Aviate's contextaware Android launcher arrives in private beta handson

ThumbsUp Labs believes that our smartphone screens are too messy -- we have to wade through pages of apps to find just the right tool at a given moment. The company hopes to clean things up by releasing the private beta of Aviate, an Android launcher that builds context-aware home screens and task-oriented "Spaces" based on app data and locations. It will show news apps and weather when you're at home in the morning, for example, but switch to travel-friendly apps and check-in shortcuts when you head out. The launcher will also recommend new apps for given categories based on popularity and the user's habits. While only Aviate's alpha testers will get first crack at the beta, each of those early adopters can now invite five friends; the company is also offering beta access to the first 500 people who use the code "ENGADGET" to sign up. Check out our hands-on after the break.

Update: Invitation codes have run out! If you're the giving kind, please share any invitations in the comments.

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Aviate beta screenshots

The Aviate beta isn't a radical departure from the alpha. It primarily streamlines Spaces navigation and fixes bugs. Not that this is a bad thing, mind you. For the most part, the software really does keep users focused on tasks, rather than sifting through apps. We only had to swipe down to open a Space and perform most common tasks, whether it was searching for good restaurants or setting a wake-up alarm. The launcher is also handy as an organizer, since it divides the app library into easy-to-browse categories. We'd need an extended period to really gauge the usefulness of Aviate, but there's a definite appeal in its hands-off approach to home screen management.

The main concerns at this pre-release stage are the accuracy of app suggestions and the potentially limited audience. While Aviate is generally helpful with recommendations for work and travel titles, it suggested quite a few home apps that we couldn't run, such as a DirecTV controller. It also goes without saying that this front end isn't meant for power users; if you prefer an abundance of widgets and custom icon layouts, steer clear. ThumbsUp says that recommendations will get better, however, and the interface seems ideal for newcomers who may be overwhelmed by other Android interfaces. If the company can get Aviate into the hands of first-time smartphone owners through hardware deals, it could have a hit on its hands. The company hasn't announced any such agreement, but we suspect that it may just be a matter of time.