App of the Week: Launch Center Pro

Developer: Contrast

Compatible with: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch

Requires: iOS 7.0

Price: $4.99

Available: here 

As much as smartphones help us in our daily lives, they are not perfect. While some of their imperfections can be traced back to the person using them (everyone wave, that’s us!), one of the biggest flaws of most models is their navigational structure. Phone manufacturers can do everything on their end to help make getting around the phone as painless as possible, but once you load it up with apps, contacts, and everything else in your world, it gets more and more difficult to smoothly get around to everything you need to do, with most applications requiring you to navigate several screens just to get where you’re going.

Some time ago, a developer named Contrast made an app that solves that issue called “Launch Center Pro.” It’s described as a speed dial for your phone’s various applications as it allows you to quick map various functions to a grid for one press use. For instance, let’s say you want to send a text to your girlfriend. Instead of having to open your contacts, find her, choose to send a text, then send the text, you can map a function to the grid which allows you to automatically start composing a text to her with just the press of a button.

That’s really just a small example of the app’s potential though, as the further you get into “Launch Center,” the more you discover what it is capable of. Essentially it gives you the nearly complete ability to jump instantly to any function you can think of. Always looking for new bars or restaurants in whatever area you’re in through Google Maps? Just make a shortcut that searches bars and restaurants using Google Maps instantly. Tired of having to virtually navigate your Twitter feed or Facebook page to get to once specific section? Just make a shortcut to it and get there instantly.

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It’s often described as the perfect app for “power” phone users, who use their phones like most people use oxygen, but I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate. While the hardcore phone user will certaintly get the most out of everything offered through this app, and explore its various nuances and sub functions to point they will be able to use just this program to have one tap access to nearly everything, even a casual user will no doubt be able to think of a few immediate ways this app can benefit them, with more coming once the considerable abilities of this app enter your mindset and you start factoring it into everything you do.

As mentioned, this app was first released a while ago, but only recently came out with its 2.0 model that was designed for iOS 7 in mind. That means many of the improvements are cosmetic in order to take advantage of the new interface (the ability to use real photos and custom icons for every function is a nice example), but one of the more substantial new features which allows you to set and swap between saved grid templates greatly expands the functionality and potential of “Launch Center Pro” in a way that again may benefit the most adapt of users more, but remains a useful ability to keep stored to the side even if you don’t immediately get the most out of it.

“Launch Center Pro” is an app all about discovery. It’s about not only discovering what the app is capable of once installed, but also discovering what your phone is now capable of when you can trim the interface fat and streamline it’s functions in a way that focuses more on your personal uses for your device, rather than the manufacturer’s idea, or the developers idea. Just about everyone that uses “Launch Center Pro” later comments that it is a staple on their home screen, which is fitting considering that it’s essentially a second home button that accesses your own unique interface.

Many of the apps covered here are highly recommended, or even must have. “Launch Center Pro,” however, is essential. It directly advances user interface in a logical way, and executes its lofty idea with such ease that I wouldn’t be surprised to see Apple (and other manufacturers) incorporate something similar very soon now that the template for how a program like this should work, has been quite simply honed to perfection. To use “Launch Center Pro” is to never go back to any other way to use your phone, which is a surefire indication of it being app of  the week.

  

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App of the Week: Status Board

Developer: Panic Inc.

Compatible with: iPad

Requires: iOS 5.0 or later

Price: $9.99

Available here

I think that if someone from, say, 60 years in the past got the chance to visit the world of today, the most shocking thing might not be the technology available, but how we use it.

Think about the power of your iPad for instance. Its impressive abilities as a computer are only bested by its incredible mobility, creating a device that has the potential to access near infinite amounts of knowledge and complete an incalculable amount of tasks at any point in the world. Yet most people probably use it to watch Youtube, play “Fruit Ninja,” and check on the latest mock draft.

If that’s you, and you’ve been thinking of using your iPad for something more productive, consider the new Status Board app.

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Status Board takes all of the data you commonly use, and organizes it all nicely onto a single screen format, until your iPad resembles one of those little data pads they used to carry around on “Star Trek.” The default data feeds include things like your e-mail, twitter, the weather, constantly updating headlines from your favorite sites, and more, but that is just the surface of what Status Board offers. The real value of this app comes from its deep customization options.

While this of course includes features like the ability to re-size and re-arrange every information panel, Status Board goes deeper with functions like the ability to upload almost any data type (allowing for custom charts and graphs), as well use the  built-in HTML programming feature to create nearly any type of panel you can think of. Already, people are coming up with some amazing custom uses for the device.

Status Board isn’t an app for everyone, and I honestly don’t know if I’d have a use for it myself. But for small business owners, website gurus, the hyper-productive, or really anyone in an office environment, it is invaluable. All of the information you could ever want is readily available to be viewed with a glance, or interacted with via a touch. It turns you iPad from potential workplace distraction, to ready source of constant knowledge for yourself and, if you choose to purchase the optional TV hookup feature, everyone else around you.

