Google reconfigured the Android home screen launcher somewhat with the Nexus 5, but that redesign didn’t make its way out to other Nexus or Google Play Edition hardware when they received the Android 4.4 KitKat update. Today, Google has released the new “Google Now Launcher” as a standalone app in the Play Store (via Android Police) to bring that modified home screen goodness to a wider audience.
Note that I didn’t say “to everyone”; Google has made this available only to other Nexus devices and Google Play Edition handset owners for now, limiting access to people with Android hardware that’s essentially running the stock version of its mobile OS. It’s perhaps a little sad for users outside the “stock” experience pool, but the good news is that there’s not too much changed.
You’ll see a different dock, without any line separating it from the rest of the home screen, as well as other slight visual tweaks. But there are some significant changes in the way the OS works, as well. For instance, saying “Ok Google” at any point with the phone unlocked and on the home screen will initiate a Google search, just like how that works on the Nexus 5. Also, swiping left from your ‘main’ home screen (the one which used to be your central one) will now open up Google Now, instead of exposing yet another home screen panel.
Nexus and Play Edition device owners running KitKat can download this now and replace their default launcher with the app. Hopefully, Google sees fit to expand this to other Android handsets in the future, too, if only because the “Ok Google” always on voice commands are genuinely pretty useful.