From Flashlight to Home Screen
Releasing Niagara Launcher after two years of testing and four years of development.
[Press kit for reviewers & Download link: http://niagaralauncher.app/ 📰]
I’m so thrilled Niagara Launcher v1 is finally out - Max and I were looking forward to this occasion for ages now!
To ensure our launch goes smoothly, we’re not including any new features in v1. There are too many horror stories out there that demonstrate how that could turn out otherwise. However, we’re already working on stuff we’ll publish shortly after, stay tuned!
To celebrate, I want to give you some insights and share how it all began:
From Flashlight to Homescreen
The development process of Niagara Launcher
Believe it or not, Niagara Launcher started as a flashlight app. When I started app development in 2016, Android 4.4 (Kitkat) was still somewhat common, and it wasn’t clear to me that since Android 5.0, every phone comes with a flashlight shortcut in the quick settings menu. Nevertheless, the flashlight app was ideal as my first Android project to learn the basics.
Interestingly the team of the popular Nova Launcher also offered a flashlight. There seems to be a deep connection between flashlights and launchers. 😁
When you tap on the icon, the app shouldn’t open in full screen but as a small floating button (like Android 11’s notification bubbles) from where you can turn off the flashlight.
I played around with the floating button and had the idea to utilize it for something else: launching apps. Every time you tap on the button, the next app from your “app-playlist” (e.g., the apps of your morning routine) or the apps with notifications should open. Technically this means, Niagara’s notification integration existed longer than the launcher itself.
However, this idea felt gimmicky really fast. The major problem was that you have no choice what app to launch next; the button only suggests one app. I thought about how the button could suggest multiple apps. At that point, I realized I was designing a second, redundant, home screen. So why shouldn’t I create a cooler launcher instead?
What I disliked about most other launchers were their app drawers. Scrolling through the app list felt tedious, and it was uncomfortable to reach the apps with one hand. I had a Galaxy Note 3; it’s funny that it doesn’t even look that big these days compared to smartphones we use nowadays. I knew that a grid layout isn’t ideal for one-handed usage, so I got creative: So here’s what I came up with to reach every app comfortably:
It looks neat but is just too playful. While building the Ferris wheel layout, I started with a list for debugging purposes. I noticed I don’t have to go any further — the list layout does everything I asked for!
The list’s simplicity looks cleaner, more accessible, and dynamic than the traditional home screen grid layout. You can add, expand or remove apps based on context without displacing other apps (e.g., show music apps when plugging in your headphones or show notifications right next to the app).
Initially, I called the app Wave Launcher but had to rename it because there was already an app with that name on Google Play. I don’t know why, but I came up with a new name the day I took my first exam at university: Niagara Launcher.
While working on Niagara Launcher, I shared the app with my friends. One of them was Max, who already was an experienced Android developer. First, he gave me crucial feedback and decided to join the project later on 🎉
On August 30, 2018, it was time to go public. There was a lot of stuff to do (look how barebones Niagara’s settings screen was), but I thought it’s a good time to check if we’re heading in the right direction.
I’m so grateful that more than two million Early Access testers joined us and shared so many wonderful ideas. (We received more than 1000 feature requests and bug reports on our GitHub!) Thank you. Shoutout to our Mods who help us and so many others on our Discord and Telegram channels!
In 2018 we could make Niagara Launcher stable; in 2019, we added all the missing features launchers need, and in 2020 we polished it. Now, we’re convinced Niagara Launcher is ready for release.
We’ve got a lot of stuff planned for Niagara Launcher this year; you’ll hear from us again very soon 😀
Thank you for beta-testing with us.