Podcast 32: 📚 Action Launcher in 2016: the story so far with Jesse Wilson

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Jesse Wilson returns to the show to chat all things Action Launcher with me.

Topics include why there was more than 6 months between Action Launcher updates to start the year and what I learnt going so long between updates. I also discuss my pushing to release the Pixel Launcher inspired update so quickly after the leaks arrived, how the update was received by press and customers alike. Oh, and I both tease a major feature I withheld from a recent update and find a (valid!) excuse to talk about hidden menu items at In-N-Out Burger.

Follow Jesse on Twitter: @JesseWilson


Note: this episode was recorded after early September's Action Launcher 3.9's update but before late September's 3.10 update.

Pixel Launcher/Android 7.1 style "Launcher Shortcuts" come to Action Launcher via Quickcuts

Android 7.1 will seemingly see the introduction of “Launcher Shortcuts” to Android. As luck would have it, many of the hooks required to use these shortcuts already exist in the latest versions of Google's apps, and as of today's Action Launcher update, you can use these shortcuts in current versions of Android. The feature is called Quickcuts, and it works like so:


You just swipe on a compatible Quickcut icon, and voila, any launcher shortcuts defined by an app will automatically display.

Pro tip: you can use the same gesture to both swipe to open a Quickcut and make your selection!

Given Quickcuts use a yet-to-be-announced API, the number of apps that support them is obviously limited at this early stage point, but Google Photos, Play Books, Play Movies & TV and Play Music are all excellent apps to showcase Quickcuts. Action Launcher also bundles dedicated Quickcut definitions for Gmail, Twitter and YouTube, because, well, we've all waited long enough for a quick way to jump to our Watch Later list right?

When Android 7.1 is announced and as more apps from Google and other developers add support for launcher shortcuts, those shortcuts will automatically become available in Action Launcher.

Based on the leaks, Action Launcher now implements every one of Pixel Launcher's known features including the new sliding All Apps drawer, circular folders, using the round icons Google are seemingly moving towards, the Google "pill" and date widgets and more. Most of these features are enhanced in key ways also.

Action Launcher version 3.10 featuring Quickcuts is available now in the Play Store. Go get it: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.actionlauncher.playstore


Integrating Quickcuts (aka Android 7.1's "launcher shortcuts") into your app

Update (October 6, 2016): I've updated these instructions based on developer feedback. Be sure to read it again in full.

Adding support for Quickcuts (aka Android 7.1's "launcher shortcuts") into your app is extremely simple. As a bonus, very little about these steps are unique/proprietary to Action Launcher. By following these steps, your app will be very well positioned to support Android 7.1's launcher shortcuts when API 25 is released.

1. Define your shortcuts

Create a shortcuts.xml file defining your shortcuts in your xml folder. It should look like so:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
    <shortcut icon="@drawable/my_icon" 
        enabled="true" shortcutId="a-unique-string-id"
        <intent android:targetPackage="com.example.myapp"
    ... <!-- Add subsequent `shortcut` items here --->


  1. RE the shortcut attributes: These attribute names are exactly the same as Android 7.1 uses, with the single exception that they are not prefixed with android:. When API 25 is released and your app targets it, you can just add an android: prefix to them and they should just work in Pixel Launcher and Action Launcher both. But until your app targets API 25, you can't use say android:shortcutShortLabel because the current Android SDK isn't yet aware of such an attribute.
  2. RE the intent attributes: Be sure to prefix all attributes with android:.
  3. You are free to add as many shortcut items as you like and Action Launcher will support it. We'll have to see how Google end up actually using launcher shortcuts in Pixel Launcher, but I'd be surprised if Pixel Launcher ended up displaying more than 5 such items at a time.

2. Add a definition to AndroidManifest.xml.

Add this to an Activity definition of your chosing:

<activity ...>


  1. Action Launcher saves a copy of your shorcuts.xml based on your app's versionCode. If you're tweaking your shortcuts.xml and want to test the changes in Action Launcher, you must ensure Action Launcher is not using a now-stale copy of your shortcuts.xml. Do this by either:

    A. Select Settings -> Folders, Quickcuts & Shutters -> Quickcuts -> Check again to nuke Action Launcher's entire Quickcuts cache.

