In light of Gerson’s excellent Launcher post, it occurred to us that, perhaps, not everyone knows what a Launcher is. As such, I am here to save the metaphorical day with a post explaining it to you from start to finish.

For the purposes of this post, we’ll be using Google’s excellent Google Now Launcher (of which Derrick did a mighty fine write-up), because it’s the default Launcher for any stock Android device.


 

What is a Launcher?

Generally speaking, a Launcher is an app that makes up the backbone of your app experience. It performs a number of basic functions; a Launcher is an app that:

  • Opens by default on boot.
  • Is, by default, assigned to the Home button on your Navigation Bar (or soft button, if you have a row of soft keys).
  • Provides a place to store your apps once they’re installed.
This is your (my) Launcher.
This is your (my) Launcher.

 

Parts of a Launcher

  • App Drawer: Accessed by pressing the middle icon in the App Dock, the App Drawer organizes all your installed apps in one place.
  • Homescreen: This is the view you get by default when you press the Home button on your Navigation Bar. The Home Screen provides a place to put shortcuts and widgets to access frequently used apps and functionality.
  • App Dock: Your four favorite apps, plus access to the App Drawer. Displays on all homescreens.
App Launcher
App Launcher.
App Dock Home Screen
Home Screen and App Dock.

 

NOT Part of a Launcher

  • Notification Bar: This displays by default at the top of your screen. A thin bar that shows system icons (WiFi, Data, BlueTooth, Alarm, etc.) and Notifications Icons (to tell you which Notifications you have). If you’re one of those individuals (I originally typed weirdos here – that’d be mean) that still has soft keys, you’re probably wondering what those three weird symbols are.
  • Navigation Bar: This bar displays at the bottom of your screen and has three white icons (from left to right): Back, Home, and Recents.
  • Notification Shade: Swiping down on the Notification Bar brings up a screen that lets you view individual notifications. A second swipe down reveals quick-settings and access to the Global Settings.
  • Global Settings: Here is where you can adjust all the settings that have to do with your phone; they have absolutely nothing to do with the Launcher.
Notification Bar & Navigation Bar.
Notification Bar & Navigation Bar.
Notification Shade & Global Settings
Notification Shade & Global Settings

 

Quick Tips and How-To’s

  • Shortcuts: Shortcuts are placed on the Home Screen in order to grant even easier access to your favorite apps. Creating a shortcut is simple: 
  1. Open App Drawer.
  2. Locate app by scrolling through drawer.
  3. Long-press (press and hold) on the app until the drawer closes.
  4. Drag shortcut to desired location on screen.

Remove shortcut by long-pressing and dragging it to the X that appears at the top of the screen.

  • Widgets: Widgets are a feature of Android that other OS’s really don’t have; a they are graphical representations of shortcuts to data that apps wish to display to you. For instance, the score of a game you’re following, or your bank account balance for quick reference.
So. Many. Widgets.
So. Many. Widgets.

Creating a widget is slightly more involved than a Shortcut:

  1. Long-press (press and hold) on any blank space on your Home Screen.
  2. Tap on “Widgets.”
  3. Scroll through the available widgets until you find the one you want.
  4. Long-Press it and drag it to the desired location on your Home Screen.

To remove it, simply Long-Press it and drag it to the “X Remove” that appears.

2. Tap "Widgets."
2. Tap “Widgets.”
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3. Select your Widget.
  • Folders: Folders are a collection of app Shortcuts that fit inside a single Shortcut location. To create a Folder, simple ove one app Shortcut onto another to form a folder.
Here I am dragging the Authenticator Shortcut onto an Amazon one.
Here I am dragging the Authenticator Shortcut onto an Amazon one.

Gestures: By default, the Google Now Launcher only has one Gesture enabled; swipe right to access Google Now. Some Launchers let you use Gestures to perform other actions; for example, you might want to launch the first app within a Folder when you swipe up on the Folder itself, or you might want to launch the conversation with your Significant Other when you swipe right on the Hangouts Shortcut.

Swipe Right...
Swipe Right…
...for Google Now.
…for Google Now.

 

And there you have it; everything you need to know about Launchers. Have any other questions? Anything we missed that you think should be included? Let us know in the comments.

PS: There’s a bunch of great Launchers in the Google Play Store; Gerson did a great roundup of the best ones earlier this month.

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