Every year Google adds some new features to Android operating system, but had rarely tinkered with the user interface over the years. With the release of Pixel and the Pixel XL smartphones, the aptly named Pixel launcher looks set to replace Google Now launcher that made its debut with the Android Lollipop in 2014 with the Nexus 6, which introduced the Material Design and was a massive overhaul at the time.
The Android 7.1 (the latest version of Nougat) update is likely to show up on Nexus 6p and 5x by the end of this month, but whether the Pixel launcher will replace the Google Now completely remains to be seen.
Google has clearly said that some of the features in Pixel launcher remain exclusive to the Pixel smartphones. We take a look at some of the characteristic Google features that will no longer look or work in the same way they did in the Google Now launcher.
No App drawer
One of the characteristic features of plain Android has been the app drawer button, which makes navigation easier. In the Pixel launcher, there is no app drawer button but the concept of drawer is still there. What has changed is how you access your apps in it. User can access it by tapping on the single dot above the strip which carried the app drawer. The other way around it is to swipe upwards from the bottom of the screen. The gesture looks cool but is not very user-friendly and the dot is too small to get the result right in one go. We often ended up pressing and opening an app accidentally. Maybe the muscle memory will get used to it, over time.
App icons inspired by custom UI
Nexus fans who frown upon other Android phones with custom UIs for their muddled look and redesigned app icons, will now be able to boast about the subtle improvements in the new Pixel Launcher. The app icons look a lot smaller compared to app icons in the Google Now launcher and they are superseded within a circular icon. This creates a sense of symmetry, and the overall look is much cleaner.
Search button replaces search bar
The Google search bar where you could search anything on the phone or in the web has been reduced to a button on the left hand corner of the home page. Tapping on it opens up the search bar. This is a nice touch as the search bar took too much space and served no additional purpose, as the search bar in CyanogenOS based phones do. In CyanogenOS, the search bar shows news, score updates, or an important mail or notification pulled out from Google Now cards or other Google apps synced with Google Now. The space that Google has saved by reducing the size of the search bar carries the date and time button. It is permanent fixture and cannot be removed like a widget.
Home button with a different purpose
Long pressing the home button in phones running Google Now launcher and Android Marshmallow would take the user to the Now on Tap page. This is a contextual search tool and was a big highlight of Android 6.0 when it was launched last year. It basically helps users by showing up more options compared to what a usual search on Chrome and Google Now provides. In Pixel Launcher, long pressing the home button activates the Google Assistant, a personal assistant that first showed up with Google’s messaging app Allo. It is now an integral part of the Pixel smartphones and will be available exclusively on the two phones, as of now. Assistant works by understanding the user base don how a user uses Gmail, YouTube, Allo and other apps on the phone and then uses them to give more accurate and relevant responses to users.