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Pixel Launcher Sneak Peek Part 1: Google’s new circular launcher icons [APK Teardown]

If there is anything you can count on to remain the same in Android, it’s that Google is continually looking to change it. The visual style of the world’s leading mobile operating system is updated every year as new versions are released, but it’s with Google’s own apps that there are almost constant shifts in what we’re seeing. As we all know, Android 7.1 is in the works, and it’s expected to be released alongside the upcoming Pixel and Pixel XL phones, which themselves will include a brand new (and much leaked) Pixel Launcher. For its latest daring design move, Google appears to be adopting a new look for the home screen, and it’s all about circles.

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This teardown is a bit different from most. Instead of examining a single apk, or even a closely related set, I opened almost every apk Google actively distributes. The contents of this post are expected to be relevant to the upcoming Pixel Launcher, but very little information actually comes from the Pixel Launcher itself. Sometimes the bigger picture is more telling than what you can get from just a single app.

This post features primarily cosmetic changes we can expect to see in the Pixel Launcher. Part 2 will dive into a much more functional component.

Round Icons

For the last couple of months, updates to many of Google’s apps have been rolling out with something unexpected: new launcher icons. What made them different is that they looked like FABs (Floating Action Buttons) – always circular and usually composed of the existing app icon pasted on top of a white background. This began with a couple of apps in a leaked Marlin system image, specifically the Calculator and Camera, but has since progressed to many of Google’s other applications.

Things got a lot more interesting when app updates built for API 25 began to show up, starting withwith the Play Store. Of course, Android 7.0 is API 24, but the appearance of API 25 even before the final release of Nougat was a clear sign Google had started using a newer SDK in-house. While most of the changes with the upcoming API are still unknown, a couple of notable differences could be found in the AndroidManifest. The one covered in this post (part 2 will cover the other) is a new property called roundIcon appearing on the <application> tag. Just like the icon property, theroundIcon points to an image – always one of the new FAB-like icons. Here’s an example taken from the Duo 2.0 update that landed just yesterday.

At this point, I’ve probably teased the new icons long enough, so here they are, starting with the original pair that appeared in a leaked Marlin system image. The original square icons are included next to their circular counterparts.

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