Over the past few days, I've been testing a new app from App Cubby. The app, called Launch Center, uses the iOS 5 Notification Center as a launch tool for a limited number of actions. In other words, you bring up Notification Center and tap an item to go to a website, launch an app, or perform another action. App Cubby submitted the app to Apple a few days ago, but another developer (Neoos GmbH) hit the App Store first with a similar app named Quickpick. I took a look at both these Notification Center launcher tools to let you know which does the job better.
Both these apps do their magic by leveraging the way the iPhone handles some specially-crafted URLs. While Notification Center is designed to give you rapid access to the apps behind your alerts, these customized alerts use some of the same URL schemes deployed by Iconsettings and other tools to navigate rapidly through the iPhone's Settings app. It's important to understand that mechanism a bit, since it does limit the range of what these tools can do (although it's the only way they can work on a non-jailbroken phone, given Apple's restrictions on inter-application communication).
Updated: Although the Launch Center app works identically to Quickpick, David Barnard of App Cubby just notified me that the app was turned down. The note he received: "We noticed that your app included inappropriate use of Notification Center, which does not comply with the iOS Human Interface Guidelines."
This is another example of the inconsistency of the App Store approval process. Barnard notes that he'll wait until after the holidays to resubmit Launch Center.
Updated (12/20/2011): Apple just pulled Quickpick from the App Store as well, citing the issues with 'inappropriate use of Notification Center."
The first of these two apps that I tried was Launch Center (US$0.99). The app has been submitted to the App Store and was actually the subject of a NY Times story about developers rushing to get apps approved prior to the annual Christmas iTunes Connect shutdown. It's not in the App Store as of this morning, but the links included here should work once the app goes live. There will also be a page on the App Cubby site for more information.
Launching the app displays a nice wood background with three separate buttons that can be added to your Notification Center for quick access -- Flashlight (which turns on the iPhone flash for use as a flashlight), Tweet (opens a Twitter send dialog), and Google My Clipboard (takes whatever is on your clipboard and performs a Google search on it).
Tapping the "gear" button that's usually reserved for settings actually opens Welcome to Launch Center, a four-page mini-manual that describes how to change settings so that Launch Center works most effectively. This includes moving the Launch Center links to the top of Notification Center to make life a bit more "scroll-free."
To add new items to Notification Center, tap the Edit button and you're greeted with a list of five different actions you can add -- Speed Dial, Text Message, Email, Launch Website / App, and Post to Facebook.
When the Speed Dial button is tapped, your contacts list is opened. Tap a name and then a phone number (home, work, mobile, etc...) and a one touch speed dial button is added to your Notification Center. Text Message and Email work similarly, asking for the recipient in your contacts list and addressing a blank text or email message.
Launch Website / App is something completely different. Not only can you create Notification Center buttons for websites, but many apps can also be launched from Notification Center using this. There's a link at the bottom of the "Link Properties" edit screen that allows you to look up app URL schemes that work with Launch Center. That link is directed to handleopenurl.com, home of a long list of OpenURL-compatible apps and actions. For example, the top item on the list is 1Password Pro, which you can set up to be launched from Notification Center.
Other popular iOS apps that are included on the handleopenurl.com site are Evernote, Air Sharing, the App Store, iOS Settings, Echofon, GoodReader, IMDB, iTunes, Kindle for iPhone, Navigon, Pocket Money, Shazam, Skype, TweetBot, and Waze among others.
Finally, although Launch Center is not a universal app, running it on iPad doesn't present too much of an issue since you're only using the app to set up the shortcuts.
Quickpick (US$0.99) bills itself as "the universal iOS launcher." The app is universal, so you purchase it once to run on both iPhone and iPad. Quickpick can add up to 10 action entries to the iPhone/iPod touch Notification Center or up to 20 on the iPad.
After launching the app, you're presented with a minimalist interface. There's an edit button, a "+" button, and a large About Quickpick button. The latter button points you to online web documentation, allows you to tell a friend about the app, contacts Neoos support, or recreates Quickpicks. A Quickpick is an entry in your Notification Center that can be tapped to perform an action.
The way that both Quickpick and Launch Center work is that they place links into the Notification Center. Quickpick provides a manual method of adding Quickpicks -- typing in a title to signify what action is performed as well as a properly formatted link -- and a Composer to automatically fill out the link field.
For example, if I want a Quickpick to go to the TUAW website, I can tap the Open Website button in the Composer, and it pre-fills the Link field with "http://www." All I need to add is a title like "Go to TUAW" and fill in the URL. To create a Quickpick to mail my fellow TUAW editors, I can select "Compose New Mail" from the Composer and then pick an address -- or group -- to send an email to. With a tap of the "Mail TUAW Leads" Quickpick, Mail opens and I have a pre-addressed message ready to go.
Quickpick is set up to create four different type of Quickpicks from the app -- Call a phone number, send an email, go to a website, or compose an SMS message. That's the problem; although there are a number of different URL types that can be used on iOS devices to perform a lot of actions, those are the only four that are listed. There's a link in the FAQs for the app to "handelopenURL.com" (yes, it's misspelled, although it goes to the proper site when clicked) where you can see all of the different URL schemes that can be used with Quickpick.
To put your Quickpicks at the top of the Notification Center, you go to Settings > Notifications, select Edit, and slide Quickpick to the top of the list.
The two apps basically do the same thing, but I'd recommend that readers wait and spend their $0.99 on Launch Center. Why? It's more polished. Not only does the app present some nice eye candy in terms of the user interface, but the Welcome to Launch Center pages do a nice job of providing setup help. Launch Center's "Google My Clipboard" and "Flashlight" features are also quite useful right off the bat.
Neither of these apps, however, holds a candle to what's available in the jailbreak world. To see a good example of what Notification Center could be, take a look at IntelliScreenX ($9.99, Cydia store only) from Intelliborn.