Google's first launcher, the launcher that shipped with the Nexus series and that helped define what much of the theming community views as 'stock', will be retiring soon. Google Now Launcher will be pulled from Google Play and from the Google Mobile Services package that allows manufacturers to install it out of the box on their phones. With the Pixel Launcher as the shiny new launcher in the Google stable, I suppose it was inevitable that GNL would be put out to pasture.
Google Now Launcher will be unpublished in the first quarter of this year, according to an email obtained by Android Police, and it will be pulled from GMS in March, after which no new devices will be approved to ship with it installed.
What does this mean for millions of Nexus users and many others who downloaded Google Now Launcher from the Play Store?
Not too much. GNL will continue to be updated via the Google app, but once you've moved on to a new device, you'll have to switch to a new launcher. This would be a great time to check out our Best Android Launchers and try something new, like Nova Launcher.
What if I want Google's launcher?
While there is certainly hope that Google Now Launcher leaving Google Play opens up a hole in Google's lineup for the Pixel Launcher to fill, but there's no evidence yet that the Pixel Launcher will be coming to a non-Pixel near you. So long as you install GNL before the app is unpublished, you can enjoy Google's launcher as it stands right now.
Another interesting note from the email is that it reminds manufacturers that they can add a Google Now page to their own launchers using Google Search Launcher Services library. Adding a Google Now page to other launchers has been a big dream for a lot of third-party launchers, and while this isn't available to Google Play Developers, it being available for manufacturers gives hope that we could see a Google Now page replace pale imitations like BlinkFeed and Flipboard Bulletin on manufacturer launchers.