HACK / MAKE

Quick Text and Fast Learning with Launch Center Pro

Launch Center Pro was released in the App Store last week. It has a smart interface that focuses on launching actions rather than apps. By using URL schemes that are built into third-party apps, it quickly launches actions like searching on Yelp or posting a tweet in Tweetbot and has a text input area so you can pass text into these other apps. It really feels like Alfred but on the iPhone.

It can do basic things like create tasks in Things or OmniFocus, make new reminders in Due, or tweet using the built in tweet sheet. It can also do some much cooler things. Here are some of the great actions that I find really useful.

Search with Wikipanion

As often as I can, I wiki things. Wikipanion is my favorite Wikipedia app and it has a URL scheme so you can quickly submit searches. If you already have Wikipanion installed, it should be listed in the Installed list or you can use the URL wikipanion:///[prompt]. Pop open Launch Center Pro, hit Wiki, type your query, and Go. Boom. Before you know it you’ll be wiki’ing everything.

Look Up Words with Terminology

Words are great. Terminology is great. Too often I fake knowing what a word means when I really should look it up. Launch Center and terminology://x-callback-url/lookup?text=[prompt] is by far the fastest way to look up a definition on the iPhone.

Quick Text Files

As soon as Launch Center Pro shipped, I started digging for text apps that had URL schemes so I could make new notes really fast. Simplenote has a URL scheme but it wasn’t exactly what I wanted, so I built a script instead. I have Dropbox running on my server to move around files for Secondcrack, so being able to send a query string to my server meant I could write a file to Dropbox.

What the script does is take basic parameters you pass into a URL that’s set up in Launch Center Pro and makes a new text file or appends to an existing one. You can pass in [prompt] just like in the other actions and the script will GET that and use it for your text file.

Here’s the basics of it. You set an action with the URL that points to your script, set the param you want for t and set n to [prompt].

http://domain.com/scripts/text.php?t=book-list&n=[prompt]

So now the script will GET what you pass along, in this case book-list.

$type = trim($_GET['t']);
$note = trim($_GET['n']);

You can then create conditions for the $type of note you sent with your Launch Center Pro action. Here, if I hit my Add to Book List action, $type will be book-list and go to this condition.

if ($type == 'book-list') {

    $file_name = 'Books to Read.txt';
    $file_path = '/home/user/Dropbox/Notes/';
    $file = $file_path . $file_name;
    $text = "\n" . $note;
}

This will set the file I want to write to and the text I want to append. Lastly, the file is actually written. If $file exists, $text will just be appended.

file_put_contents($file, $text, FILE_APPEND);

With this I can really quickly add something to a running log file. You could easily append your note with a date stamp or create a new date stamped file. Here’s what my Text section looks like in Launch Center. Again here, the possibilities are as endless as what you can do with text files.

You can find the entirety of this script on Github.

A couple downsides with this is that since you are hitting your server, it requires a network connection. The other is that it pops over to Safari to make the request. Sometimes if you close Safari for a while, then come back, it will reload that page, resending the query, and duplicating your note. I think a great feature in Launch Center Pro would be to optionally have action URLs open in an in-app web view. This way you wouldn’t have to wait for the switch to Safari, and you could easily close the window and be back in your Launch Pad without that window lingering around.

Launch Center Pro has really pushed boundaries of both interface and workflow on iOS and is only getting started. As more apps realize the benefits of URL schemes, I think we’re going to see some very cool things happen. But don’t leave it up to somebody else. Make Launch Center Pro do something awesome yourself and share it with the rest of us nerds.

Thoughts or comments? Let's talk on Twitter or send me an email.