Google Pixel: Welcome to your new, very circular home screen

The first leaked Google Pixel phone render doesn't show us a whole lot. It's a rounded rectangle with a screen on the front, an earpiece, cameras, sensors and buttons. By far the most interesting thing about the leaked image is what's on that screen.

Pixel phone

Every icon is a circle. Even apps like the phone dialer, Messenger and Gmail have been put in a bubble. Depending on your perspective, it's either a refreshing change, or a weird, confusing corruption of Material Design.

The immediate comparison to draw is with iOS. Since the first iPhone, Apple has used a rounded rectangular cookie cutter around all app icons, both first- and third-party. Then there are the likes of Huawei and Samsung, who've emulated that approach. (Though mercifully, it's an option on Samsung phones, and only applies to certain skins in Huawei's EMUI.)

All of which raises the question: Will Google do the same thing to all your apps on the Pixel? David Ruddock of Android Police raised the possibility a couple of weeks back, and we have to wonder how well this would work out in practice. In the early days at least, there'd be a whole lot of apps that just looked bad on your home screen.

The apparent move to a new "Google UI" on top of Nougat also complicates matters. Would the new Google design guidelines for icons apply to the whole of the Android ecosystem, or just Pixel phones? With Google's hardware division apparently taking the lead here, it's unclear who's in the driving seat for design in the rest of the Android world. Today's leaked render serves to highlight the possible confusion ahead when it comes to Nexus Android, Pixel Android and the nebulous mass that is the rest of the ecosystem.

In either case, Google has certainly been moving many of its apps over to circular (or in the case of Hangouts, almost circular) frames in recent weeks. Chances are that's no accident.

Circular icons

Apps are a central part of any platform, as is how they're presented to the user. If Google does go full-circle (see what we did there??), it's probably because it wants to recreate the sense of cohesion that iPhone's home screen has had from day one. (Perhaps that's a good thing, once app developers are onboard with it.) By the same token, maybe it's a product-level decision (i.e. Pixel) and not a platform-level one (i.e. Android).

In either case it's an interesting design decision, and one that hints at just how wide-ranging the announcements at Google's October 4 event could be.

Alex Dobie
Executive Editor

Alex was with Android Central for over a decade, producing written and video content for the site, and served as global Executive Editor from 2016 to 2022.

