Google long ago opened up access to its smart system of cards via the Google Now Launcher, which gave phones of all shapes and sizes a taste of what it’s like to use stock Android. Sadly, Google is warning partners that its time in the Play Store is running out.
An email forwarded to Android Police describes Google’s plans for the launcher. Starting sometime this quarter, the Google Now Launcher will be removed from the Play Store. However, Google notes that while new users won’t be able to download it, it will “continue to support existing users of the Google Now Launcher by updating the Google Search app.” The Google app is essentially a standalone Google Now app, offering similar customization and information without the prime placement to the left of the home screen.
Then on March 1, the Google Now Launcher will be removed from the Google Mobile Services suite, and new devices utilizing it will no longer be approved. However, Google isn’t leaving them in the dust. A new Search Launcher Services library will allow manufacturers to insert Google Now into their own custom launchers, meaning its adoption could actually become more widespread. Previously only a few phones used the Google Now Launcher out of the box, and Google says these phones can continue shipping with it, as well as any others approved before the March cutoff date.
However, this change will mostly affect Android users who turn to the Google Now Launcher to bring some of the stock experience to their phones. While it was never quite the same as buying a Nexus, the Now launcher is incredibly popular among Android users, with more than 50 million downloads and a solid 4.3-star rating.
So what now?: While Google has spelled out a clear plan for phone makers who rely on the Google Now Launcher, it’s less clear what it intends to do for regular users. While it’s unlikely that it will stop working, there won’t be any improvements going forward (aside from the promise of updates to the Google app), and support will be spotty at best. It’s possible that Google plans to open the Pixel Launcher to all phones (after all, the Google Now Launcher was once only available on Nexus phones), but it’s hard to see Google taking away one of the main reasons to buy its flagship Android phone.