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.
The folders in Google's stock Google Now Launcher are currently restricted to just 16 entries (four rows of four). That's going to change very soon. The version of GNL that ships with the Android M preview has folders that automatically paginate when you add more than 16 apps. How many pages can you have? I'm not sure as I have yet to hit the limit.
One aspect of Google Now Launcher that never felt quite right was the way you removed apps. If you happened to be on a home screen, saw an app icon, and decided to uninstall that app, you had to go to the app drawer to do that. You could get rid of the shortcut from the home screen, but not uninstall it. The Android M version now takes care of that small annoyance.
When you drag it over uninstall, it will turn red. When it is hovering on remove, which just gets rid of the shortcut, the icon becomes grayscaled.
To the excitement of many, Google has finally made the Google Now Launcher available for all Android devices running Android 4.1 or later.
The GNL is what Google thinks your Android device should look like, in a basic sense. A dedicated Google Now homescreen pane, a permanent Google Search shortcut at the top of every screen, and a very bare-bones app drawer. It's simple, fast, and Google-y. What's interesting is that, despite some degree of love for the GNL in the wider Android community, it's really not an enthusiast's launcher at all. You can't configure it in any real sense, and aside from customizing your Google Now experience, app shortcuts, widgets, and wallpaper, the GNL is really quite rigid in terms of what you can do with it.
It's been a number of months since the Google Now Launcher debuted in the Play Store as an exclusive for Nexus and Google Play Experience devices, but today that changes. The newest update has opened up official access to all devices running Android 4.1 or higher.
It seems like it's hard to find a non-Nexus device that uses anything close to stock Android. Samsung, HTC, LG, Sony, Asus, Acer - everywhere you look there are customizations to a greater or lesser extent. Even Motorola, formerly Google's own subsidiary, uses a custom launcher. Chinese manufacturer ZTE is looking to break that trend, however. The company is planning to launch new smartphones that use the Google Now Launcher (AKA the Google Experience Launcher) by default.
The first ZTE phone to use the Now Launcher by default, complete with its "OK Google" voice command integration, will be the Blade Vec 4G.