Google finally unveiled KitKat last week, but you may have noticed something was missing. Yes, there was no news on the so-called Google Experience Launcher. Earlier leaks led us to suspect that Google's homescreen experience was coming to more Android devices, but the big day came and went with no mention. Recent revelations about how the Android 4.4 homescreen works breathe new life into the possibility of a more Googley experience for all.


Over at Ars Technica, our dearly departed Ron Amadeo has posited that the actual launcher APK in Android 4.4 is merely a stub – an empty shell that is forwarding everything to the new Google Search app. The GoogleHome.apk we talked about before the announcement does exist, but it's the search app working all the magic. This is, in fact, even more clever of Google than what we originally proposed. This approach allows Google to deploy the stock homescreen experience via the search app in Google Play, which everyone already has installed. Carriers and OEMs can't even strip it out – this is part of the core Android experience.

The version of search in Google Play hasn't yet been updated for everyone, but there is a chance it could bring some big changes when it does. When Google pulls the trigger on the update, its new homescreen experience could hit a ton of devices and be enabled with a simple GoogleHome app. Google Now is woven into the fabric of Android more now than ever before, and it's merging with the home screen. 

Additionally, this could mean KitKat phones get instant updates to the homescreen via Google Play rather than waiting for OS updates. Though, an additional launcher stub (the GoogleHome.apk?) might be needed for older devices to access the new launcher, but updates could come via the Google Search app. Keep an eye on that Google Search app – it's up to something.

[Ars Technica]

Ryan Whitwam
Ryan is a tech/science writer, skeptic, lover of all things electronic, and Android fan. In his spare time he reads golden-age sci-fi and sleeps, but rarely at the same time. His wife tolerates him as few would.

He's the author of a sci-fi novel called The Crooked City, which is available on Amazon and Google Play. http://goo.gl/WQIXBM

  • Ambroos

    I'm pretty sure some manufacturers would be pissed if this installed itself. If it's a silent install that only does something after launching it from the app tray once, OK, but if it automatically shows the option menu when hitting home it'd be confusing for users. Very.

    • Testraindrop

      Automatically wouldn't work, the current launcher must be replaced in the view of the OS, so the User will i any case be prompted with the "Choose your Launcher" UI.

      • Felipe Pimenta

        That's exactly what he said that would be confusing for users....

      • Ambroos

        Most Android users I know that aren't my IT student friends would get really confused and just pick something. Then pick the Google launcher and suddenly notice their layout/widgets are gone and don't know how to get it back. Then call me to fix it. That's something Google should be careful with.

        • Vito Lee

          Most launchers have an option to import a homescreen configuration from another launcher. At least Apex does. Google could do that.

        • Tyler

          If they are unsure of what it is they can click the "Just once" button and then next time they hit the home button they will be prompted again.

          Edit: But yeah to the average person that isn't tech savy they might get confused and accidently misclick.

        • Babs Oyed

          Are you saying Android users are nearly as dumb as iOS users?

          • Mike Harris

            Non-technical people don't suddenly become smarter based on what smartphone platform they're on.

        • MikeJwF

          What Ambroos said exactly.

    • mustbepbs

      Yes, but it also gives people a choice they've always wanted: stock vs skin.

      I realize that it's only skin deep, but to have the same experience as far as the home screen goes as Nexus users means a lot. It's a step in the right direction of Google nipping the fragmentation and ridiculous Android skins in the bud.

      • s44

        You mean the shittiest part of stock, that no serious user has wanted to use since... ever?

        • Matthew Gardner

          I'm using it on my Nexus 5 and it's pretty sweet.

          • mechapathy

            I'm doing the same, and I concur.

          • Max Thomas

            I want to do the same but my Nexus is still shipping...

          • mechapathy

            Just have patience (I know, impossible). It's worth it.

          • Mkvarner

            Use it on your old device then :)

        • Mark Slavin

          What, like the legions of people who've installed customer launchers to make their phones look more like stock?

