Expectations are high for each update to Google's core apps on Android. After all, we know there are going to be a lot of new features announced at I/O in less than 2 weeks. Quite a few apps have recently gone through a Material refresh, and plenty of others have seen smaller changes as they slowly coalesce around the current design guidelines. That appears to be the story with the latest Google App update. The latest version finally enables full screen mode for Google Now on devices using custom launchers.
At this point, there is no real shortage of "smart" launchers in the Android ecosystem. Of course, we have to put "smart" in quotation marks, because there still is a void in terms of truly good products trying to do that. So when I tell you that Bento is a new entrant in this bustling market of context-aware launchers, you shouldn't ask, "do we need another one?" You should ask, "is this the one that will really do a great job?"
Bento is a venture capital-backed project that is in a semi-private beta at the moment.
BlinkFeed debuted with the HTC One M7, and while not everyone appreciates a Flipboard-style home screen with limited news sources, it has its fans. HTC uploaded the launcher into the Play Store last year in time for the M8 launch, and for the M9's release it has renamed the app to Sense Home.
HTC's new homescreen implements a few predictive capabilities that we've seen pop up over the past year or two in apps such as Aviate and EverythingMe.
Developer Chris Lacy has pushed out another update to Action Launcher, bumping the software up to version 3.3. Just over a month has passed since the last major release, and plenty of new features have crept in during that time.
One of the most visual changes is the ability for Quicktheme — which lets Action Launcher match your wallpaper like a chameleon — to integrate with live wallpapers. This is done through an open source API that requires changes on the live wallpaper side of the equation in order to work.
Apex's most recent update has brought the third-party launcher a flood of angry reviews over a new app recommendation feature that users are perceiving as adware. The popular app's overall score still sits well above a 4.0, but you don't need to scroll through the latest reviews for long before coming across numerous one-star ratings and anger-driven complaints.
Apex might be the last of the major launcher replacements to get a redesign for Android 5.0's visual style, but it certainly doesn't want to be the least. Apex's 3.0 update adds new Lollipop animations and a completely revamped visual style, making it more or less homogenous with Google's own launcher, but with the range of settings and tweaking options that customization fans crave. You can download the standard Apex Launcher for free, with the $4 upgrade app available for more options.
Nova is a homescreen launcher replacement that doesn't look like one, an option that feels about as close to stock as anything non-stock can—except immediately following the release of a new version of Android. During that time, Nova looks slightly dated, harking back to a distant past known to us as several months ago (or, for the majority of devices out there, the present). But without fail, an update comes that brings Nova users the look and feel of Google's latest homescreen.
Earlier this year, Nokia surprised everyone by developing an interesting Android app called Z Launcher. Back then, it was only available for beta participants as an APK download on Nokia's website. Today, along with its Android N1 tablet announcement at Slush 2014, the company has revealed that Z Launcher is making its official debut on the Play Store.
In a rather exciting post to its Google Design Google+ page today, Google announced a big set of improvements to the material design guidelines. The design spec, which - since this summer - has been a "preview," has been updated with links to relevant Android developer documentation, a new section called "What is Material?" a "What's new" section (to stay up to date on any changes), and a couple of other exciting changes.
If you've been paying attention the last several months, you're probably aware that since we posted our early look at Google's revamped launcher icons, users have been yearning for the "materialized" versions of their favorite apps' icons. This new design direction even spurred custom icon packs to replicate the look and feel of the rumored Google goodies. For developers and designers on Android, it's easy to see the attention the new icons are getting and start thinking about redesigning your own app's launcher icon.