The current form of this app may not maximize its potential, but even “out of the box,” it instantly maximizes the professional potential of your iPad. A quick scan of the apps description should tell you right away if you have use for it or not, and even if that answer is no, you still have to respect the technical prowess it wields. It’s the kind of app Apple probably had in mind when building the app store, and with the right amount of developer and user support, could prove to be a valuable tool in every major office worldwide.

And yes, it will probably garner the approval of your theoretical time traveling ancestors. That alone secures it my app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Mailbox

mailbox-app

Developer:

Orchestra Inc.

Compatible with:
iPhone 3GS and up (optimized for iPhone 5)

iPod Touch 3rd gen and up

iPad

Requires:
iOS 6.0 or later

Price:

Free

Available here

Since its announcement, Mailbox has been something of a rockstar among app fans.

If you haven’t been rabidly following it, Mailbox is an app that allows you to finally gain control of your overloaded Gmail accounts (other e-mail services will be compatible soon). Upon first glance the app doesn’t appear to differ wildly from the usual e-mail inbox apps, both first party and otherwise, as it streams your usual e-mail inbox to the app,and presents the messages in a clear and defined, yet traditional format. There’s nothing mind blowing here yet, as it’s just your e-mail inbox.

It’s the interactions available with these messages that makes Mailbox such a hyped app, most of which revolve around sliding a message right or left. Sliding a message quickly to the right, for instance, will archive the message, while a slow swipe to the right will delete it. Swiping shortly to the left, however, lets you put a message on hold from times ranging from hours later to the vague “someday.” A longer left swipe lets you save the message in special categories such as “To Buy”, “To Watch”, and more. You can even create your own custom categories which are, along with your archives and other specific inboxes, fully searchable and available to view independently through tabs atop the app.

There are various other functions of the app including e-mail notification and organizing e-mail chains into readable chat like formats, but the general function of the app is making it as easy as possible to get your inbox to zero (it even celebrates an empty inbox, with a logoed message). It’s designed for people with high e-mail volume in mind, but even the casual e-mail user has to appreciate the combination of fluidity and depth presented by Mailbox, allowing you to not only do more with your inbox than ever before, but do it easier as well.

While a few features shy of its full potential, for Gmail users, Mailbox is in fact the absolute best mobile mail manager ever created. While the developer’s tagline of “you’ll wonder how you lived without it” is as cliché as it comes, it also happens to be the absolute truth here. You’ve never seen an app that allows you to so smoothly and thoroughly handle your messages, and you may very well never need another app to do so.

There’s a sizeable waiting list to download Mailbox at the moment (which is admittedly kind of absurd) , but you shouldn’t hesitate to jump in line, as with a few updates, this might just become the most used app of the year, and is certainly my app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Stow

Developer:

Apptifica, LLC

Compatible with:
iPhone 3GS and up

iPod Touch 3rd Gen and up

iPad

Requires:
iOS 6.0 or later

Price:

$1.99

Available here

Much like Déjà vu’, that feeling that you forgot something when leaving your nest for an extended period of time is a near universal one. Almost always, it has no real bearing, but is unshakable nonetheless once it dawns upon you. While the feeling may be inescapable, with the new packing aid app “Stow”,  you can make sure that’s it’s just a phantom notion, as you can be guaranteed that everything you could possibly need is safely on hand.

Where “Stow” succeeds in an over-packed app field (pun sadly intended) is in its smart philosophy to packing. Rather than provide a grocery shopping style checklist of items, “Stow” takes a more lively approach to the subject by allowing you to account for factors like the amount of days you will be away, what the weather is going to be like during your time there, and even if laundry will be available. Only from there do you go into the checklist mode, where you are now equipped to factor in exactly what you will need, for all days, and conditions. It will even advise you as to common items you may need for individual weather conditions, and handedly provides subsections for various accessory types such as electronics and first aid, so no possible stone is left unturned.

An even more useful feature are the templates. With these, you can set a basic needs list based on what type of trip you are going on. Examples include: golf, beach, business, family, city, and more. All of them factor in essential (and handy) items for the various situations, and while they may not represent complete universal rundowns, it’s an excellent starting point. Even better is the ability to create your own templates based on common trips you take, so that you can have a “go to list” tuned exactly to your needs.

There’s more to the app of course, including abilities to factor in multiple people (useful for families), the ability to create a short list for your morning routine, you can print lists, save them as spreadsheets, share them, etc. It all comes together to create an app that feels very complete, as it accounts for so many potential aspects of such a specific task. At $1.99, its one of the more pricey apps of its kind, but for anyone that travels with any regularity, or has a serious forgetfulness problem when packing, the usefulness of “Stow” justifies it’s price immediately.

Ironically the only essential item the app can’t account for when packing is whether or not you have the app itself. Be sure to download it then and count it as the last important packing decision you’ll ever have to make on your own thanks to “Stow”, my app of the week.

 

  

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