How Aviate Launcher Won the Nova Customizer in Me

I am an Android customization addict and, to be honest, even the word “addict” is an understatement. Two months ago, I would have told you that there should be AA meetings for the kind of compulsion that I had. I kept hundreds of folders of iconsets ready in my Dropbox account, I mastered the dark corners of UCCW and Minimalistic Text, I spent hours every week on MyColorScreen, and even maintained a Google+ photo album as a visual history of the different homescreen designs I have made since 2010.

But most importantly, I installed Nova Launcher on any Android device I had in my hands for more than an hour, and enjoyed tinkering with every single setting the app allowed from gestures to grid layouts and more. Then I got an invite code to join the Aviate Launcher Beta, installed it on my LG G2 and … well, life wasn’t the same anymore. I haven’t had the impulse to switch back from Aviate to Nova in more than six weeks, I haven’t felt the need to change my icons either, and given my history with Android customization, this is the geeky version of a personal miracle.

In the following post, I’ll explain how Aviate won me over from Nova — and Apex, ADW and all their brethren — and why it squashed my urge to tinker with my homescreens every couple of days.

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Aviate Is Simpler to Setup

Minimal and Beautiful Design

Even in my most intricate Nova homescreen designs, one constant layout that kept popping up is a clock, an image, and shortcuts to my most used applications. I never placed big calendar or social widgets, I rarely put my missed calls and unread messages, instead preferring a simpler homescreen look with the bare essentials.

My Nova homescreens, while simple, always contain a clock, an image and shortcuts to my favorite apps.

My Nova homescreens, while simple, always contain a clock, an image and shortcuts to my favorite apps.

This is exactly the default layout in Aviate, and why I somehow found myself at home when I installed it. It is divided into a top bar with the date and time, a middle part where you can display any photo — and/or widget — and a lower area for your five or ten favourite apps. The appeal however is in the Google cards-like design that makes the three parts of the homescreen fit together nicely, despite having stylistically differing elements.

As a matter of fact, I didn’t have to spend hours agonizing over every pixel’s position to set up Aviate since the app takes care of managing the placeholders for me. I also didn’t have to keep realigning my wallpapers with the icons and text because Aviate’s photos are kept separate and all I have to do is long-click on the image and pick another one for a relatively new look every day. Aviate even comes with a dark and light theme, perfect for a small change in scenery when I need it.

Aviate's homescreen feels familiar and simple, with easily interchangeable images and themes.

Aviate’s homescreen feels familiar and simple, with easily interchangeable images and themes.

Hidden Widgets and Functionality

I know that one of Android’s differentiating features are widgets, but over the years, I have been using less and less of them. The main reason is the lack of uniformity in widgets’ color, transparency, style, shape and size. Try placing two widgets from different apps next to each other, and you’ll have a hard time finding any way to make them fit together on any homescreen. Granted, there are highly customizable widgets out there, but the one I want to use most, Pocket Casts, isn’t modifiable at all which forces me to either remove it or change my whole homescreen to accommodate it.

A complete Nova homescreen setup I made just to match with the Pocket Casts widget (middle of the left screen).

A complete Nova homescreen setup I made just to match with the Pocket Casts widget (middle of the left screen).

Aviate solves this problem in a genius and purely intuitive way. I swipe down on my homescreen and reveal some contextual shortcuts — which we will come back to later — but also a hidden area where I can add any widget. This is perfect as it keeps my widgets only a swipe away, without cluttering my homescreen or ruining its design with something that doesn’t match.

Pocket Casts on Aviate is hidden under a swipe gesture, away from my main homescreen.

Pocket Casts on Aviate is hidden under a swipe gesture, away from my main homescreen.

Aviate Is Smarter in Many Ways

Contextual Awareness

While everything I have said so far explains how Aviate has won me over, design-wise, it’s the unique feature of contextual awareness that sealed the deal and made it very difficult for me to consider going back to Nova or similar launchers.

Aviate keeps a tab on my whereabouts and switches the homescreen’s mode accordingly. It knows when I’m home in the morning or at night, it knows when I’m at work or in a mall or at the movies or outdoors or at the gym, it even knows when I’m “Going Somewhere”, and it utilizes this data to bring me relevant shortcuts and information to (the swipable and hidden part of) my homescreen.

Aviate's left panel shows the different modes (left) and the Work mode hides shortcuts to the email, calendar and the Work apps collection (right).

Aviate’s left panel shows the different modes (left) and the Work mode hides shortcuts to the email, calendar and the Work apps collection (right).

You won’t appreciate this feature until you try it for yourself and see your fitness apps ready when you reach the gym, or your on-the-move apps when you’re driving, or your morning routine apps and weather when you wake up, and so on. The examples are many, and Aviate has so far excelled at gathering where I am, what I’m doing, what I need, and displaying it without me even lifting a finger.

At the gym (left) Aviate shows my Health and Fitness apps, at the public garden (right) it gives me tips and Outdoors apps.

At the gym (left) Aviate shows my Health and Fitness apps, at the public garden (right) it gives me tips and Outdoors apps.

Smart Folder Organization

For someone who uses several dozens of apps and installs and tests new ones constantly, managing app folders on Nova can get tedious fast. I always disabled the option to add a shortcut to the homescreen when a new app is installed (because I’m OCD about my homescreen layout) so I often ended up forgetting I downloaded a new app and never added it to its corresponding folder.

That’s where Aviate shines with another smart feature. It groups apps by collections (or folders) without any effort on your end. Amazon and eBay are automatically placed in the Shopping collection for example, Runtastic and Runkeeper in the Fitness & Health one, IMDb and YouTube in Entertainment, etc… All of these collections are available on the second homescreen, to the right of the main one, and are updated whenever I remove or install any app.

Aviate's collections are automatically organized and  can be expanded (see the Social collection on the right).

Aviate’s collections are automatically organized and can be expanded (see the Social collection on the right).

A No-Fuss, Intelligent Launcher

When I combine Aviate‘s beautiful and clean interface that doesn’t require any customization effort with its ability to present and manage relevant information for me all throughout the day, I get a unique launcher experience that I’m all too enamoured with.

I no longer have to fight with my wallpapers and icons or obsess over every pixel alignment. Aviate looks good, not as great as some of my own homescreen setups, but close enough without any effort on my end. The major gain in time and simplicity trumps the small loss in artistry. But it is mainly Aviate’s smart core that wins me over every time I unlock my phone. Last week, for example, I installed Runkeeper and I couldn’t suppress a smile when I saw the icon appear on my homescreen as Aviate detected my location near the gym, without me having to do anything.

I have always wanted my smartphone to actually be smart. After all, it knows so much about me and my whereabouts and it should be able to do the heavy-lifting in the background, and anticipate my needs. Google Now is a major step in that direction, and so is Aviate. It works for me instead of me having to spend hours teaching it and setting it up. There definitely is less fun in the process compared to Nova but even so, I have no desire or inclination to switch back. Hallelujah, our customization junkie is cured!


Summary

Even though it is still in beta, Aviate is a unique launcher for Android, with a lot of added value. It requires little set up and provides context aware shortcuts and options, wherever you are.

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