Search has always been a core component of Android — the OS is made by Google, after all. But one of the coolest tricks of the system has been reserved for Google's own launcher and widget: the ability to search through both your own apps and web search results at once. That capability may be coming to all launchers and apps in the near future, according to developer documentation for Android 12.

To be specific, we're talking about the behavior you see when searching from the Google widget, either in the Pixel Launcher or using any other launcher with the widget placed on your screen. This search accesses both Google web search data and the list of apps installed on your phone. Third party launchers can't do this within their own list of apps. For example, Nova Launcher's drawer search has links to search for a query on Google or the Play Store, but can't populate the list with anything except entries from your own installed apps. It's possible to expand this with third party tools like Sesame Search, but at the moment it's far from a smooth experience.

Nova Launcher's current in-app search, limited to a list of apps installed on the device, with no web integration.

The update was spotted by the developers of Niagara Launcher, and posted to Twitter. The "AppSearchManager" API entry, according to its documentation, allows any app to activate the centralized AppSearch index, possibly even including actions within the app. Such as, say, searching within a Google Doc or finding a specific local photo indexed in a gallery app. That's functionality that mirrors more powerful local search tools, as seen on Windows and MacOS, and even the standard search function built into the home screen of iOS.

The Scout search tool on OnePlus's OxygenOS

Nova developer Kevin Barry told us that while this kind of functionality is supposed to be possible with the current Google search widget, it rarely works correctly. And trying to integrate Google search results with app search tools like the one in Nova's app drawer is frustrating due to the constant changes Google itself makes, especially if you want to use autocomplete results.

OnePlus has already built a custom implementation of search similar to the one found on desktop operating systems, and it's one of the features that we've hoped would make its way to vanilla Android. We haven't seen this more extensive AppSearchManager tool implemented yet on the Android 12 Developer Preview.