (previously known as Quickcuts). App Shortcuts display when long pressing an icon from either the desktop or All Apps list.
• NEW: App Shortcuts can be used in combination with Shutters and Covers.
• NEW: App Shortcuts can be dragged and placed as shortcuts on a home screen.
• NEW: Revamped appearance of the icon indicators for Covers, Shutters and App Shortcuts..
• NEW: Smartsize icon resizing is no longer a beta feature, and is enabled by default for all Plus users.
• NEW: Add animated caret indicator when opening/close Pixel style All Apps.
• NEW: Custom system fonts are correctly applied to labels on the desktop.
• NEW: The horizontal screen margin can be adjusted (via Desktop settings, phones only).
• IMPROVEMENT: Lots of polish to ensure the app's look and feel mimics that of Pixel Launcher. Notable areas of focus include the padding of All Apps drawer and folder appearance.
• IMPROVEMENT: Optimizations to memory, battery usage and scrolling performance.
• IMPROVEMENT: Order the date and month displays on the date widget is correctly localized.
• IMPROVEMENT: The screen edge shadow no longer displays at the bottom of the screen when using a tinted dock.
• IMPROVEMENT: On first boot, the home screen animates smoothly on screen rather than having shortcuts snap on.
• IMPROVEMENT: Update translations.
• BUG FIX: Remove stutter first time All Apps drawer is opened.
• BUG FIX: Open folders display a shadow.
• BUG FIX: Fix aliasing on the icons of the first 3-4 shortcuts in a folder.
• BUG FIX: Improved support for tall devices like the S8 and G6.
• BUG FIX: Notification panel shortcut works on Galaxy S8.
• BUG FIX: Fix issue where removing the last shortcut from a Home screen page would sometimes also fail to also remove the now empty Home screen.
• BUG FIX: Fix issue where items could appear on the Quickbar multiple times.
• BUG FIX: Improve detection of App Shortcuts on pre-Android 7.1 devices.
• FIX: Misc. stability fixes.

Action Launcher's June 2017 update is available now in the Play Store: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.actionlauncher.playstore

Press assets for Action Launcher's new logo and this update are available here.

Action Launcher 3 drops the 3, and other changes

3

"Action Launcher 3" is no more. Going forward, the app will simply be known by its original name, Action Launcher.

This move is being made for a very simple reason: to make it clear that the current version of the app is, and will remain, the home for current and future Action Launcher development.

Hopefully this will ease concerns of people who, to this day, reach out and tell me they are holding off buying Action Launcher 3's one time Plus upgrade for fear of an Action Launcher 4 releasing in the near future. You should feel comfortable in the knowledge that today's single Action Launcher Plus in-app upgrade will go a whole long way going forward.

A new logo will accompany this name change.

A new attitude towards non-paying customers

I could talk in great detail on this topic, but I'll keep it brief: previous incarnations of Action Launcher 3 offered a woeful and off-putting experience for new users. To say the app was too aggressive trying to get people to buy the Plus upgrade is a gross understatement. Action Launcher 25.0 sees many improvements here, and further enhancement will follow in future updates.

A new version numbering system

I am also taking this opportunity to change Action Launcher's version numbering system. To this point, releases went from 1.0 all the way up to 3.12. I am switching to a simpler version numbering system, where the major version will be bumped with each release. Since Action Launcher's debut in December 2012, there have been 24 major updates to the app. Today's Action Launcher update is the 25th major release, so the update's version number is 25.0.

So why was there an "Action Launcher 3" in the first place?

The "3" suffix came about for a simple reason: in late 2014, Action Launcher's sales had dropped off almost entirely. Worse, I knew that bringing Action Launcher up to date for the material design era required a complete rewrite of the app. I felt that the only way to justify the months of effort required for this development was to charge for the newest version. I likened this decision to the fact that my buying a ticket to Avengers 1 didn't entitle me to a free ticket to Avengers 2.

I was genuinely fearful that without charging again, the update might receive just a regular bump in sales, then see its revenue tail off, with the net result being not only had I spent months working for nothing, but I could no longer justify future Action Launcher development going forward.

So I made the decision to make the then-named Action Launcher 3's premium features available via an in-app purchase. It's worth noting I never took anything away from previous customers: their purchase of the now-renamed Holo-era "Action Launcher 2: Pro" was still valid, and continues to work in perpetuity to this day.

Fast-forward two and a half years, and I feel with hindsight my decision was exactly the right one to make. Despite the haters in the comments section on day 1, Action Launcher had by far its biggest day of sales ever on launch day, and future Action Launcher development was assured.

Action Launcher has gone on to receive 25 major updates in less than 5 years. There are countless startups that have raised millions of dollars and come and gone in that time. Meanwhile, Action Launcher as a business has organically grown to a point that I feel comfortable investing in future development by hiring additional resources.