    B. Change your app's versionCode so that Action Launcher will flush its cache of your old definitions.

  2. Make sure that any Activity you point to in your shortcuts.xml are exported (android:exported="true")! Currently some of Google's apps (like Chrome) don't do this, meaning Action Launcher can't load them. Action Launcher hides such shortcuts.
  3. Ensure the icon you define is visible for all versions of Android. I.e, don't put it in a drawable-v25 resource bucket or similar as the Google App currently does (which is why no icons display in Action Launcher for that app's shortcuts).
  4. For reasons that are currently unclear, most of Google's apps define their shortcuts.xml in the xml-v22 bucket. There doesn' appear to be a technical reason why these shortcuts would require Android 5.1 or later to me, but this will presumably become clearer when Android 7.1 is announced.

Pixel Launcher/Android 7.1 style icons now available in Action Launcher for all Android versions

As Android Police pointed out yesterday, soon 'round icons' will be supported in Android 7.1/Pixel Launcher. In fact, many of Google's apps are already shipping with round icon variants. I spent yesterday looking into this, and the end result is full support for round icons in Action Launcher.

You can use these round icons in three ways:
1). To use round icons only for apps that include such icons: Settings -> Display -> Prioritize round icons.
2). To replace all icons with a round icon pack: Settings -> Display -> Icon pack -> Pixel Launcher.
3). Pick the round icon variant when editing a shortcut via Quickedit (assuming the app has a round icon).

I'm in boat 3. I like the dedicated circular icons in say Hangouts and Maps. I'm far less of a fan of the "take an existing icon and put a white circle behind it" look of Gmail and Play Music.

Long time Action Launcher users will know I don't normally release new features in point releases, but this seemed cool enough to warrant an exception, so enjoy!

Grab Action Launcher from the Play Store: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.actionlauncher.playstore
Note: this release is going to the beta group first. Join that here: https://play.google.com/apps/testing/com.actionlauncher.playstore
Screenshot gallery: http://imgur.com/a/yEVaz

Action Launcher's September 2016 update is out now

The goal of this update was simple: add all of Nexus Launcher's new features, then make them even better.

By adding Nexus Launcher's new All Apps mode, folders and dock tinting, then allowing these features to be colorized via Quicktheme, I feel they are enhanced in a very simple yet powerful way. And I'm particularly happy with the enhancements to folders. When Nexus Launcher's new folder style was first revealed in an N Preview earlier this year and I wasn't overly excited by how they looked, but between Quicktheme support and a new "outline only" mode, I'm happy with how they turned out in Action Launcher:


The complete list of changes in this update is as follows:

• NEW: Revamped All Apps panel, based on the rumoured Nexus Launcher. If enabled, swiping up on the dock will reveal All Apps.
• NEW: Add two new Nougat inspired folder presets (requires Android 4.4 or later).
• NEW: Quicktheme support to customize the color of folder icons.
• NEW: Add tinted dock background with full color customization via Quicktheme. 
• NEW: Option for caret (^) style page indicator. 
• NEW: Add rumored Google "pill" widget.
• NEW: Add rumored Nexus Launcher style Date widget, which can be configured to load a custom app.
• NEW: When setting a wallpaper on Android 7.0, you can select whether the wallpaper applies to the lock screen, home screen or both.
• NEW: The wallpaper picker app can be configured.
• NEW: Add "Marshmallow (Beta)" All Apps style.
• CHANGE: Group some rarely used Desktop settings in an expandable "Advanced" group.
• FIX: Fix low-res icons sometimes displaying in All Apps/folders after using Quickedit to edit a label but not an icon.
• FIX: Fix issue going back to Action Launcher via Home button from landscape when running Android 7.0.
• FIX: "Action 3 Settings" appears in app drawers when running Android 7.0.
• FIX: Long pressing the dock enters overview mode.
• FIX: Fix issue where uninstalling an app that was in the most loaded row would cause an empty slot to display.
• FIX: If configured, opening Settings via the button on the overview bar will use the Reveal animation (requires Android 6.0).
• FIX: Fix rare crash attempting to load Display settings after restoring a backup created with a more recent Android version.
• FIX: Ensure correct text color is applied when dragging Shutter shortcut into an open folder.
• FIX: Fix visual artifact on certain icons when app boots on Jelly Bean.
• FIX: Stability fix when loading widget previews when the device is running low on memory.
• FIX: Fix issue with Quickpage not re-opening after loading an app via the Quickpage whilst using the Action bar.
• FIX: Fix red status bar briefly displaying when app boots on large Android 7.0 tablets.
• FIX: The T9 Quickfind option works again.
• FIX: All Apps search box cursor only blinks when entering text.