        • Adam Truelove

          Um what? You prefer Sense or Touchwiz over stock? Get your head checked. I prefer and have always used the stock launcher.

          • s44

            Because Nova and Apex don't exist!

            And yes, TW launcher is better than KK.

        • Chris

          Right because no "serious user" uses a Nexus. Pull your head out of your ass before you talk.

          • s44

            I used the stock launcher for all of one day on my Nexus.

    • Tony

      At least in 4.4 in the Settings app there's a "Home" link that lets you choose from a list of home launchers without going into Settings>Apps>All and hunting down the launcher app, should help with this going forward.

    • http://zmyaro.com/ Gamer_Z.

      Even though the Google Search app (a.k.a. Velvet) _is_ the home screen on the Nexus 5, there is still a separate GoogleHome APK. Perhaps that suggests the home screen functionality will be there but not made available unless the user explicitly installs the separate Google Home wrapper?

  • http://www.Nave360.com Sebastian Gorgon

    Well i hope so... the biggest visual change is only limited to Nexus 5, that's a joke.

    • NinoBr0wn

      Limited to Nexus 5 or Android 4.4? What change are you talking about?

      • http://www.Nave360.com Sebastian Gorgon

        This launcher is nexus 5 only, you won't get it on your nexus 4 or nexus 7 or Google play edition devices.

        • http://www.bordersweather.co.uk/ Andy J

          yes.... because that would make so much sense wouldn't it - have you been reading The Verge by any chance? Going to complain that Hangouts is a Nexus 5 exclusive as well? If you really think that Google are going to miss the opportunity to push Google services in front of more people - in the same way that Facebook proved was well received with Facebook home - you are incredibly deluded - furthermore the entire point of this article is specifically that the Launcher will probably NOT be a Nexus 5 exclusive - and you appear to have just waded straight into the comments and started claiming shit as fact without a) reading the article or b) waiting for any sort of confirmation from Google - one way or the other.....

          • Rob Caldecott

            According to the Verge editor who posted their recent 4.4 review:

            "Google told me directly that the launcher is exclusive for the Nexus 5 . It could be made available for the N4 and even put on Google Play in the future. Hopefully they’ll do just that."

            So the situation seems confused at the moment. Hopefully the Nexus 4 and 7 OTAs will roll out in a week or so and then we'll know for sure.

        • MilkShak3

          Oh, don't be such a little bitch!

        • Stacey Liu

          Says who? We're getting the launcher as well as the transparency and magical stuff. The Nexus 10 has transparency disabled due to a SurfaceFlinger limitation, but it's still getting the launcher.

          • http://www.Nave360.com Sebastian Gorgon

            I guess you didn't see a screenshot of 4.4 on a nexus 7.

          • Stacey Liu

            I'm going to assume you didn't see the manifest files in AOSP which explicitly list these devices as having transparency enabled on the home screen. It's hell of a lot more likely that someone fucked up the rendering than the actual code.

          • http://www.Nave360.com Sebastian Gorgon

            The code exists so if you sideload the launcher you'll get transparency.

          • Stacey Liu

            Holy crap it turns out you're right. This is outrageous. I don't even... Sorry if I came off as rude earlier.



    • iamnotfan

      Who the fk down vote that.

      • anzensepp1987

        Must have been the Antichrist.

      • Lexster

        There's always someone who will downvote something with a high upvote just to be contrary.

      • DKRACING

        Samsung CEO prob.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lucyparanormal Daniel Tiberius

    I'm hoping Google continues to give us more options like this. I love me some options.

    • Markus S.

      Google is now letting the stock Android launcher rot in favor of this proprietary one. Therefore it sacrifices an open option for a proprietary option, ie. the number of options is the same as before.

      • http://www.facebook.com/lucyparanormal Daniel Tiberius

        I don't understand how this is proprietary.

        • http://petercast.net Peterson Silva

          The Google Search is part of GApps, which is closed source. I guess this is his point.