Overall, I feel strongly this was a win for everyone involved.

The right decision, but not a popular one

Despite my strong belief that charging for Action Launcher 3's premium features was the right decision, it remains a decision that was unpopular. The app's review score suffered permanent damage, and it seems even two years on, the comments section of any blog post covering an Action Launcher update contains negative comments by a subset of people upset by the move.

In the interests of entirely appeasing Action Launcher customers who were upset, I will be offering a full refund of Action Launcher 2 purchases to anyone who has also purchased Action Launcher 3/Action Launcher's Plus in-app upgrade.

To redeem this refund, drop me an email. The only conditions are that you must have purchased both Action Launcher 2 and the newly renamed Action Launcher's Plus upgrade from the same email account, and you must use that email account to request the refund. I'm sorry, but I'm unable to handle "I bought Action Launcher 2 with x@gmail.com but I bought Action Launcher 3: Plus from y@gmail.com" type cases as it just gets too messy and time consuming. Thanks for understanding 😃.

What happens with Action Launcher 2: Pro now?

To avoid any potential confusion for people searching for Action Launcher in the Play Store going forward, the legacy Action Launcher 2: Pro, and its accompanying Unread Count app, will soon be taken down from the Play Store. Depending on user demand, I will look at options to make the APKs available elsewhere online for those that want that.

Next steps

I believe Action Launcher has a very bright future ahead of it, and I'm committed to making that happen.

I'm pleased to report that I've been successful in my efforts to bring on additional engineering help, and the fruits of this should become evident over the coming months. I can officially confirm that Action Launcher 25.0 will be the 25th and last update in which all the code was written by me. Action Launcher 26.0 is already ~70% done, and is scheduled to release in July, and the intention is that Action Launcher will improve rapidly, both from a feature and stability point of view, going forward.

Thanks for reading. If you've gotten this far, I'd very much appreciate your leaving a Play Store review. Alternatively (or in addition!), buying either Action Launcher's in-app Plus upgrade, or the Supporter Badge, is always appreciated, and the best way to ensure Action Launcher continues to become the best app it can possible be.

Thanks for all your support, and here's to the next 25 updates! 🍻

Android O will see the introduction of an animated clock icon in launchers

While snooping around the APK for the Google Clock app included in the latest Android O Beta, I noticed the following definitions in the app's AndroidManifest.xml:

<meta-data 
  android:name="com.google.android.apps.nexuslauncher.LEVEL_PER_TICK_ICON_ROUND" 
  android:resource="@mipmap/launcher_clock"/>
<meta-data 
  android:name="com.google.android.apps.nexuslauncher.HOUR_LAYER_INDEX 
  android:value="1"/>
<meta-data 
  android:name="com.google.android.apps.nexuslauncher.MINUTE_LAYER_INDEX"
  android:value="2"/>
<meta-data 
  android:name="com.google.android.apps.nexuslauncher.SECOND_LAYER_INDEX"
  android:value="3"/>
<meta-data 
  android:name="com.google.android.apps.nexuslauncher.DEFAULT_HOUR" 
  android:value="10"/>
<meta-data 
  android:name="com.google.android.apps.nexuslauncher.DEFAULT_MINUTE" 
  android:value="10"/>
<meta-data 
  android:name="com.google.android.apps.nexuslauncher.DEFAULT_SECOND" 
  android:value="30"/>

Furthermore, the app APK contains the the following images:

android_o_clock_images.png

1 + 1 = an animated clock icon

Given the above, all signs very much point to Pixel Launcher soon supporting an animated clock icon for the Google Clock app.

As of the July 2017 update, this animated clock icon displays in Action Launcher for the Google Clock app, for desktop shortcuts as well as in the All Apps drawer.

As a bonus, this animated clock is also available in Action Launcher as a standalone widget:

action_launcher_animated_clock.gif

Animated clocks are available in Action Launcher's 25.0 update, which is out now. Grab it from the Play Store.

Help wanted: engineer to work on Action Launcher (Remote)

I'm looking to hire an engineer to help me develop Action Launcher.

Skills required:

  • Proven Android development experience at at least an intermediate level.
  • Self-motivated, and will be able to take a fleshed out task specification and run with it without requiring me to hold your hand for 4 hours a day in a chat window.
  • A good understanding and appreciation of material design, and what does and doesn't make for a good Android app.

Location:

  • Remote (with a crossover of your working hours with Australian Eastern time).

Employment type:

  • An initial 3-month contract, with a view to extending assuming each of us think things are working well. The renumeration will be based on your experience level.