112 Comments
  • Bubbles
  • Hideous looking.
  • Exactly, I think that level of uniformity in design is ugly and boring. Material design was the best Google implementation of their design language yet, and now some other team is trying the poop all over it. Ugh. Stop while you're ahead Google. Not everything needs to be tweeked ever two years.
  • Agreed - Material Design took icons back to being ICONS, not tiny photo-realistic representations of whatever app. Having just circles makes it harder to scan icons. Thankfully icon sets can be replaced.
  • I TOTALLY AGREE. I think it's horrible looking. I like the fact that different icons come with their own styles, shapes and sizes (to a certain degree). I have no idea why they have changed this. Why FIX or CHANGE something that wasnt broken! Why? Why? Why? .....SMH
  • Thank God for icon packs.
  • not on default launcher :) (yet)
  • I knew it would take time, but it'll happen.
  • I think it looks great! What's with the price hike though?
  • i don't mind it, in fact it's annoying that there are some oddball icons that are not the same size as your regular icon.
  • I totally agree.
  • Symmetry
  • I have tried out a lot of icon packs, and the ones I usually go with are circular, never thought about it before now, wonder if their is a connection and if their is research to go along with it.
  • Yes they kept track of what you like and went with it since you're the barometer of what's cool, congrats.
  • Clean looking. Looks alot like my homescreen with the icon pack i use.
  • Same. All my icons are already circles. My widgets are circles. I like the uniformity of it.
  • Me too. This fits my style very well.
  • Dare to be square?? lol
  • Same here, even my folders are round
  • +1, HTC Sense with a theme. I hope it's not the only thing new in pixel
  • +me (velur icon pack for a looooong time now, plus my own custom circular time, date, weather widget)
    Much more pleasing to the eyes in my opinion.
  • Want it now? http://www.androidpolice.com/2016/09/12/download-new-rebadged-pixel-laun... Follow the link to Mega and download it and the wallpapers use the links at the bottom for individual files.
  • That APK of the Launcher doesn't have the round icons.
  • Probs not been added yet.
  • Not yet. I installed it last week. I checked your link to see if it had been updated, but as of yet, it hasn't.
  • I've got no problem with it. But if you don't like it, use a custom launcher and custom icon pack. There's a million options out there for everyone--it's one of the joys of Android.
  • exactly.. or use nexus launcher(still google) which is free for any device
  • Pretty sure that the Nexus launcher is getting rebadged as the Pixel Launcher.
  • I have a feeling all the Google icons will be the same no matter what launcher you use. Why would they have different icon shapes for GNL?
  • You can change all icons with a custom launcher.
  • I like it.
  • The icons in which the circle is entirely filled with icon (Maps, phone) look just fine. I really hope they redesign the Gmail, Play Store, etc icons that are just the current icons inserted into a white circle, though. Those look terrible.
  • Yeah, that's the biggest downside IMO, it actually makes it fractionally harder to find those icons quickly in a drawer since the white back of several of them blends together (specially when the icon itself also features white)... Other than that I don't really care. It seems like pointless symmetry and might annoy some devs/brands, but at the same time this is Android and I can change much of it with ease so it's just not a big deal to me. I have a feeling this'll be strictly a Pixel/Google thing anyway and they're just trying to make their own stuff look better together.
  • its such a minimal easily changeable factor that i don't care. The price and phone design aren't doing it for me. happy they are calling it pixel, that way i can stay team nexus.
  • You do know the pixels are it, seems there will be no team nexus. This is Android going forward...
  • 1 theres speculation of another nexus tablet. 2. if 1 isnt tru, exactly my point. i dont have to say i dont like nexus or specify i used to like it. #teamNexus4eva
  • I just wish they would come out with another phone that is pushing the 6" size like the Nexus 6.
  • I'm so glad they're not.
  • No where did I say it should be the only option. I just wish the XL was a little more XL and had dual forward facing speakers.
  • I had a Nexus 6 but my jeans didn't like it. I'm quite enjoying using a Nexus 5 again, such a novelty having a small phone.
  • Finally something more unified and not so cluttered looking.
  • I don't think replicating anything IOS is a good idea... Thank goodness for Nova
  • Just in case you're not aware.....iOS has squares with rounded corners for icons.
  • Yeah, a uniform look isn't unique to iOS either. In fact, I think it's about time. After using third-party icon packs for the past couple of years, I can't stand having a ton of different sizes and shapes in my app drawer--it's one of the bigger obstacles to ever using the Google Now/Nexus Launcher again.
  • I'm more than aware of that. We don't need anything in the Pixel be it the icons or the dock or anything thing else trying to emulate the springboard of the iPhone..
  • Totally agree.
  • Between little stuff like this, the design of the phone & higher price tag, I'm starting to think Google replaced their nexus team with ios developers and advisors. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I like them, maybe seem a bit cleaner minimal and modern... and although I don't like the pill it's far more sophisticated than a solid white search bar.
    I'm more interested in the icon packs that this new circular design language should inspire..
  • I think every app is unique and the icon's style should be a reflection of that. This goes against the "be together, not the same" philosophy. I'm not too keen on this direction but I use action launcher so hopefully I won't have to.
  • Thank goodness for themes and icon packs
  • You got me going in circles
    Oh, around and around I go
    Going in circles
    Oh, around and around I go
    I'm strung out over you
  • You spin me right round baby right round
    like a record baby, spin me right round..... Old Boy George tune. Yeah, song sucks but this fit right in! lol
  • Not Boy George. It's "Dead or Alive".
  • It saddens me you know this.
  • It saddens me that people are saddened by people being knowledgeable.
  • It was kind of a joke because they are both crap bands. Relax, don't do it .....
  • Lol!!!
  • Did Frankie ever make it to Hollywood?
  • I think he got hung up in Chatsworth. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=chatsworth
  • Whatchu talkin bout Frankie?!?
  • Was he referring to 99 red balloons maybe??
  • You are correct!!!! My bad!!
  • Or Flo Rida and The Hangover credits!
  • Now I'm going to singing this damn song for the next day or two.
  • Can we get a circular phone to go with these lovely icons