Grab Action Launcher from the Play Store now!

Podcast 30: 📰 iPhone 7, Apple Watch Series 2 and more with Ben Sandofsky

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Ben Sandofsky and I break down all the announcements of Apple's September 2016 event. We of course discuss all the new hardware, as well as give our thoughts on:

  • The loss of the headphone jack.
  • The disparity between the cameras in the two iPhone modes.
  • Apple's increasing trend of having features like AirPods, Portrait photo mode and Pencil miss launch windows.

And of course I get my bitch on about a new Apple Watch model that doesn't have an always on display.

Follow Ben on Twitter: @sandofsky.

Action Launcher 3's July 2016 update is available now

This update has been a very long time coming, but it's finally ready.

The main focus of this release was to upgrade the base code to Marshmallow's Launcher3 code. By doing so, Action Launcher gained notable usability enhancements including the addition of fast scroll in the All Apps drawer, a much improved widget picker, infinite paged folders and more, as well getting the code in a place where updating to future versions of Launcher3 should occur much faster.

This update also contains another 10 highly requested settings/features/tweaks, in addition to a host of bug fixes, optimizations and improvements in memory usage.

Finally, I've also added an Alpha of Google Now integration (demo video here), which works really well. Unfortunately using it does require Action 3 to be a system app, but that's entirely down to the way Google implemented the API. This is my first feature that requires users to tinker with their device to use, so I'll be interested to see how the reception is to that. Hopefully Google has a change of heart and opens the API up for all apps sooner rather than later so everyone can use it, but for now, unfortunately, only a subset of the audience will be able to use it. I've published a FAQ post detailing all the ins and outs of the Now integration here. Please be aware that aside from entries in the in-app FAQ, all Now integration options are hidden unless your device is rooted, or Action Launcher 3 is a system app. Finally, keep in mind this feature may be removed at any point, especially if Google take issue with its inclusion for any reason and request me to do so.

This is easily the largest update I've ever done (something I'm not exactly proud of given how long its been between updates), but hopefully ya'll will like it.

The full change log for Action Launcher 3s July 2016 update is as follows:
• NEW: Update base code to Android 6.0.1's Launcher3 code. Notable usability enhancements include the addition of fast scroll in the All Apps drawer, a much improved widget picker and infinite paged folders and more. This base code upgrade also sees a year's worth of Google's bug and stability and performance fixes.
• NEW: Can select pure black color via Quicktheme.
• NEW: Option to disable the Quickdrawer (Settings -> App drawers -> Quickdrawer).
• NEW: Option for enabling dark icons on the status bar (Settings -> Display -> Dark status bar icons). Note: requires Android 6.0 or later.
• NEW: Option to enable overlapping widgets (Settings -> Desktop -> Overlapping widgets).
• NEW: When dragging existing Home screen items, display Edit and Uninstall shortcuts.
• NEW: Add shortcut to jump straight to the system's device storage browser (requires Android 6.0 or later).
• NEW: Add shortcut to trigger a music search (via Google App).
• NEW: Add shortcut to jump to weather forecast (via Google App).
• NEW: Add shortcut to jump to the settings via the System Settings -> Apps -> Action 3 app page (requires Android 7.0).
• NEW: Added old material design versions of Google Play apps to in-built icon pack.
• NEW: Option to enable Google Now integration (Alpha). Note: REQUIRES ACTION 3 TO BE A SYSTEM APP. Please see FAQ for full details. Option will appear in Settings -> Desktop -> Google Now integration (Alpha) for rooted devices only.
• IMPROVEMENT: Reduced app's memory usage. Especially apparent when using an Icon Pack and/or Smartsize icons.
• IMPROVEMENT: Samsung Knox support.
• IMPROVEMENT: Engaging Quickedit with many icon packs installed is both much faster and more reliable.
• IMPROVEMENT: Support icon packs that use vector drawables.
• IMPROVEMENT: Use high-res Google icon on the Quickbar.
• BUG FIX: Importing from TouchWiz's launcher works when running Marshmallow.
• BUG FIX: Fix alignment of text/icon on Hidden apps dialog.
• BUG FIX: Newly installed apps will apply the current icon pack's icon.
• BUG FIX: Don't display Shutters on Quickedit when Shutters are disabled.
• BUG FIX: Countless other stability fixes.

As always, a nice review on the Play Store is always appreciated 😀

Action Launcher 3's July 2016 update will release tomorrow. It will include Google Now integration for rooted devices only.

