Monday , August 21 2017

Opinion: Google, Your Launcher Sucks

Google_Now
Google, in an Android world of so many choices for launchers, yours is the least functional and the most useless of all of them. We have seen launchers from HTC, LG and Samsung slowly improve over the last couple of years, adding more options with each iteration but Google, yours is the least featured, most boring, un-customisable one out there.

Why am I wearing my ranty pants tonight you might ask? Lately I HAVE been using the Google Now Launcher (GNL) on my Nexus 5, making full use of Google Now including all the OK Google voice commands. With the use of an Xposed module I was able to add a lot of missing functionality to the launcher. By missing, I mean functions that nearly every other launcher out there has- especially those custom launchers found on the Play Store such as Nova and Apex launchers. With the addition of Xposed Framework and Xposed GEL Settings (XGELS) module I was able to:

  • Hide the Google Search bar
  • Resize all widgets
  • Customise the homescreen grid size
  • Have 7 icons in the dock
  • Resize all icons and folders, including those on the dock
  • Hide unwanted apps from the app drawer
  • Have homescreen gestures to open app drawer, quick settings and notifications
  • Many other things that are standard in most launchers
Sure these are standard on homescreen replacement apps like Nova and Apex so why not use these you may ask. Well, I was trying to use Android how Google wants me to use it. Use the Google Now commands, use the Google Now cards, submit my entire life to Google. I was able to do all that with relative ease using this Xposed Module- until Google decided to obfuscate the Google Search apk file with the latest Google Search update. What is this obfuscate I hear you ask? Wikipedia tells me:

Programmers may deliberately obfuscate code to conceal its purpose (security through obscurity) or its logic, in order to prevent tampering, deter reverse engineering, or as a puzzle or recreational challenge for someone reading the source code.

Why would they do this? Apart from hiding code from their competitors it also results in a smaller apk size and a small amount of code optimisation. This obfuscation hides the code not just from their competitors but also the enterprising developers over at XDA developers who can crack open the apk files and alter certain commands using the Xposed framework. In the previous apk the size of an icon was determined by a class called iconSize (imagine that!) but now iconSize is called xY. If the developers cannot see or read the code then they do not know what classes to hook into to change the commands without a lot of painstaking, timeconsuming reverse engineering and pattern matching.
RIP XGELS
As of this moment, XGELS is useless for Google’s launcher. GNL is back to being a launcher that is stuck on a 5 x 5 homescreen grid, a 4 icon dock and no options at all. That’s not right. Android is all about choice and customisation isn’t it? Not according to the developers at Google who work on the Google Now Launcher. They don’t think we need to change the grid size, remove their search bar, resize the widgets, hide apps from the app drawer, add docks, add icons to the docks, change the appearance (size, icon etc) of app shortcuts or add gestures to the homescreen (among so many other possible options seen in Nova and Apex custom launchers).

Well guess what Mr/Ms Google Developer? That homescreen launcher (GNL) you want us all to use to better your own product? I don’t use it anymore and I doubt I ever will. I am back to Nova launcher (Prime edition) and am wondering why I ever left. I have all of the above options and more at my fingertips, easily accessible. This is how Android should be. The ability to make it run how I want it to run and look how I want it to look.
Screenshot_2014-05-03-18-28-09
Some may say that Google are keeping it simple for Joe Public. Guess what Google? Who is the GNL aimed at? If you do it the legitimate way- through the Play Store- it is only compatible with Google Experience and Nexus devices. Who is the most likely type of person to own one of these? That’s right- one of us. Android enthusiasts. Geeks. Sure there are exceptions to the rule but the main owners of these devices are us. What do we like to do with our phones? Tinker. We want to customise our phone/tablet. That’s how we roll. You make your GNL for us Google. You want us all to use this launcher don’t you? You have put a lot of work into Google Now and we all appreciate it. A lot of people love Google Now but guess what? Many of us do not use your launcher. It is totally barren, bereft of options, of preferences of any kind. Compared with the competition out there it plain old sucks. Even Samsung and HTC allow more customisation of their launchers. Why not you?

Is it because you are taking back control of the Google Experience? You don’t want people to bastardise the Android experience. You want people who buy these devices to get Android how you see that it should be? You want to keep the line pure? A noble reason I must admit but I am not sure how the ability to perform a few customisations to a launcher ruins this. Many of us love the pure Google Android experience but I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say that a majority of us do not use your Google Now Launcher.