Please send applications my way. Be sure to include links to samples of your current work. I'm far more interested in Play Store and/or Github links than I am a lengthy resume.

Podcast 33: 📚 … of the year, 2016 with Jesse Wilson

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Warning: this episode contains coarse language.

It's the fourth annual "… of the year" extravaganza, in which Jesse Wilson and I each bestow 20 highly coveted and equally made up awards based on 2016's technology news.

Some of the awards include classics like “moonwalk of the year” and “lipstick on a pig of the year”, as well as new entries like “you dropped the ball at the finish line of the year” and special one I felt obliged to add for myself titled “biggest personal egg on face moment of the year”.

Follow Jesse on Twitter: @jessewilson.

Links:

Unread badge support arrives in Action Launcher - why now?

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Action Launcher's December 2016 update adds unread badge support to the app. The addition of this feature to the app will likely come as a surprise to many long time Action Launcher users. While I included this feature (somewhat half-heartedly) in Action Launcher 2: Pro, I've long resisted doing so in Action Launcher 3.

I had two main reservations here:

  1. The number and variety of permissions required to support the feature is non-trivial, and I'm rather anal about ensuring my apps request as few as permissions as possible.
  2. Unlike iOS, Android does not have a system wide API to fetch unread badge counts for all apps. In short, unread badges are only ever going to work so well on Android. For example, unread badges can be reliably fetched for SMS messages, but there remains no bulletproof way to fetch the number of unread Hangouts, Allo or Facebook Messenger messages.

As of late 2016, I'm very pleased to report my permissions concerns are largely no longer relevant given Marshmallow's runtime permission system (which the vast majority of Action Launcher's users are running).

I maintain my reservations about the lack of proper, system wide Android APIs for fetching an app's unread count that works with all apps. However, the endless stream of requests and negative reviews over the last two years due to no unread badge support have proven too much for me to ignore any longer. As of the December 2016 update, Action Launcher will begin supporting unread badges, as best it can.

Unread badge support is being rolled out somewhat softly. The feature is labelled "Alpha", and at this point support is limited to displaying missed calls, unread SMS messages and upcoming calendar appointments, as well as unread email counts for Gmail and Inbox. It works really well for these apps.

I know many people would like to see this feature enhanced to support more apps going forward, so rest assured I'll be closely monitoring feedback around unread badges, and will look to enhance it as appropriate going forward.

Action Launcher's December 2016 update is out

The goal with Action Launcher's December 2016 update was simple: address as much of the "Action Launcher looks great, but it doesn't support traditional_launcher_feature_x so I can't/won't use it" feedback as possible.

By far the most commonly requested feature from would-be Action Launcher users has been unread badge support, so a great many people will be pleased to know the feature has come to Action Launcher for core apps such as SMS, Phone, Calendar and Gmail.

Note the unread badge color matches the app icon

Note the unread badge color matches the app icon

Another highly requested feature is scrollable docks, which also arrives in this update:

In a move to better highlight some of Action Launcher's more unique features, the iconic Quickpage, a fully featured home screen panel that slides in from the right screen edge, is no longer a premium feature, and is unlocked for all users:

action_launcher_quickpage_animate_open.gif

Oh, and there's a new option to use Android's new round icons, but only if they don't look like "an icon on a plate".

action_launcher_icon_style_round_no_plates.png

Believe it or not, there's still more goodies in this update. The full change log is as follows:

• NEW: Initial unread badge support ('Alpha').
Currently displays the number of unread SMS messages, missed calls, unread Gmail/Inbox messages and upcoming calendar appointments.
• NEW: Fully customize the appearance of unread badges.
• NEW: A new "Round (exclude white plates)" icon style. Use Android 7.1's round icons, but only if they do not look like an "icon on a plate"!
• NEW: Quickpage, a fully customizable home screen panel accessible from the right screen edge, is no longer a Plus only feature and is available for all users.
• NEW: Quicktheme support for customizing dock separator color.
• NEW: Move all dock related settings to their own group in the settings.
• NEW: Line style dock separator.
• NEW: Can use up to five scrolling dock pages.
• NEW: Option for infinite home screen scrolling.
• NEW: Layout/settings are backed up via Android's automatic daily backups (requires Android 6.0 or later).
• NEW: Add 2017 Supporter Badge. It is a one-off, non-recurring and entirely optional in-app purchase that customers can opt make.

Links

Grab Action Launcher from the Play Store now. As always, if you'd see fit to leave me a review, I'd be very appreciative!

--

Note: I've previously stated my intention to integrate Pixel Launcher style 'bubbles' and long-press activation for Quickcuts/App shortcuts. I had hoped this feature would be ready for this update, but alas it wasn't. Barring something entirely unforeseen occurring, these enhancements are scheduled to arrive in the next update.