Android 7.1.2 beta 2 for Pixel C adds Pixel launcher, brand new multitasking interface
Android 7.1.2 beta 2 has started rolling out for Pixels and Nexuses, bringing some older devices up to speed with some new features. Sliding under the radar, at first, was the Pixel C, which actually seems to have received the largest changes. The latest beta release includes the Pixel launcher, as well as a brand new multitasking interface that makes multi-window management a bit more natural and altogether better looking.
As soon as your Pixel C reboots after the update it will prompt you to select a default launcher again — yes, that's because the previously phone-exclusive Pixel launcher (opens in new tab) is here. It's of course roughly a scaled-up version of the launcher you see on Pixel phones today, but that's a good thing! The navigation buttons are now the filled-in white icons like the Pixel phones, and you get the small "G" tab and weather information at the top of the screen.
You can swipe to the right to reveal the Google Now Feed, and swipe up from anywhere on the home screen to pull up the app drawer. You'll also now notice that any icon that plays nice with Google's latest design guidelines will be circular to match the circular folder style, and include long-press actions if the developer supports them.
Something that's surprisingly changed is the Recents menu and multi-window management ... at least part of it. Tapping the Recents button now reveals a large set of tiles that no longer overlap or scroll — you simply get up to eight mini previews of the most recently used apps, and can tap on them to jump into that app or tap an X to close it. Where this gets neat is when you long-press an app, and now have the option to drag it to the left or right edge to start the multi-window interface. The rest of the available apps then shrink down over to the opposite side to launch in the other half of the screen to complete the look.
What hasn't changed (yet, potentially) is the somewhat clunky multi-window experience thereafter. You still get an awkward situation where if you hit the Home button your first multi-window app is simply minimized, and it can be a little weird to manage. But considering how much improved this new interface of long-pressing and dragging is, I wouldn't be surprised to see things elsewhere in multi-window be tweaked as well. Either way, it's a big improvement so far to my eyes, and feels more natural on a large screen.
Up until this point it was kind of surprising that the Pixel phones were on a notably different software track in terms of looks and exclusive features from the Pixel C, which was launched first of course and therefore followed the Nexus line of interface. Now with Android 7.1.2 beta 2 it seems to be lining back up with the new Pixel phones to create a more consistent user experience across the devices of the Pixel family.
If you're holding onto your Pixel C and want to get in on the new software action, you can join the Android Beta Program and start to receive over-the-air updates like this one as soon as they're released.
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Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.
I didn't install an alternate launcher so I didn't have to choose a new one. I did have to re-add the Settings app to my quick bar after updating.
BTW, reading this article in the app is broken. It's behaving like a webpage (complete with ads) instead of a regular article.
This was a nice surprise when I got the update. They should really put Google Assistant on it for the complete experience.