Contextual launchers or launchers that change as per location and time rather than on any tinkering by you, seem to be the rage these days. We saw Nokia using the concept in its very bare-bones Z launcher, which focused more on speed and simplicity, while sacrificing customization options. Yahoo! has however, chosen to blend these three together in its Aviate Launcher, which it had acquired early this year, and which has also got a significant update a few days ago. Most importantly, it is no longer an “invite-only” beta but can be downloaded and used by anyone with an Android device (the exact specs are not available on the site as yet but we reckon it will run on most devices running Jelly Bean and KitKat).
The stress on a minimalistic design is clear the moment you launch Aviate. The app basically has three homescreens and starts you off on the most basic one of them all – a wallpaper with the time above it as well as indicators to the other screens (an app drawer icon on the right, a weather sign on the right), and five app shortcuts at the bottom. These are your favourites and can be changed. And before you ask, yes, you can park widgets on that wallpaper and even change it. The real action, however, comes on the homescreen to the left (basically when you swipe right from the landing screen), because this is where the app’s context-based magic starts working. The launcher basically tries to detect what you are doing and then makes suggestions accordingly.
So if it senses that you are at your work location, it will show you traffic conditions from your office to your home, display a list of productivity apps and also show your forthcoming appointments. Similarly if you are playing music, up will pop a panel of music apps, and when you wake up, be ready to see the weather conditions and excerpts from Yahoo!’s own News Digest app. What’s more, you have the choice of customising each of these screens, so if you want a news widget always available, all you have to do is park it there. At the time of writing, you could get different information screens based on the day, movement, what you are listening to, work and nearby locations. Those are more than enough to cover most bases, especially when you consider that you have the option to add and remove apps and widgets to each. And the best thing? It works very smoothly indeed. We were amazed at getting GPS information every time we were on the move, with directions to our favourite locations appearing automatically. Sort of Google Now without the cards and with a much more attractive and controllable interface if you will. Google Now scores more points for its ability to deliver news updates and automatically create appointments based on your Gmail account but Aviate is so much easier on the eye.
But there is more to Aviate than just the ability to suggest apps and information based on your activity and work. A swipe to the left from the landing screen will show you your apps, but rearranged and classified as per Aviate. The app groups different apps under what it calls collections, and while we could not see any way to add a new collection to the titles that already exist, there were more than enough options to accommodate all the apps that one has. And once again, you have the option to shuffle apps between collections, so if you would rather place Flipboard in Social rather than in News, well, all you have to do is drag the app from one collection to the other. And finally, for those who want to see all their apps in one place, a simple swipe to the left from the collections screen will take you to a list of all the apps on the device, arranged in alphabetical order. So basically, you have the apps in alphabetical order and in classified mode right next to each other. A good touch, we think, although it would have been kind of extra-cool if we had the option of seeing our apps in one of the two modes rather than both.
All said and done, Yahoo Aviate might not appeal to those who believe heavily in customization and want stacks of homescreens, but the launcher manages to blend some of the simplicity we had seen in Nokia’s Z Launcher with more depth and customization options, all wrapped up in a clean, good-looking interface. If you have an Android and just want a launcher that works well without too much complexity and fuss, Aviate is an option you simply must try out.
Available from: Google Play