You want to automate our lives with your products but if we are not using your launcher then we are not following your grand plan are we? It’s not that hard Google for you to add these options, or any options at all, to your launcher. An amateur developer/hacker from Germany was able to create XGELS Xposed module in his spare time. While he may be extremely clever to do this I bet that Google have some equally and most probably more intelligent programmers working for them.
android_customisation
Google have never had any options in their launcher. In the past we have all thought that was because they didn’t really care if we used it or not. Now they do. They want us to use Google Now. They want us to use the Google Now (GEL) launcher. Google, here’s a tip, if you want us to use your launcher give us what we want, what we expect. This is Android, version 2014. We expect more.

As an aside the clever folks at XDA have put their heads together and found a way around the obfuscation but most likely will require them to go through and manually find every single hook and hack in the apk each time Google updates the search app.

Nova Launcher
Nova Launcher
Price: Free
Apex Launcher
Apex Launcher
Developer: Android Does
Price: Free
Google Now Launcher
Google Now Launcher
Developer: Google Inc.
Price: Free
Xposed GEL Settings [ROOT]
Xposed GEL Settings [ROOT]
 

Scott Plowman   Associate Editor

Scott is our modding guru - he has his finger on the pulse of all things ‘moddable’, pointing us towards all the cutting edge mods hacks that are available. When he’s not gymming it up, or scanning the heck out of Nexus devices, you'll find him on the Ausdroid Podcast.

Outside of Ausdroid, Scott's a health care professional and lecturer at a well known Victorian university.

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45 Comments on "Opinion: Google, Your Launcher Sucks"

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James Adina
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James Adina
I normally agree with your opinions but the whole point of the GNL is to provide a seemless, clean and simple UI/launcher for people who prefer simplicity or things to just work (iOS users), you can download third-party launchers from the play-store! Personally I would like features like icon packs in GNL… but unless it gets incorporated straight into android it will probably go against the simple philosophy of the app. When you have an app called launcher settings its all good and well for those more tech-savy or pro-android users but normal people are just like “What? Too confusing….… Read more »
Barrett Jasper
Valued Guest
Barrett Jasper

Xgels has been updated and works again after Google obfuscated their code.

Robert Oh
Valued Guest
Robert Oh

Motherfu*ck google.

smeddy
Valued Guest
smeddy

Excited for it. Used it for two days. Went right back to Nova/TSF

Ben Lovelace
Valued Guest
Ben Lovelace

Stoked to read this article. My experience was exactly the same. Using XGELS, it broke, straight back to Nova.
Thanks for nothing Google.

Daniel Narbett
Valued Guest
Daniel Narbett

Outstanding 🙂 *bows down before true ranty greatness*

Darren Krusi
Valued Guest
Darren Krusi
GNL is for those that want a bit more than the basic launcher, I want some info on the go and this gives it to me, I don’t need 7 icons across because I keep my apps to a minimum and delete apps I don’t use, so I swipe twice to get to something at the end of the alphabet, big whoop. To say that a launcher sucks because it doesn’t work with your particular usage patterns is short sighted and certainly not looking at the big picture. A Nexus device is available to the markets that can sell them… Read more »
SachmoJoe
Valued Guest
SachmoJoe

I’m 100% with you here.

Gotta love that raging sense of nerd entitlement.

Member

totally agree

Member
whitelunchbag

I’m quite happy with Action Launcher. I keep meaning to put it on my Nexus 7 too, but the launcher is not as important as on a phone so I haven’t bothered

dzeikei
Valued Guest
dzeikei
I am an Android enthusiast and also an Android developer. I used to spend hours flashing and customising my Windows Mobile phones and iPhones and Android phones but now I am very busy with work and family and just don’t have the time anymore. I used Nova Launcher Prime on my Galaxy S and S2 because it was better than TouchWiz. I stopped using Nova when I changed my phone to a Galaxy Nexus and used the stock launcher ever since on my Nexus 4, Nexus 7, Nexus 10, Nexus 5 and HTC One M8 (Flashed to GPE). I prefer… Read more »
Member
Luke Vesty
While I wholeheartedly disagree with the sentiment of this piece, the writer is entitled to dislike Google’s launcher. However, to suggest that it’s primarily for Android geeks is rather short sighted in light of recent news. If the rumours are true, Google will soon be abandoning the Nexus line to roll out a new “Android Silver” program. This will see OEM’s paid by Google to run a stock (or very close to) version of Android on their flagship hardware. Stock Android enthusiasts like us are being used as testers for Google’s launcher. Our feedback and usage data is being collated… Read more »
JeniSkunk
Valued Guest
JeniSkunk

No whispy, you missed a point in what was said. It’s that the devices which GEL runs on, are primarily purchased by the Android geeks.
Google’s attempt to prevent the hacking of GEL is Bad Evil and Wrong.
Restricting the customization capability of GEL is not a SmartMove.

