There are plenty of Android launchers around, but we’re starting to see the emergence of a category that we might call “contextual launchers” — something that personalises your Android phone, is context-aware and surfaces information you need when you need it, and changes the way you interact with your device. Here are five of the best, based on your nominations.
We’re treating this as a different (though related) category to traditional Android launchers such as Nova Launcher and Apex Launcher. Those are great for basic app management, but don’t offer the information management features we’re discussing here.
Aviate is a smart home screen tool that adapts and adjusts to your needs and your position. It simplifies your phone’s layout significantly by categorising your apps and putting them into groups where they’re easily reached. It also uses your phone’s GPS and known locations to show you what you need when you need it. For example, if you’re at the gym, it will change the home screen to show you your music player, your workout and fitness apps. When you’re at the office, it will load up your calendar, email, or other productivity apps. When you move between locations, Aviate will notice you’re on the go and pull up relevant directions, based on the way you prefer to travel.
Aviate does local search: it will help you find places to eat, or businesses nearby that interest you. It will also suggest apps that you don’t have installed that you might like. Its only real drawback is that it’s only customisable within certain parameters, and you have to like its overall look and feel to enjoy it. We’ve highlighted Aviate before, and it’s being regularly updated with new features, despite the reputation that its new owners — Yahoo — have for buying great things and shutting them down.
Themer is arguably the king of personalisation tools for Android. Users have been busy making skins and home screen replacements for months now that incorporate beautiful art, functional widgets, and other useful tools to transform your phone into something personal that no one else has. Themer makes it easy to find — or create — complete skins for your home screen that categorise your apps into groups, keep favourite apps where they’re easy to reach, and show useful information right on the home screen (such as unread messages, missed calls, weather and date). The wealth of themes and ways to personalise your phone — whether you want something whimsical or strictly functional — is incredible.
We’ve highlighted Themer before and even run through the best Themer themes to give you a headstart. Note however that Themer isn’t context aware, and doesn’t generally float information in front of you when it’s needed — it’s really a personalisation and customisation suite for Android rather than a full-blown contextual launcher.
Strictly speaking, Cover is a lock screen replacement rather than a home screen replacement, but given the way it works, you may never need to go to your home screen again. Instead of personalising your entire device or changing the entire interface every time something new happens or you move from place to place, Cover simply changes the lock screen. When you’re at the office, it will change the lock screen to “work” mode, and show you your email app, calendar app, to-do list and so on. When you get in the car, Cover changes the lock screen to car mode, switching layout and apps to your navigation app and music player. One neat trick: Cover lets you “peek” at apps running under the lock screen by sliding it away partially — perfect for sneaking a look at your inbox during a meeting to see if you missed anything important.
We’ve highlighted Cover before as well, and it’s very good at what it does. It’s not perfect, of course — it doesn’t work well with other screenlock tools, so if you prefer a PIN or pattern lock, you might have a little trouble. The team at Cover have some tips to deal with that issue.
Everything.Me started life as a basic Android launcher that you could talk to in order to open apps and change the layout of your phone, or look up relevant information. More recently, it has transformed into a fully contextual home screen replacement tool that is still dynamic, but now adapts to your location and time of day with information that you need. For example, in the morning, the app will display the weather to you, along with news headlines, or any other apps you check first thing. When you get to the office, your calendar floats forward, along with your productivity apps. EverythingMe also pushes other relevant information to you, such as apps you don’t have installed that it thinks you’ll like, or nearby businesses or restaurants it thinks you should try.
EverythingMe is a bit of a blend between some of the other launchers featured here. It’s more focused on app discovery and suggesting new tools and apps to you, and while it brings up useful information and apps you have installed already, it makes new suggestions frequently.
The Google Now Launcher brings all of the features of Google Now and touchless controls to your current Android phone. While it’s not a full-blown home screen replacement, it brings all of Google’s collective knowledge to the task of surfacing relevant information. The biggest restriction is that it is only supported on Nexus and Google Play Edition devices, the latter of which haven’t yet seen any official Australian launch. TalkAndroid has a guide to get around that restriction here. With the launcher in place, you’ll get all of the benefits of Google Now, including location and context-specific cards, and the ability to tap or say “OK, Google” to launch search and perform voice actions.
Want to make the case for your personal favourite, even if it wasn’t included in the list? Tell us — and explain why it’s a good choice — in the comments.