Several days ago, I started a series of rumor posts on my personal Google+ account discussing some Android rumors I felt were interesting enough to share, but didn't feel confident enough yet to do so here on the site. The posts were heavily prefixed with disclaimers that none of them may turn out to be true but that I had a certain level of confidence to talk about them in public unofficially.
Today, I'd like to present rumor #8, which is going straight to Android Police because of the relatively high confidence level.
This post contains a certain amount of speculation.
We do not have possession of any APKs or unreleased devices, so please don't ask for them.
Based on everything I've seen so far, I'm assigning this rumor a score of 7 out of 10. I'm docking three points because the features and the UI can change by the time KitKat is out. The Android team is still putting a lot of work into the launcher, and everything is changing from one test build to the next.
Just to be clear, it's not the validity of the information below that I question - it's how many changes it will receive by the time Android 4.4 is released.
Google is preparing a new launcher that will be called Google Experience. At least, that's what it was called in a build from just a couple of weeks ago, and I don't think it will change.
From the looks of it, I'd say it's going to be one of the more important bullet points on the Android 4.4 changelog.
Additionally, there's a chance it may be released to the Play Store, although only Google can confirm this plan. Allow me to elaborate.
The Google Experience name
First up - the name Google Experience. In addition to this [heavily cropped] screenshot, I have looked through the very detailed log file shared by Myce and found that it contains references to a package called com.google.android.gel. The corresponding APK lives at /system/app/GoogleHome.apk, which clearly points to it being a launcher.
<package name="com.google.android.gel" codePath="/system/app/GoogleHome.apk">
Take a look at that package name. gel matches up with the Google Experience Launcher abbreviation perfectly. Additionally, this component of the package com.google.android.gel.GEL shows up in several places too. Unless Google decides to rename it at the last moment, I think we're all going to see this name come KitKat's release day.
A big step forward?
Internally, things like variables and permissions used to live under the namespace com.android.launcher2 and now live under com.android.launcher3, meaning the launcher is now internally referred to as version 3.
To me, this only confirms that the Android team is treating this release as significant - we're getting a full new version 3 of the launcher.
Will it come to the Play Store?
There's another interesting thing happening here. If you take a look at stock Android 4.3, you will see that the current launcher's package name is com.android.launcher. The new one is com.google.android.gel. Now look at Google's current selection of apps in the Play Store. Almost all of them start with "com.google.android" instead of "com.android."
Take a walk down memory lane to the day Calendar was decoupled from the core OS and released to the Play Store, and you'll notice that at that time the stock com.android.calendar package name was changed to com.google.android.calendar. The same thing happened to the keyboard (com.google.android.inputmethod.latin), Gmail (com.google.android.gm), and pretty much everything Google migrated over.
Having said that, there are exceptions to this rule, though I think the apps that already do have com.google.android in their package names, such as the Clock in Android 4.3 (com.google.android.deskclock), are just waiting their turn.
I'm not saying with 100% certainty that we're going to see the launcher released to the Play Store, but to me, it certainly looks like it. At least eventually and not necessarily with KitKat.
By the way, as Myce noticed, com.android.dialer has changed over to com.google.android.dialer in the test KitKat build, and so did com.google.android.GoogleCamera which is actually a brand new package - the old camera was part of the Gallery, so we may theoretically see these apps released to the Play Store as well.
Update: KitKat's motto is "to make an amazing Android experience available for everybody." Sounds good to me!
Update #2: It's possible that the Google Experience brand is going to include other components that you can install to get the Google experience on your device. That would certainly make sense, but at this time I have no evidence to back that up, so it's just speculation on my part (thanks, +Luke Monahan, for the idea).
Here are some things you can expect from Google Experience.
Side note: My post about Google Experience was actually scheduled for this weekend - I delayed posting about it all week while trying to dig up as much info as possible in order to paint a more complete picture. As you may know, yesterday morning's KitKat leak by TuttoAndroid already let us in on some details, so not all of this information is going to be new anymore. However, it also served as a second confirmation, which only makes me more confident in the information I've collected.
Note #1: Unfortunately, in the interest of protecting our sources, we can't post additional screenshots today. Rather than not posting any visuals at all, we opted for mockup images of Google Experience, masterfully designed by our own Liam Spradlin. They paint a relatively accurate picture, but may be off on some details (whether purposely or not).
Note #2: Once again, these can change by release time, and I'm not claiming this list of features to be complete.
- Both the nav and the status bars are now transparent, but only while in the launcher. As soon as you launch any app, they go back to the black non-transparent background. I imagine this behavior may change, but that's how we saw it working on a recent test build. I really doubt Google will ever make it a per-app setting since that would create a very inconsistent visual experience when you switch between apps, so I think it'll be limited to just the launcher.
- Google Search/Now is integrated deep within Google Experience. As TuttoAndroid already pointed out, the very left homescreen is reserved for a permanent Google Search/Now screen.
- This Google Search/Now screen now has a one-touch button to set a reminder. I'm not sure if the Google Search app itself also changed similarly, but it would only make sense.
- The Search's voice input prompt is now kind of transparent on the bottom and floats instead of occupying the whole screen. I've included a comparison screenshot from Android 4.3 to demonstrate the difference.
- The amount of homescreens is no longer limited to 5 and looks to be infinitely expandable. The right home screen is always empty. If you add something to it, it creates another one to the right of it. That way, you never have to create homescreens manually.
- Similarly, we now get infinite app folders which are no longer limited to the previous max of 16 apps. In order to accommodate this change, the folders now scroll if they contain more than 16 shortcuts.
- You can no longer add widgets from the app drawer - that area is now reserved for just apps. The widget selector has moved back to the homescreen long-press menu where it joined the wallpaper selector, along with a link to the Settings. However, since this area is still largely incomplete, it may change drastically by release time.
The rest of these have been pointed out by TuttoAndroid, but I'll include them for completeness:
- The app drawer icon no longer has a circle around it.
- The horizontal separator with home screen identifiers is replaced by little dots above.
- The app drawer's background is now transparent rather than black.
- TuttoAndroid's build is newer than the one our source had access to and shows a new wallpaper reminiscent of the one on the Nexus 7.
- The lockscreen, which may be part of the new launcher, has a camera icon but still swipes to the right to open said camera.
- This isn't related to the launcher, but a few icons have changed, including the dialer icon. I certainly hope this is not the one we'll end up with, but in the meantime we decided to incorporate it into our mockups.
Left: transparent navigation and notification bars mockup; right: infinitely deep folders mockup
Left: the dedicated Search/Now homescreen mockup; right: mockup of the prompt showing 'Google Experience'
Left: the voice input prompt in Android 4.4 mockup; right: the voice input prompt in Android 4.3