          • Chris

            Yeah, but it still doesn't change the openness of the software, really if he sees it that way then he should hate android already because even the companies that produce Android phones lock the phones down for the most part. Especially if you live in the US and have a certain red service provider...

          • Markus S.

            I like open source first and therefore arrived at Android. Even though Android was never 100% perfect in this regard, Google's recent push to replace open components with proprietary ones makes things worse IMO. And no, I'm not in the US and I don't get my phones from my carrier.

          • Chris

            Okay, i like open things as well, however, if you like open so much you probably don't use the stock launcher anyways. Do you?

          • Oh no, Bob

            He meant open SOURCE, not choice/"openness". In KitKat the GoogleHome.ask is essentially a wrapper. It's Google Search that's drawing the home screens. And since Search is proprietary, Apex and Nova are unlikely to be able to be based on the stock Launcher anymore.

          • Chris

            I understood what he meant, and yes it could cause problems BUT, we don't really know anything until the Goog confirms it.

        • Chris

          I don't either, all this really does is give everyone the option to use the stock Android experience. It doesn't leave anything to rot because it is the stock launcher.

      • http://www.bordersweather.co.uk/ Andy J

        You mean Launcher3 which has specifically been updated and is in fact the base of the GoogleHome launcher? That Launcher? That one that that has been "left to rot" despite being completely updated to be KitKat compatible - including the translucent bars? Surely that can't be the launcher you meant can it? No - because that would indicate that you read what Ars wrote and jumped up on your high horse like all the other idiots running about the internet screaming that AOSP is dying and everything is becoming proprietary, and yet at the same time - talking about how it's nice to see that the AOSP email client has been updated for KitKat.......

  • Pranav Tonseker

    Wonder how this would affect near stock launchers like Nova, Apex and Holo.

    • Cherokee4Life

      not a whole lot. those Launchers let you do a whole lot more than pure stock AOSP does. Now like CM and such Roms are a different story.

      • Brad

        I know, I am disappointed that google hasn't allowed changing grid size or hiding apps in the drawer yet... those are deal breakers for me

    • Brad

      All they'd have to do is incorporate that page as google now... I'm surprised nobody's done it yet.

    • Markus S.

      Read http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2013/10/googles-iron-grip-on-android-controlling-open-source-by-any-means-necessary/

      Google releasing a "Google Experience" variant of a stock Android component always meant that the stock component is left unmaintained to rot.

      • Stacey Liu

        No. It's in AOSP as Launcher3 and the Google specific features are handled by intents. Ars has started a FUD storm.

    • Pedro Segura Martín

      I think, Apex and Nova will rewrite their apps from the 4.4 stock launcher

  • VyktorJonas

    that's going to be interesting...

  • Brad

    The only thing I want overwritten is the notification drawer... that's why I left Stock for CM almost immediately... I can't handle Touchwiz's notification drawer.

    • DavesWilliams

      Or or..you could have just installed a third party launcher but hey i like cm too..

      • Scott Hamilton

        changing the launcher doesn't change the notification drawer.

        • DavesWilliams

          Ah I misread. Sammy does give you a lot to play with the notification toggles etc.

      • Brad

        First thing I did was launcher, but notification shade stays completely clogged with useless toggles and "ongoing notifications"

      • PhoenixPath

        He used drawer instead of shade...easy enough to sub app with notification when reading. I did the same thing and was confused until I saw the responses.

        • DavesWilliams

          That's how I was thinking

          • PhoenixPath

            Heh....So glad you got here first. :p

  • mgamerz

    I doubt this will push out automatically as the search app. This would make it show up 'choose launcher' when pressing the home button. Imagine what nightmware would happen if a normal user picked the wrong one.

    (same thing happens if you install any new launcher - it resets the default selection)

    • Sean

      They'd still have to go install the Google Home app, Search might tell users it's an option when it eventually updates though.

      • mgamerz

        Derp. Forgot that the googlesearch apk is not the same as the google experience apk. (velvet.apk right?)

