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Google may offer an Android Nougat home-screen launcher just for Nexus devices

The fact that Android, search giant Google’s mobile operating system, is open source means it should be somewhat consistent across the devices on which it’s installed. But in practice, that’s not exactly true. The firm has lately shown favoritism toward its top-end Nexus line of smartphones, in recent months introducing exclusive features like call spam filtering, a live support app, and photo cloud storage benefits. And rumor has it that the next round of changes will apply to one of the phones’ most forward-facing elements: their home screen. Android Police reports that Google’s upcoming Nexus devices, codenamed Marlin and Sailfish, could debut with a brand-new Android 7.0 Nougat launcher — the technical name for Android’s home screen — “some time in the near future.”

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Google has offered its own first-party launcher, the Google Now Launcher, as an alternative to customized home screens from phone makers like LG, Huawei, Xiaomi, and Sony since 2014, but the rumored Nexus home screen reportedly stands independent of that effort. Aesthetically, the most obvious change is the elimination of the drawer icon, the Android shortcut that reveals a list of your phone’s installed apps. It’s been replaced by a small upward-facing arrow that opens the drawer instantaneously when tapped — swiping up from the launcher’s bottom bezel, meanwhile, reveals a translucent window that “fades in” as it follows your finger upward.

The behavior is a bit of a throwback, interestingly — Android 2.2 Froyo featured an app drawer which with a similar arrow and sliding mechanism.

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Related: 2016 HTC Nexus news and rumors

That’s not all the Nexus launcher has tweaked. The Google Search box, a longtime staple of Android’s home screen, has been replaced with a persistent right-hand calendar widget that shows the date and day of the week. Opposite it sits a rounded tab with Google’s stylized “G” lettering. The tab apparently does nothing as of now, but Android Police reports that it may eventually tie into Google’s upcoming Assistant, the company’s artificially intelligent service capable of surfacing movie cast bios, setting calendar reminders, recommending restaurants, and purchasing concert tickets.

The removal of the search bar on Android’s home screen comes as a bit of a surprise. Google, after all, has a vested interest in lowering any and all barriers to search and by extension advertisements, which is far and away its bread and butter. But Android Police speculates that a replacement is on the way in the form of new Android navigation buttons, including a “flower”-shaped home button that will reportedly provide a way to access Google’s Assistant from any screen. That remains to be seen, of course (as does the Nexus launcher itself, for that matter), but it might not be long: the latest rumblings peg Marlin and Sailfish for release this fall.