The Google Experience Launcher, as it was called, would give everyone the stock Android look, if they so desired. That was its biggest draw, but there was no mention of any such launcher app when 4.4 KitKat was officially released. So where did it go?
If you noticed Google bulked up the Search part of the device with even deeper Google Now integration. That’s not all Google did to Search. It would seem the launcher is also packed into Google Search. Yes, that sounds weird, but a breakdown of the new Search app on Ars Technica reveals the layout files (the various visual elements the app needs to draw) of the Android 4.4 version. Interestingly, the app draws all the visual elements that were part of the Launcher app in Android 4.3 and before.
Search handles Google Now as well as the launcher duties
The Launcher app itself is missing from the 4.4 firmware, allowing Google Search to run the show. This is possibly what allows Nexus 5 users to perform quick voice-based searches from the homescreen, and it could also be why that particular feature is restricted to the launcher.
This is not the first time we have seen a developer package a launcher into the main app. Facebook did it with Facebook Home, which only needed the Facebook app to be installed on the device to work its magic. Looks like Google has taken a cue for Mark Zuckerberg & Co with the Search app in KitKat. Just like Facebook intended to make users use Facebook a lot more through Home, Google wants to put search, arguably its biggest product, front and centre of Android. Not all that surprising considering Google had good things to say about Home in the past.
What this means that if Google wants to bring a stock launcher experience to all phones, it will be doing it through the Search app, which is one of the cornerstones of using Android. It would give users the official launcher option to replace Samsung’s TouchWiz, HTC Sense or whatever bloated launcher they are using. Right now this app is only available for Nexus 5 and will presumably hit other compatible Nexus devices in the near future. As for availability on non-Nexus devices, we can’t be sure at the moment.