Member
Luke Vesty

I think you’ve missed my point, Jeni.

JeniSkunk
Valued Guest
JeniSkunk

Disqus fouled up the formatting of my post, again.

When I said that you missed a point, I was referring to this section of the article:

“Guess what Google? Who is the GNL aimed at? If you do it the legitimate way- through the Play Store- it is only compatible with Google Experience and Nexus devices. Who is the most likely type of person to own one of these? That’s right- one of us. Android enthusiasts. Geeks.”

Your post claims that the launcher itself is targeted at Android geeks.

Member
Luke Vesty

No it doesn’t. Quite the opposite.

JeniSkunk
Valued Guest
JeniSkunk

Why do you say it’s quite the opposite, whispy?

Member
Luke Vesty
I think we’re on the wrong wavelength. Let me summarise my basic point. The GNL is not exclusively for Android geeks if we consider Google’s long term strategy. Yes, in the short term it’s the tech geeks and Android enthusiasts who are using the GNL on their Nexus devices. But in the long term the GNL is for the masses – the enthusiasts are essentially being used as beta testers prior to a full scale roll out. The GNL will soon be deployed to a much larger user base when (if) Android Silver launches. Google wants to go head to… Read more »
Member
I used XGEL. It was fun, but I just uninstalled it and went back to using it as before. I agree GEL needs some customisation. But only a bit. I feel we should be trying to get on-board with a more consistent design language for Android. It works on iPhone and I think it is a good thing. Personally I dont love the look and feel of iOS, but since Halo I have been on-board with Google’s design language. Why the hell would you expect them to do anything differently. If you want to make all your icons red and… Read more »
vijay alapati
Valued Guest
vijay alapati

i’m still waiting for my update on GEL, but now i’m scared that i will loose the ability of launcher customisation 🙁

Montalbert_Scott
Valued Guest
Montalbert_Scott

XGELS will have some functions still. He’s not sure it will have all. But he’s gotten most of them working. But each time Google update the search apk it is going to take a while to get XGELS working again. The developer is confident he can for most functions now he sees the patterns but it will just be time consuming.

Fred
Valued Guest
Fred
The main problem is the same one as that behind all the other google UI screwups – someone gave the designers the control over the UI, and they followed fashion, rather than the user. As you already know – via XGELS – the developers gave the launcher the capability to do much more than the designers are allowing you access to. That’s purely because THEY are trying to impose THEIR view of what you should be able to do onto YOU. They have the mantra that the user cannot be trusted, knows nothing, and will accept their fashion dictated view… Read more »
Member
Luke Vesty

The new stock camera UI is much, much better than before. Considering it’s essentially a version 1.0 it will only keep improving with regular updates.

Fred
Valued Guest
Fred
It’s a horrible UI. Main reason? It’s hiding key capabilities in nonsensical places. For instance the settings for key things like quality – only exist as a small cog icon on the right WHEN you drag from the left to select ‘mode’. Nobody sees it, and that includes a number of Android developers of my network – the kind of people who know google guidelines and apps back to front and inside out. Why do they hide it? And why do they hide the key shooting mode characteristics behind yet another three dots icon when they have a huge expanse… Read more »
Member
Luke Vesty
I can understand your frustration and you make some fair points. But I think you need to look at it from the perspective of the total photography novice, ie. most people. A while back I remember reading about a study on people’s use of camera phones. It said that most people don’t bother with changing settings – they just pull their phone out of their pocket and fire. Motorola have a similarly clean approach to Google with their camera UI on the Moto X and G. The settings are there if you want to dig for them, but they’re kept… Read more »
Fred
Valued Guest
Fred
You are trying to excuse their poor UI design by using exactly the rationalisation of those committing the crime in the first place. Basics are you don’t have to put everything in the users’ face from the get go, but you shouldn’t actively get in the way and hide functionality from the expert user. If more than a few percent of such users can’t find the capabilities the software has when they want it THEN IT’S A FAILURE. Hell, if games can lead 5 year old kids through the complexities of how to play and win at the game –… Read more »
Montalbert_Scott
Valued Guest
Montalbert_Scott

The camera ui is another story isn’t it. No company seems to know how best to have the camera ui. It’s like they are throwing random stuff out there and seeing what sticks.

