Aviate Launcher, which dubs itself as an ‘intelligent homescreen’ for Android, was acquired by Yahoo in January. Unlike most other Yahoo acquisitions, Aviate wasn’t put on the chopping block. To the contrary, Yahoo promised to make it a core part of its Android-based experiences in 2014 and beyond. Today, Aviate came out of the private beta, and released the most significant update since its launch.
The new version retains the two cornerstones of Aviate.
Your Aviate experience changes throughout the day based on where you are and what you are doing. There are several pre-configured workspaces (‘Spaces’ in Aviate terminology) like Today, Moving, Listening, Work, Home, and Nearby. If Aviate detects that you’re at work, it will automatically show scheduled events from your calendar and display productivity apps. If it detects that you’re travelling, it will automatically pull tips about nearby venues from Foursquare. Throughout the day it keeps switching between the different Spaces to surface information and apps that are most relevant. Each of these workspaces can be manually configured to display the content that you want. Yahoo has also begun leveraging Aviate to cross-sell its other apps by tying them in with the workspaces. For example, the Today page integrates with Yahoo News Digest to showcase breaking news from around the world. I suspect that future versions will integrate other Yahoo properties including Stocks, Weather and Flickr.
Aviate automatically categorises all installed apps into Collections like Social, Productivity, Utilities, Music, Transit, and Games. You can add or remove apps from Collections, or even create entirely new Collections. You can add these Collections to relevant Spaces to get quick access to apps when you really need them. Each Collection also doubles up as a neat app discovery service, by suggesting other popular apps that belong to the same category.
Aviate has also introduced three major enhancements with this release.
A simple swipe up from the home screen brings up a list of your favorite contacts as well as recently dialled numbers. This ensures that the people you want to call or message are just a swipe away.
Previously Aviate used to simply display calendar apps when you were at work. It now directly displays your calendar entries in the Spaces and offers neat options such as getting directions to your next meeting, booking an Uber to your destination, or directly calling a conference number. This is once again an example of Yahoo leveraging its existing portfolio to improve Aviate. The calendar capabilities are similar to what was previously present in Donna, an intelligent assistant from Incredible Labs, which was acquired by Yahoo.
As mentioned earlier, Aviate integrates with News Digest to offer you a quick glimpse of events around the world. A new digest is available twice a day –in the morning and in the evening. The weather functionality has been enhanced so that if a significant deviation in weather forecast is detected from the previous day, Aviate will automatically alert you. Additionally, Aviate also monitors your usage to double up as a light-weight sleep tracker.
Smart launchers aren’t exactly a new concept in the Android world. However, among all the smart launchers that I’ve tried, Aviate is the one that comes closest to getting it right. The objective of smart launchers is to make you more productive by simplifying things, and simplification often mandates trimming down on features. The biggest challenge for developers is to achieve this without alienating users by eliminating the strong suites of Android. For example, Nokia’s Z Launcher goes too far in its pursuit of simplicity. By removing everything from multiple screens to folders and widgets, Z launcher stifles users. Using Aviate also entails sacrifices. You’ll have to live without live wallpapers. You’re restricted to three screens – Spaces, Home, and Collections. You can configure these screens by adding app collections and widgets, but you won’t get the myriad of options that you’d get with Nova or ADW. Nevertheless, Aviate never ends up being too restrictive. Once you spend some time personalizing your home screen and the Spaces, you’ll have a smart home screen that’s truly personal. And, this is its biggest achievement.
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