Google is no stranger to testing changes server-side before releasing them for public consumption; in fact, we reported on them testing multiple Play Store UI tweaks at the same time just a few days ago. For several weeks, we've been getting tips about this new extension for the Google search widget, but it seems to be rolling out more widely now.
The APK for the new "Nexus Launcher" we detailed yesterday is now floating around the internet, but I've yet to see anyone point out one rather important detail about the whole thing: it doesn't replace Google Now Launcher when installed, but rather is clearly separate in name and branding. Going to the launcher picker with Nexus Launcher and Google Now Launcher installed, you can see both sport different logos and, obviously, names.
Now, this in and of itself is not direct confirmation of the Nexus Launcher being a standalone app, but it seems like a pretty decent bet to make. This leads us to another question: will the Nexus launcher only work on Nexus devices, or does Google plan to make "Nexus" a software branding?
Many of the new features in the second Android N dev preview have actually been additions or improvements to Google Now Launcher - we've had the controversial new folders and home screen / lock screen wallpaper options. Here's a third one, and it's a double whammy this time: pinch to overview on the home screen, instead of just long tapping, and finally some consistency when apps are dragged from the home screen or app drawer.
Pinch to overview works as you'd expect: a two finger pinch on any home screen shows the home screen overview, with wallpaper, widgets, and settings options at the bottom.
It's something custom ROMs have been able to do for years, but has never found its way into stock Android. Well, the second Android N dev preview changes that: Home screen and lock screen wallpapers can now be different, if you so choose.
When a wallpaper is set, it now asks if you'd like to apply the wallpaper on your Home screen, Lock screen, or both. Interestingly, while there aren't any stock live wallpapers in N Dev Preview 2 (live wallpapers are still supported, there's just not any preloaded), live wallpapers are not able to be set as just a lock screen wallpaper.
We're still digging into the new Android N preview to see what little things have changed, and one of the most immediately apparent tweaks is the new home screen folder style. Rather than the stacked icons in the round frame we've had for the last few years, folders are like small cutouts, peeking into a grid of app icons.
Things are heating up for Android Wear lately. Earlier this week, a new version of the Android Wear companion app began rolling out to make preparations for the next OS update. There's now an update to the Google app in the Beta channel which follows up with some interesting changes of its own: a new Wear-specific app that places the Google Now stream into a distinct card on watches. A teardown also shows some interesting new experiments for continuous queries and text-to-speech. There's even a small tweak for the Google Now Launcher.
The Google Now Card
Views of the new Google Now card and the first page to the right.
One of our readers spotted this neat trick in the latest update to the Google Now Launcher (which is part of the primary Google app). A single tap on the app drawer icon will open the app drawer as usual, but a long-press will open it and immediately highlight the app search field. It will also automatically open your default virtual keyboard, quickly and easily allowing you to type and search for apps.
This is especially handy for those users who keep dozens (or hundreds) of apps on their phones. Check out the animation below to see it in action:
The long-press function is only available in the latest versions of the Google App.
Google continues to tweak Android 6.0's visual interface with the latest Developer Preview, in ways both big and small. The default Google launcher has been seeing subtle changes since the M Preview was introduced, and the latest one is... interesting. The Preview 3 version of the app drawer includes a little "pop" effect when scrolling, highlighting the first app that begins with each successive letter in the alphabet. It's a little hard to describe verbally - check out the video below from YouTube user Zaid Salem.
If you'll recall, Developer Preview 1 separated apps by beginning a new drawer row for each new letter of the alphabet.
We're playing around with the new Android M preview today, and it looks like there are several notable changes to the launcher (i.e. the Google app). The new app drawer is no longer broken up by letter and the widget picker has a fast scroll bar. If that's not good enough, you can view the whole launcher in landscape mode after toggling a setting. Cool, no?
Over the past few weeks and months, it seems Google has been testing out a minor tweak to the search bar that appears on the home screen above your apps. Instead of simply showing Say "OK Google," some of our readers are seeing search recommendations such as "OK Google 15% of 80" and "OK Google... Movies nearby."
The former shows that you can use Google to do math. The latter nudges people to use Search to find what movie theaters are currently playing nearby. Many of us may already be accustomed to this functionality, but these recommendations serve as a way to subtly inform a broader audience of all the things Google Search can do.