Oliver Ward
Valued Guest
Oliver Ward
Good rant, and worthwhile. The only reason i’m considering ditching my GS4 for a Nexus handset next time round is so that i’m not dealing with all the ‘jazz’ of TouchWiz, and get access to the core apps of Google, but not so i can get Android as it’s own launcher – because let’s be frank, the whole icons in dock & on desktop/homescreens is somewhat dated and unintuitive. I flashed CM11 recently and have been ‘going stock’ for a few days now, but it won’t be long before i move back to Aviate for it’s different take on things… Read more »
David Jacka
Valued Guest
David Jacka

It says in the app description for XGELS in the play store that he might have a fix soon. fingers crossed

CAPS
Valued Guest
CAPS

Been using aviate ..its great …flows nicely and has day ,night ,home and work modes..

homebrandcola
Valued Guest
homebrandcola

I’d say GNL is ok, but nothing more. Those who just use a phone and think Android and TouchWiz are the same thing would probably enjoy the simplicity and cleaness of it.

However, without swipe actions on icons it is completely useless to me. When I use someone else’s phone and I swipe up on the app drawer launcher and nothing happens it takes me a moment to work out what happened.

I think GNL performs a function, and the vast majority will install their own launcher anyway, because they can.

Montalbert_Scott
Valued Guest
Montalbert_Scott

Yes that’s right. But Google could circumvent a lot of these uses using a different launcher but adding some of these functions.
Wrt speed of the launcher I haven’t noticed much difference between GNL and Nova. Nova feels faster as I was getting a lot of redraws on the GNL on my Nexus 5.

BeauGiles
Valued Guest

“Even Samsung and HTC allow more customisation of their launchers.”

You’d prefer your dock locked? 😉
http://ausdroid.net/2014/04/20/samsung-galaxy-s-5-review/

Member
Well the launcher does suck… I use Nova Prime. Except for gmail I generally use non-Google products because they don’t really consider (like many authors) people who have issues with their eye sight, so they use small fonts and non-contrasting colors BUT then don’t provide any options to customise this. I don’t use hangouts because of this except when I have my glasses on, I have found an SMS app where I can customise the colors and crank the font sizes right up. Back to homescreens, older people would probably prefer bigger and fewer shortcuts on their homescreen, when my… Read more »
Montalbert_Scott
Valued Guest
Montalbert_Scott

I installed big launcher on my mother in laws moto g. Was great for her terrible eyesight. But she uses her phone for calls and sms only.

Mark Revill
Valued Guest
Mark Revill

Wow. Quite the rant there. Simplicity vs complexity. Speed vs options. The very reason I own an N5. Guess what? The stock launcher does exactly what its intended. Guess what? You still have options. Oh and guess what? I’ve seen more Nexus 5’s in the hands of non-enthusiasts than otherwise.

Montalbert_Scott
Valued Guest
Montalbert_Scott
I would like argue that Google intend us to use their launcher so we use google now and give them more information about us. So they can automate our lives even more. So why not add in a few functions that every other launcher has to get more users? I have not noticed any speed issues between GNL and Nova. And who is to say non-enthusiasts don’t want more functionality? I had a friend who was coming from an iPhone and when I told her about all the options in Nova launcher she was able to customise it to how… Read more »
derp
Valued Guest
derp

Too many options scares a lot of people away. I personally don’t like how nova and apex present the kitchen sink of features to you. Its hard to find where you want to tweak.

The options that gnl offer are more than enough for the majority.

I’ve xgels community isn’t that large compared to the whole market. I agree they shouldn’t of killed it but I’m sure there would if been reasoning behind it as they are generally quite open and OK with other xposed modules.

chris
Valued Guest
chris

So true Mark. Scott moans like a spoilt private school kid about Google not making the be all to end all launcher but he never says a thing about the lack of support for Google Now in the custom launchers. If he was talking about Google not making the Now functionality available to devs of custom launchers then I agree.
The whole point of Android is if you don’t like what Google supplies get something else.

Montalbert_Scott
Valued Guest
Montalbert_Scott

My point is that Google want us to use their launcher but do not are it very enticing. I want to use Google now as a home screen, just how Google wants me to but I can’t due to the lack of functionality in their launcher.
The beauty of Android is that you have choices. But Google doesn’t want us to not use their launcher. Why would they prefer us to use something else? A small step for them to get more to use their launcher would be to add some basic functionality to it.

chris
Valued Guest
chris

From my experience the most likely people to own a nexus are not geeks but people who understand what a rip off other devices are and know the value for money on a nexus is hard to say no to. Sure google could do a lot more with the launcher but then they are stepping on the toes of the developers, why develop when Google has done it all. Only a geek would think that only geeks buy Nexus.

ethan
Valued Guest
ethan

This is the worst article I’ve read on the internet.

CAPS
Valued Guest
CAPS

Is it fake and gay troll ..?

chris
Valued Guest
chris

You really are sad and pathetic CAPS.

Member

nothing will ever be as bad as touchwiz.

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