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.
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.
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.
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.