        • Sean

          That's what the downloaded file is called, yup, the package name is com.google.android.launcher

        • Crispin Swickard

          The launcher seemed to run fine with the new search/launcher/play services app. You apparently need all 3. Only odd thing was that the search bar wasn't centered on the N10.

  • deltatux

    Not a fan of this feature creep. As much as Google Now is very useful, I don't want my home screens being crowded. I like having only the widgets that I care about which is exactly how my home screen is set up. Pretty simple, don't like having a busy home screen.

    • nicholasosu330

      My Uncle Lincoln just got a new yellow Subaru
      BRZ Coupe by working parttime off of a macbook air... find more J­a­m­2­0­.­ℂ­o­m

      • Cherokee4Life

        that must be nice, What happens when you can't afford a macbook air? you can't get a YELLOW Subaru BRZ Coupe?!?!?!

    • http://www.anivision.org/ Christopher Bailey (Xcom923)

      It doesn't look like it would crowd things up to me. Although I probably won't use it on my phone I'd probably have this on my tab where now is more useful as a standalone app. My phone is best for just the notifications

    • Cory Wilson

      Just install another launcher than! No harm done

      • deltatux

        I don't use stock launcher on my Nexus 4 already, my concern is if launchers like NovaLauncher which are based on AOSP's Launcher2.apk want to move to the Android 4.4 launcher code base, would the feature creep go with it. I'm hoping it can be turned off, but I guess everything remains to be seen obviously.

        • Cory Wilson

          Good point. I had a similar delimma when I picked up my og nexus 7 a little over a year ago. Always have hated the "giant phone look", and I was happy to find out apex was still honeycomb style. Unfortunately they hadn't yet update it to the jellybean codebase and when they did, giant phone mode was enabled. They have since added a tablet mode but it's not that great, the grid and margins are all set wrong

    • Joris Griffioen

      1. You misunderstand the definition of "feature creep".
      2. This is Android, you are on an Android-experts website. Do you really care about the "standard" way of things?

      • deltatux

        1. No, it is a feature creep.
        2. Read my comment reply below about how it might affect custom launchers based on AOSP launcher. Of course it hasn't happened yet, but there could be a chance of the feature creep going with it. Hopefully if it does, there's a way to turn it off.

        • cy_n_ic

          Turn you off...

        • Joris Griffioen

          1. It is not in any practical sense. The Google Search app does exactly the same. The extension with the GEL will only happen when someone installs the stub. Sure the code might have seen what can be technically be called feature creep, but I'm sure Google can handle a slight increase in code in an otherwise pretty simple app.

          2. AOSP still contains the launcher without Google Now. Maybe other launchers will attempt it, but seeing the closed-sourceness of this it is unlikely. Besides, those lauchers are kings of customisation, I am 100% sure they will have a way to turn it off.

        • BrianLipp


          You can turn Google Now off so it doesnt show up in the launcher, but it also disables it entirely.

  • Cherokee4Life

    I always felt Google was just playing nice with the carriers to get they phones in everyone hands and then somehow Google was going to pull a backdoor trick and take everything back. Nice Google... Nice!

    • deltatux

      Who knew Android was just a trojan horse that we all ended up loving eh?

      • Cherokee4Life

        lol the best Trojan Horse story ever! Millions of people effected and nobody saw it coming!!

        • http://zmyaro.com/ Gamer_Z.

          Well...a lot of people saw it coming...

          • Cherokee4Life

            that's fine as long as AT&T, T-Mo, Sprint and Verizon didn't see it coming

        • http://shanked.me/ Shank


          • Cherokee4Life

            oops...good catch lol

  • remister

    Google Now Takeover!

    • Jonnyw2k

      Okay Google... Take over the world

      • mustbepbs

        I for one welcome our new Google overlords.

        • Max Thomas

          Maybe one day we will finally see the death of cable TV and the rise of Google TV. Then they can advertise as much as they want... :)

    • Tyler

      MKBHD just made a video about this .... coincidence? I think not!

