Mobility

Goodbye Google Now Launcher, hello Pixel Launcher

Google Now Launcher may no longer be available in the Play Store soon. Learn how to install its worthy drop-in replacement, Pixel Launcher, on a non-Pixel phone.

pixellauncherhero.jpg
Image: Jack Wallen

One of the mainstays for the Android home screen, Google Now Launcher, is reportedly saying "Goodbye World." It is rumored that, as of March 1, 2017, the popular home screen launcher will no longer be available on the Google Play Store.

Why is Google Now Launcher being discontinued?

The reasons why Google is discontinuing this outstanding launcher are unclear. An anonymous tipster from within Google posted this on the android-dms-announcements@googlegroups.com mailing list:

The email (which you can see below) explains that the Search Launcher Services library for OEMs that has been in testing is now available.

This library is that same one used by certain OEMs (such as Sony) to integrate Google Now into their own home screen launchers. Now that the Search Launcher Services library is available, all OEMs can add Google Now to their home screen launchers...so the need to have the official Google Now Launcher available might be seen as a redundancy by Google. Couple that with the release of the Pixel Launcher, and Google feels it's time to let go of their aging Launcher. If you ask the public, this is a mistake. The Google Now Launcher is one of the best ways to get a pure Google experience on Android.

Why is Pixel Launcher a worthy replacement?

If you own one of the much-lauded Google Pixel phones, you know the native home screen launcher is fantastic and is also one of the most elegant-looking launchers for Android. The key features for Pixel Launcher include:

  • View Google Now cards (long press the home button and tap the Google Now button)
  • Access the app drawer with a quick swipe up
  • Quick access to Google Search
  • App suggestions at the top of your app drawer
  • Long-press apps that support shortcuts to see the shortcuts menu (such as long-pressing the Chrome launcher to open a new tab directly)

If you don't own a Pixel phone and open the Google Play Store on your non-Pixel device and search for Pixel Launcher, you'll see that your device isn't supported. It seems Google is leaving everyone else out, but there's a way around this: You can side-load Pixel Launcher on a non-Pixel device. Before doing that, please note:

  • not all the features work as you might hope (for instance, on certain devices the swipe-right to reveal Google Now and the shortcuts feature do not work); and
  • I have installed and scanned the apk file for malware, so the file to be installed is safe.

Even though all of the features will not work, Pixel Launcher is still worth installing, especially if you're a fan of Google Now Launcher.

How to install Pixel Launcher

It's very rare for me to encourage side-loading an application; it's not a best practice, and it should only be done with applications you're certain are okay. The source for the apk to be installed is APKMirror, a site run by the reputable and highly respected Android Police, so the Pixel Launcher apk is good to go.

SEE: Google Pixel phone: The smart person's guide (TechRepublic)

Download the apk file on your Android device. While the file is downloading, open Settings and go to Security. Within the Security window, enable Unknown Sources (Figure A).

Figure A

Figure A

Enabling Unknown Sources on the OnePlus 3.

Swipe down your notification shade and tap the entry that indicates the download has completed. If you don't see that, open your device's file manager app and navigate to Downloads. Locate and tap the file com.google.android.nexuslauncher_XXX_apkmirror.apk (XXX is the release number). When prompted, tap Install (Figure B), and the apk file installation will complete.

Figure B

Figure B

Installing Pixel Launcher

The next time you press the Home button you'll be asked which launcher to use—tap Pixel Launcher and tap ALWAYS. You'll be greeted by your new Google-powered launcher (Figure C).

Figure C

Figure C

Pixel Launcher on a Nexus 6.

You're ready to start working with this worthy replacement for the Google Now Launcher. Although it doesn't offer all the features found when used in conjunction with the Pixel phone, it does a great job as a drop-in replacement for the launcher Google is leaving behind.

A note about Pixel Launcher updates

Pixel Launcher will not show up in the Play Store on your device. If you want to check for updates, you must head back over to the APKMirror site, search for Pixel Launcher, and download any newer files.

Also see

About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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