The popular home screen app for Android devices, Nova Launcher, was acquired by Branch Metrics, an analytics company. Sesame Shortcuts, which supported integration with the Launcher app, was also acquired.
While this might be good for funding the development of both apps, it could have some downsides.
I’ve been using Nova Launcher for almost 10 years, although my Google Play Store receipt for the Prime version dates back to 2015. It’s the first app I install after flashing a new ROM or getting a new phone. When I bought the Redmi Note 10 Pro last year, I didn’t like the gestures in MIUI and found that Nova Launcher’s own gestures were unusable due to limitations in Android 9+. But I knew Nova Launcher supported gestures using some workarounds on Pixel devices, so I flashed a Pixel Experience ROM on my phone to get the home screen app to work on my phone.
Nova Launcher and Sesame Search were acquired by Branch
I think I’ve said enough, I’m clearly a fan of the app. But I have to put my prejudices aside and ask what would an analytics company expect from the app? TeslaCoil Software has promised that the core user experience, including user privacy, will remain the same and any changes made to the app will be optional. You can’t expect a company to just acquire the rights to an app and let it continue as is, right? What good is it if they don’t get any of it?
The Play Store listing for Nova Launcher states that it had over 50 million downloads. Even though only 10% of these users are actively using it, I can safely say that Nova Launcher has a very large user base. That means Branch could potentially benefit as well, right? This is practically a gold mine for telemetry.
An announcement on Nova’s website sheds more light on the acquisition.
What does Branch do?
Branch has a massive database of over 300 billion deep links in apps and provides developers with a platform to manage and measure those links in their apps. Here’s an example (quoted by Nova): A link in an email or social media that a user interacts with and opens in another app is likely a branch link.
The future of Nova Launcher
The company wants to improve mobile app discovery and navigation and sees potential in Nova and Sesame. And as for the changes users can expect, Nova Launcher will introduce new features on A/B testing basis to analyze which theme users prefer. Nova 8 will offer on-device shortcuts and contacts search powered by branch, the data for searching and indexing will be stored on the device and will not leave it.
Kevin Barry, the creator of Nova Launcher, and Cliff Wade, the community manager for the app, have been hired by Branch along with Steve Blackwell and Phil Wall of Sesame Search. They will continue to lead the development of Nova Launcher, so that’s a positive sign.
Nova Launcher will have more Branch-inspired features, the usage of which will be measured via analytics. There will be an opt-out option, meaning telemetry will be enabled by default. Based on the words of the developer, Nova Launcher will remain as a premium app with a one-time payment to unlock the Pro version. The fact that they say nothing will change in terms of privacy probably means there won’t be any ads in the app.
If you want to back up the app, the current version is Nova Launcher 7.0.57. A beta version of Nova 8 was released a few days ago, but I haven’t tried it yet as I don’t have a spare device to test with. I’m sure that users who don’t like this news will want to look for alternatives to Nova Launcher. There are a few good ones out there like KISS Launcher or one of Lawnchair Launcher’s forks like Neo Launcher (formerly Omega Launcher).
Note: One of the developers of Lawnchair Launcher withdrew from the app today after alleging that another member of the team added proprietary code from another app to the open source app without disclosing it. A message posted on Lawnchair’s Twitter account says that this is not stolen code, just reverse engineered code from Pixel Launcher (made by Google). Make of it what you will, but it certainly hasn’t been a good day for Launcher.
Only time will tell if Nova Launcher stays as good as it is.
What do you think of the takeover? Will you stay with Nova Launcher or switch to another?