If the Google Now Launcher is removed from the Play Store, there will be no official alternatives for Android devices until the Pixel Launcher is made available for everyone.
Google may be gearing up to discontinue the Google Now Launcher, the default launcher on devices running stock Android before the Pixel was released last fall.
According to a leaked email from the Android team at Google Mobile Services, which was obtained by Android Police, “Google Now Launcher will be unpublished from Google Play” in the first quarter of 2017.
“Although users would not be able to download and install the launcher from the Google Play Store, Google will continue to support existing users of the Google Now Launcher by updating the Google Search app,” according to the email.
The Google Now Launcher debuted with the Nexus 5 in 2013, but it was called the Google Experience Launcher at the time. It was rebranded the following year when Google made it available to most Android devices on the Play Store. The launcher introduced the ability to access Google Now directly from the home screen.
Google has been rebranding a lot lately — many of Now’s features are simply a part of the Google search app, and the company recently removed all mentions of “Google Now” from the Google app. The Pixel Launcher became the new standard when the Google Pixel was released in 2016, but it’s currently only exclusive to the Pixel. It’s similar to the Google Now Launcher, in that you can access the Now page by swiping right on the home screen.
In the email, Google says the Search Launcher Services library is available for manufacturers — this means any Android smartphone manufacturer can integrate the Now feed directly into their launcher. The email also says that Google Now Launcher will be removed from the optional Google Mobile Services package on March 1 — any devices with the launcher preinstalled will not be approved.
Google told Digital Trends it does not comment on rumors and speculation.