iPhone users are finally getting a convenient and powerful feature that’s long been available on Android phones: the ability to tap an NFC tag and have their phone automatically perform certain actions, like opening an app or playing music. Support for NFC tags arrived with the latest iPhones, and Launch Center Pro is the first major app to take advantage of it, allowing users to activate basically whatever action they can think of — with a few catches.
I had the chance to try out Launch Center Pro’s implementation for a few days, which arrives in the popular workflow app’s version 3.0 update today. The feature definitely works. I was able to set up an NFC tag to trigger an action (like giving me my commute time), tap a phone against it, and have that pop up. But there are a whole bunch of caveats here to get this process to work, and even when everything is set up perfectly, it still feels like a hacked-together experience.
To start off, you’ll need the right phone: while the iPhone 7, 8, and X all technically have NFC chips, they aren’t actively set to scan in the background for tags, meaning the most useful function here (tap a tag, have a thing happen) won’t work unless you manually trigger NFC scanning. At that point, you probably could have just done the task yourself already.
Things work much better on the XS and XR, which actually scan for NFC tags, although the “sweet spot” for triggering the tag is a bit tough to find. (It’s near the top of the back of the device.) It took me longer than I’d like to admit to get a tag to work for the first time.
But even at their most elegant, the tags still send you through a series of jumps to your final destination. Tapping a tag pops up a notification on your phone, tapping the notification brings you into Launch Center Pro, and only then will Launch Center Pro launch the action it’s supposed to be doing, whether that’s sending a text, playing a song, opening a website, or any of the other myriad options possible.
That brings me to the final issue: much like the Apple-owned Shortcuts app, Launch Center Pro isn’t exactly the most friendly app to configure. If you’re a power user of the app already, you’ll probably get a lot of mileage out of the new NFC feature. But newer users might be a bit confused starting out. Creating an action in Launch Center Pro can look a little bit like coding, and it can be particularly tricky when you’re setting up a new NFC tag that hasn’t already been configured with Launch Center Pro.
Once you do get everything set up, you can see how useful this sort of feature would be: putting a sticker by your nightstand to automatically set an alarm and turn off the lights or putting one in your car to punch in your commute and play your favorite playlist would be simple and convenient. I just wish it was a little less complicated to do it on iOS.
Android users have enjoyed this sort of integration on a far deeper level for years, which makes the fact that the current iOS implementation is such a wonky workaround even more noticeable. It’s easy to imagine a world where Apple integrates this sort of functionality into its existing Shortcuts app, and honestly, it’s a little baffling that the company hasn’t taken advantage of it yet.
Along with the NFC support, Launch Center Pro is getting a pretty big overhaul for the 3.0 release, chief among them a switch to a freemium model. New users will be more limited in the functionality they can access, while existing paid customers will be able to keep everything they’ve been able to do so far. Users new and old will be able to purchase the 3.0 additions like NFC or alternate app icons a la carte, depending on which ones they want. There’s also the option to unlock everything for either a $9.99 annual subscription or a single $29.99 purchase (discounted to $24.99 for existing users), which will include all of the future additions, too.