In the past day notorious HTC leaker @LlabTooFeR has leaked the latest version of Google's "Pixel launcher" — the home screen app that'll be preloaded on the two upcoming HTC-built Pixel phones (neé Nexus). Obviously it's important that this is branded as the Pixel launcher — removing any doubt that that's what this year's Google phones will be called. Also big: No more Google search bar, instead a Google "tab" icon you can drag out to get to Google Now. And the app drawer has changed significantly, almost moving back to the Android 2.x days where the drawer was a literal drawer that you'd pull up to see your apps.
All of that is important a neat, but what's way cooler is what Google's now doing with wallpapers.
Google's new wallpaper picker exists as a separate APK, meaning it can be installed without loading the Pixel launcher, and used with any Android home screen. As well as standard options like your own photos and built-in wallpapers, the app gives you a vast selection of wallpapers from different categories of artwork:
- Earth: Satellite-style imagery, as we've seen from the past couple of Nexus releases
- Landscapes: Beautiful scenery like the sort you might find preloaded on a Chromebook
- Cityscape: Urban photography, including a few impressive macro shots with beautiful bokeh effects.
- Life: A collection of photos featuring abstract, floral and everyday objects.
- Textures: Repeating patterns, sometimes abstract, sometimes from the real world.
These categories appear to be curated, and pulled down from the Internet, so it's likely the library will grow and change over time. After selecting a wallpaper, you can view more details, including where it was taken and by whom.
Each category has as few dozen options to choose from, and if you want a new wallpaper from any of these categories every day, the "Daily wallpaper" feature lets you start off each morning with a fresh background. It's reminiscent of the Muzei app created by Google designer Roman Nurik, which did much the same thing with classic artworks.
This new wallpaper app, which should be loaded on the upcoming Pixel phones, is great way to provide owners with an easy way to freshen up their wallpaper on a regular basis, and stop things from becoming stale. Good wallpapers are hard to find, and a phone maker providing free, high-quality wallpapers as a service is a feature so obvious it's surprising it's not happened before. And what we see here is just the start. We're hearing that the loadout of still wallpaper will be augmented with some sweet new live wallpapers — along similar lines — when the Pixel phones eventually land.
The wallpaper picker — and the Pixel launcher itself — is available from LlabTooFeR's site. Sideload at your own risk.
Google's Pixel phones — new launcher, wallpapers and all — are rumored to arrive in early October.
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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.