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

action_launcher_v27.gif

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.

action_launcher_all_app_app_shortcuts.png

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

action_launcher_27_google_now.gif

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 + 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.

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.

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!

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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.

Action Launcher's October 2016 update is out

Four weeks ago Action Launcher debuted Quickcuts, bringing Android 7.1's app shortcuts to earlier versions of Android. In today's October 2016 update, Quickcuts are further enhanced with full support for dynamic Quickcuts when running Android 7.1.

This is particularly handy with the Phone and Messenger apps, which offer suggestions as to who you might want to contact next.

action_launcher_dynamic_quickcuts.gif

Other notable features in this update include an option to pick a global icon style for those Pixel owners who'd rather not look at half baked circular icons all the time, a complete makeover of the settings, new shortcuts to automatically open the keyboard when opening the All Apps drawer and more.

Full change log is:

• NEW: Full support for Android 7.1's dynamic shortcuts via Quickcuts (requires Android 7.1).
• NEW: Quickcuts, previously a Plus only feature, are now available to all.
• NEW: Add option to pick the global icon style. Allows one to use traditional icons rather than round icons when using a Pixel phone. Settings -> Display -> Icon style.
• NEW: When the dock and desktop have the same width, force the icons on the dock to have the exact same size and horizontal position as those on the desktop.
• NEW: Mimic final Pixel Launcher style All Apps. Notable changes include the app list displaying beneath the navigation bar and the use of full color.
• NEW: When opening the Pixel style All Apps drawer opens via a dock swipe, the speed it opens at is based on the speed of the swipe.
• NEW: When using Pixel style All Apps, swiping on the dock with two fingers will trigger All Apps search (with the keyboard on screen).
• NEW: Long pressing the caret page indicator triggers Quickfind (aka All Apps with the keyboard on screen).
• NEW: Completely revamped settings. Out with the teal, in with the Pixel blue!
• NEW: Remove 5 second delay when KustomLiveWallpaper loads apps.
• NEW: Add tooltips to help new users discover and understand Shutters and Quickcuts.
• NEW: Add setting for disabling all tooltips. Settings -> Help -> In-app tips.
• IMPROVEMENT: Update translations.
• CHANGE: Pixel Launcher related settings such as All Apps and folder style use "Pixel" name rather than "Nougat".
• FIX: When closing a Quickcut in a folder via an outside tap, close only the Quickcut, not the folder also.
• FIX: Fix a shortcut being converted back to a Quickcut after Quickcuts were disabled for that shortcut.
• FIX: Quickcut for jumping to Twitter's Direct Messages works again.
• FIX: Can't swipe shortcuts whilst All Apps is opening.
• FIX: Misc. stability fixes.

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!

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Note: Given Action Launcher's Quickcuts originally released before Pixel Launcher's app shortcut implementation was known, they look and behave somewhat differently. Personally I feel pretty good about how they function compared to Google's take (especially swipe 'n select), but I do know a great many people want to be able to mimic Pixel Launcher's look and feel here. I don't normally comment on future releases, but I'll make an exception here and confirm that in a future update, support will be added for a visual style for Quickcuts that more closely matches Pixel Launcher, as well has having them trigger via a long press.

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

Links:

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:

action_launcher_quickcuts.gif

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

pixel_launcher_features_in_action_launcher.png

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:

action_launcher_folders.gif

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!

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 😀