  • Then how in the hell will it fit in my square pockets??? But I like where you're going with this!!
  • Imagine those bezels.
  • I think this is more of a PR thing. If Pixel is in fact intended to compete directly with iPhones then it's gonna have to break away from this image of fragmentation. Making all the icons round is a great way for Google to make an argument for uniformity. Clearly this isn't what most readers on this site particularly care for, and based on some of the comments I'd day the uniformity on iOS is a major factor for avoiding iPhones for personal use, but then we're not the target audience Google is aiming for. I think the real grievance here is the sudden death of the dev-focused brand that was the Nexus line. At best we can keep hope that some time over the next few months, or maybe at I/O, we'll see a quiet launch of a new Nexus device. But for now we must focus on a product that is targeting a wider consumer base.
  • Google took inspiration from Tizen. Lol.
  • You're Teezin.....
  • Nice. I like circle icons.
  • And for the record, yes, there is an app called square peg and I'm very interested to see what they do with that one.
  • Lots of lube I'd imagine. ;-)
  • Googles design language fragmentation is almost as bad as their OS fragmentation
  • So they are circles now,so what. I'm more concerned with the app working properly than the shape of the icon. It's not the end of the world people......
  • Dat bottom bezel. Now....if they took the round finger print sensor from the back and placed it on that HUGE bottom bezel on the front, then I think they would have a winner....OH WAIT....never mind.
  • I don't like circular icons, they're ugly, but at least it seems to be a design statement from Google as a response to classic iOS icons that's the way i see it :)
  • They are indeed ugly.
  • Kiddi design..
  • I welcome it. It's easy on the eyes, and imo, it's not that important to get worked up over
  • My Nexus 6p is 9 months old. I would like to belive that it would be updated to the Pixel launcher since it is supposed to get updates for 18 to 24 months, but nothing is for sure. It could be that no one will be able to take full advantage of all of the Pixel's functionally because that will be exclusive to that phone. So maybe no need to worry about circular icons and filled in nav buttons unless you buy a Pixel phone.
    Off topic but if Google wants this direction to succeed one thing they need to do is to provide new system level upgrades for at least as long as Apple does.
  • Dumb, like most of Google's attempt at design. Having each icon a specific shape, as well as specific color(s), make finding the app you want faster and more intuitive. Making them all the same shape makes it harder to pick one out of a crowd. Imagine a party where everyone is wearing the same gray suit. Now image the person you're looking for in pink, instead of gray. Yeah, Google had it right before. What'll they do next, mandate that all icons used the standard 4 google colors, so they're even harder to pick out? Thank goodness for Nova Launcher and custom icon packs.
  • This. I'm currently using a dark icon pack and that makes finding an app slower and not intuitive. This is a step in the wrong direction IMO.
  • I much prefer the existing phone icon and do miss the solitary headphones that once were GPM.
  • I like it. I think some of the shaped icons look dated. I'm actually very excited. It's all about the price now for me. I'll be coming from a moto g 2015 having had an N5 so the bezels/overall design will be a huge upgrade to me. Can't wait to get back to stock.
  • That shaded dock is too iPhone-ish. That will be the first thing to go when Nova is installed. I kinda like the icons. HTC's speaker and camera game better be strong with this one or its game over for this device.
  • I hope you're right, but HTC has never made a good camera. Ever.
  • The cameras are both made by Sony so we should be good. They normally use Omnivision or Samsung cameras.
  • It does a bit, but it's like that for a reason. It has to be obvious that it's a drawer that you pull up. You could argue there might be better ways to show that, but that way is simple and it works.
  • So it's now the new cool to have ridiculously huge bezels!?!?!?!? I used to never even consider a phone with that big of bezels!! I justify my 6p because of front facing speakers but this is pretty confusing.
  • It's a weird, confusing corruption of Material Design.
  • I love it! It looks refreshing, easy to the eyes and unique. Here's to hoping Material UI gets a refresh as well.
  • Its about damn time, I love it, I like the uniformity. I've always thought the icons on Android looked pretty poor. Hopefully it'll be for third party apps also, but I doubt it, in which case no more uniformity.
  • When I'm using Nova I always switch to all circular. I've never liked the freeform icons. On my Note 7 I use TouchWiz, but have the icons with frames turned on for consistency.
  • Did anyone else notice that the icons are round?
  • So there's nothing on that bottom bezel?
  • Rounded icons..... Well, there's always icon packs
  • Not sure what the big deal is. The rounded icons (and the whole layout) looks much cleaner to me. Circle all the things!
  • Not sure if I like it, but will probably just get used to it.
  • I have circle icons with valur icon pack on nova already.. big deal
  • I like Rondo but there are quite a few. Google should have an option to turn these off though for those who are to square.
  • The icons in the second pic with 10 icons look good and acceptable. But the icons on the homescreen seriously Google!?
  • Actually no I don't think of apple because there icons are not round
  • Most icons have already fallen into being either a circle or a squircle, just scroll through the front page of the play store. The days of uniquely shaped icons (as Google used to include in their design guides, but never even followed themselves!) are already basically over. Google has essentially decided that it's time to pick one, and they're picking circles.
  • Good choices in my opinion
  • I've been using circular icons for over a year now to make my phone look different to everyone else I know. I think it looks great. Although if they do go this route maybe I'll have to find some other icon pack to differentiate myself.
  • I also like the uniformity of the common icon style. I use Nova Launcher with Elta icon pack. Yes, yes, rounded squares like iOS but I think it looks really nice :)
  • I've had circular icons on my screen since day one .....almost.....from Zedge. Personally I think they're better...
  • clearly design isn't their forte
  • I realize this goes against everything most Android users believe in, but I am all for this. The one thing I miss from my iPhone days is the cohesiveness of the platform. Google should certainly limit it to the Pixels, or at the very least make it optional.
  • Looks like very samsung like icons...lets wait and watch for final release
  • OK Google, make it stop.