Google Now integration has been by far and away the most requested Action Launcher feature over the years. The roadblock here has always been the lack of an API from Google allowing other apps to use Google Now integration. With the recent revelation that Sony's launcher added support for Google Now integration, it seems Google are progressing in this area (yay!).

Tomorrow's Action Launcher 3.8 update will enable support for Google Now integration, but before I release the update, I thought it wise to release an FAQ to explain how this works, why its only available for root users and more.

Is there an API for apps to use Google Now integration?
Yes! But unfortunately at this time, Google have opted to only allow system apps to use Now integration. System apps are the same as a normal app you might install from the Play Store, except they generally come pre-installed on a device. Gmail and Google Maps are examples of system apps on a typical Android phone.

TL;DR: Given Google's current decisions around the Now integration API, Action Launcher must be installed as a system app on your device in order to use Now integration.

Wait, Now integration will only work if Action Launcher 3 is a system app? What's up with that?
Unfortunately, yes. The is entirely down to Google's conscious decision to only allow the Now integration API to work for system apps.

What is required to set Action Launcher as a system app?
To my knowledge the only way to convert an app to a system app is if your device is rooted. From there, setting Action Launcher as system app isn't too difficult. I have instructions for doing it via Titanium Backup or via ADB. Or you can Google search if you like. If anyone has any other suggestions here, please do let me know.

I don't want to/can't root my device. Can you add a hack or something to make Now integration work for all devices?
I don't believe there's anything I can do here I'm afraid. Believe me, if there was, I'd do it. But the reality is, whether Now integration works is entirely controlled by the Google App.

In layman's terms, Action Launcher requests the Google App to start Now integration. From there, the Google App basically says "is the app that's asking me to start Now integration a system app? If so, I'll allow it, if not, I won't allow it". There's not really any scope for anything on Action Launcher's end to trick the Google App into allowing Now integration to work.

Why would Google opt to make the Now integration only work for system apps?
As annoying as it might be for me as a launcher developer, I can somewhat understand Google's logic here. Seemingly Google opted to design this API for device manufacturers (whose launchers will automatically be system apps), not all apps.

If Google release a public Now integration API without the system app requirement, will Action Launcher support it?
Absolutely! It is my sincerest hope that Google do provide a public API for Now integration in the future, perhaps with a whitelist for trusted launcher apps or something else. If/when anything happens here, I assure you I will support it.

Is there anything I can do today to prepare for this update?
Sure. If you install any version of Action Launcher 3 as a system app today, when tomorrow's update lands, the app will update like any other app, and you'll be able to use Now integration as soon as the update is on your device.

How does Google Now integration co-exist in Action Launcher with the Quickdrawer, which also slides in from the left?
It doesn't. You have to pick one or the other.

You've never supported a root-only feature before. Why now?
Supporting a feature that requires tinkering with your device in ways that potentially voids a device warranty is something I've staunchly avoided in all my apps to this point. I'm making an exception here because:

  • Adding Now integration is such a popular feature request, and finally it's one I can accommodate.
  • A non-trivial percentage of Action Launcher's users are in fact rooted.
  • Frankly, Now integration in Action Launcher is a damn cool feature.

I do not plan on marketing this as a core feature in the store listing, Plus upgrade panel, doing traditional promo video or anything like that. To be honest, I'm rather petrified that by supporting a feature that requires root, I'm going to get slaughtered in reviews from people who (understandably) don't grasp why anyone who just installs the app via the Play Store can't use the feature. I've attempted to mitigate this by removing Now integration related options from the app if the device is not rooted and explaining the situation in the in-app FAQ, but I'm still very nervous about it (Side note: if you are a root user and enjoy the feature, I'd appreciate a positive review!).

Anything else?
I've labeled Google Now integration as an Alpha feature in the app. This is because it's an experimental feature that is using an undocumented API, and could get pulled at any point for any number of reasons. Please be aware of this. That said, Now integration a terrific feature that feels great in Action Launcher, so I don't plan on removing it without a very good reason.

Thanks for your understanding. See you tomorrow for the update!

Podcast 27: 📚 The good & bad of attending Google I/O

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What's it like to attend Google I/O? Was the venue switch away from San Francisco to an outdoor venue in Mountain View a good move? What quality level were the technical sessions this year? Why do Google keep making seemingly basic mistakes hosting I/O each year? Was the move to abandon the giveaways of previous years a good one?

Jake Wharton and I discuss all this and more.