  • Cory Wilson

    Android updates are becoming less and less meaningful and that's a good thing! I like this approach much better. It means people can get the nexus experience without buying a nexus

    • Simon Belmont

      They're still pretty meaningful. It's just that the techy, nerdy stuff is what they're more about (behind the scenes enhancements, etc).

      Google's push to decouple the user-facing enhancements from OS updates is smart, though. It's just that every app that this happens to is no longer open source.

  • D4niel

    Called it.

  • MattEden

    I thought the APK was already out there? I mean... I do have it and the new Google Search installed on my 4.3 stock GNexus...

    • BrianLipp

      the Search app might need the GoogleHome.apk to activate or authenticate something, so the launcher isnt accessible without it.

    • Simon Belmont

      Those APKs were pulled from a Nexus 5, I believe. The new Google Search isn't on the Google Play Store, yet.

      Someone just pulled the APKs and people have been installing them on their pre-KitKat devices. They do work.

  • http://www.toysdiva.com Toys Samurai

    I was hoping they could decouple more stuffs from the OS, such as the notification bar, the phone settings app, etc.

    • Renan Lazarotto

      and the OS would be what after this? Only the kernel?

  • BrianLipp

    "Carriers and OEMs can't even strip it out – this is part of the core Android experience."

    true, but they probably WILL be able to hide/remove the new "home" section of the settings menu, making GETTING to the Google homescreen a hassle that "normal" users wont go through, unless they put an option in the Search app to launch it.

    • Simon Belmont

      If you have more than one launcher installed, it brings up that "which do you want to make default" dialog box, does it not? So, I don't think they could take that out.

      I know what you're trying say, though. You mean the "Home" option under settings in KitKat, that makes it much easier to switch default launchers.

  • O’s Fan91

    I wonder if this would finally bring GoogleNow goodness to Pre Jelly Bean devices!?!

    • miri

      Unlikely. More like bring Kitkat goodness to Jelly Bean devices.

  • nicereddy

    Right below the image of the Nexus 5: "posited". Figured I'd point it out.

    • Simon Belmont

      Posited is the correct word. It means "assume as a fact." :)

      In fact, it's nice to see that word get some use. I rarely see it used these days. ;)

      • nicereddy

        Well, today I learned a new word :D

  • http://jamieellis.co.cc/ Jamie Ellis

    An Component Updater section to Android is only a matter of time!

  • NinoBr0wn

    Just give me my damn image download back.

  • http://zmyaro.com/ Gamer_Z.

    Yeah, the new Google Search app (a.k.a. Velvet) is definitely what is really running on the Nexus 5 home screen. If you open up the APKs for Velvet and GoogleHome, you will find almost nothing in GoogleHome and plenty of home screen-type assets in Velvet.

    • Wyatt Neal

      Velvet describes about just how damn smooth it really is ... my poor Gnex doesn't stand a chance.

  • optiks

    I received a strange update today. I couldn't tell what it was and it happened really quick. When I tapped on the notice in notifications, it took me to Google Play Store > Google Play Services. After readying this article I decided to take a look at Google Search and I noticed that now in the search bar it says "Search, or say OK Google". I was just using it yesterday and was saying "Google".

  • Tuấn Ankh

    I enjoy Touchwiz launcher on my Galaxy Mega 6.3 (believe it or not, it's very smooth), but it would be very very nice to have Google Experience as an option. Touchwiz will probably get down to second place then.
    but well, I'm not sure whether we can get Google Experience on Jelly Bean, even though it's a Google Search update. Google Now is also part of the Google Search update, right? My Galaxy S Blaze 4G on Ice Cream Sandwich can't get it.

  • http://www.ScienceProUSA.com SciencePro

    Why can't the Google Search app itself be a launcher? Unclear why a separate "stub" launcher app is needed.

    • jurrabi

      No need to "select default launcher" this way. Many people might get scared/confused about that.

  • Shane Shepherd

    Ugh.... This has me worried that the new "Ok, Google" search won't work with 3rd party launchers when they update it.... I DO NOT like the new launcher... But, I would REALLY like to use the new "Ok, Google" search feature!!!

    • Primalxconvoy

      Then do what I've done; just use a 3rd party search app/widgit and then you don't have to worry about any of this. You can even disable Google search for full effect.

  • Hamza Javed

    "Google Experience" experience on all devices. Wow!!!


  • bL4Ck

    i think the stub GoogleHome.apk is still needed to make it work, Google most likely doesn't want million of android users getting a "Pick your default launcher" prompt after updating Google Search, that would be quite troublesome, there's a lot of people out there that doesn't play around with their devices much and will most likely never change their launcher.

  • Amer Khaznadar

    I can't understand the logic behind stuffing a launcher in a search app. Especially since a separate app stub is still required.
    Why not simply have it as an independent Play Store app?

    • http://www.twitter.com/ninjustin ninjustin

      I think that's a far better idea. Updating search shouldn't throw a new launcher on people's phones. Almost everyone has Google Search on their phones and many people don't even know what a launcher is. Updating it and automatically adding a new launcher will result in much frustration from people wanting to know where their stuff went.

  • http://www.officinawazo.com/ Carburano

    This seems not true. Reading kitkat guide (published today) new features are only for n5. Other nexus devices will remain with old launcher (also with widgets in app draw)

    • Jacopo Moronato

      Yeah, if true it will be a shame.

    • jurrabi

      Read the same.

      So I guess this is just an experiment to feel people thoughts and take future decisions.

      I would have loved some thing a little more radical, like what FB did.

      I know most folks didn't like it, since it was all about facebook and the rest is not important. But at least it was different and brave. A little thinking out of the box doesn't hurt.

      With this google thought so close to the box that they could hear the Schrödinger cat inside of it (so I guess it was alive).

      • http://www.officinawazo.com/ Carburano

        Yes, it seems an experiment. BTW the only think I like in new launcher is support for transparent status and navigation bars.. so... Waiting for Nova to support transparencies :)

  • Abhishek

    One fine morning, A brand new launcher following a ugly prompt to chose one and all app shortcuts and widgets gone, my parents will surly trun crazy. Expecting many panic calls soon ;-)

  • jurrabi

    Honestly, after 2 days tasting this google experience launcher I have to say that, like nearly all new paradigms google has forced lately (maps comes to mind) fells short. Very short.

    Not only the "google experience" is nothing more that a full screen widget for google now forced in the left panel (where I used to have my calendar related things and now I have to move somewhere else), but the launcher itself is very very limited.

    As a launcher again the thing doesn't even allow for a sideways view, so I can't manage properly my One X on my charging station. But familiar feelings about excessive simplicity leading to lack of options (I have in maps), I haven't been able to add more screens that the origial 2. So widgets and icons have a very limited space.

    It is expected that google will improve and add options as time goes by. But I want to say to google that users expect new things to have at least the same as the previous version and more. Not going back in functionality and gaining from there...

    The google experience add nothing new to the equation for the user. Only more power for google over it's hardware partners that want to enjoy the google-ecosystem. But that is not for the user.

    I'm starting to receive every new google version with reticence.

    • Andrew Kachaniwsky

      I love the new launcher.

      • jurrabi

        Good for you. Nothing better than finding new stuff satisfactory.

    • jaduncan

      Push the icon you wish to place to the right side of the second screen. Another screen will appear.

      • jurrabi

        Very Nice, thanks pal.

        That thinking didn't came to me naturally.

    • CensoredByU

      Someonecall the waabulance? Get another launcher..

      • jurrabi

        So your point is: "say all is great or shut up!"?
        Sorry pal. Can't do that.

        If I have an opinion, positive or negative, and think people might like to know a first hands experience I will post it.

        • CensoredByU

          Opinion or blow hard.

  • https://plus.google.com/u/0/108482452903817442299/posts Andrew Bone

    I just got the APKs off my N5 and put them on my N4 and it worked :-)

    (had to pull across the launcher too)

  • Matthew Fry

    Nooooooooo! Roooooooooon!