Why all phone launchers should support icon packs

There's a reason icon packs are supported by most third-party launchers and a growing number of manufacturer launchers. The problem with those manufacturer launchers supporting icon packs is that they're only supporting their icon packs, but not those sold by Google Play. Samsung's launcher only supports icon packs from the Samsung Themes store. HTC's launcher only supports icon packs from the HTC Themes store.

And that's a problem for a lot of reasons.

Icon packs aren't standardized at the Android level. If you want to learn how to create an icon pack, you won't be looking at Google's Android Developers website, but at guides on forums like XDA Developers. Because icon packs aren't standardized, the same icon pack can look different on different launchers, and some launchers won't recognize icon packs that are built certain ways. In short, the experience of using icon packs can be hit-and-miss.

For third-party launchers, they can list whether or not they support icon packs in their app listing before you download it, and icon packs on Google Play often spell out which launchers they've tested on and support. For the launcher that came with your phone, it's a bit harder to tell users, "Oh hey, your mileage may vary based on the icon pack you use". It's far easier for them to either limit icon packs to ones they've tested themselves, or stop icon packs from being used all together.

If a manufacturer doesn't want to bother with adding icon pack support, I can accept that. What I can't accept is a launcher going to to the trouble of adding and supporting icon packs, but not allowing us to use the icon packs we've already paid for.

Elev8 icon pack from the Samsung Themes store on TouchWiz launcher, and from Google Play Store on Nova Launcher

The problem with icon packs from Samsung and HTC is that they're often of terrible quality.

I know that Samsung and HTC want us to buy icon packs from them for their launchers. If a pack is truly an original work and works well on that launcher, I'd be willing to buy it from them. Problem is piracy runs rampant in theme stores like HTC's and Samsung's, and most icon packs for these stores don't even theme Google icons — or even all of the manufacturer's apps — beyond a tacky mask. They're pale imitations and don't work nearly as well as their Google Play competitors. By allowing the real icon packs from Google Play to work with manufacturer launchers, you can help cut down on piracy by allowing the genuine articles to work instead of just the fakes.

By allowing third-party icon packs, manufacturer launchers also stand a better chance of users sticking around and actually trying to use their launcher instead of downloading their favorite from Google Play the second they're set up. The on-board launcher on the Galaxy S8 is quite capable for everyday users and themers alike… but the icon packs are awful, and you can't get away from them without jumping to a third-party launcher.

Do we need a platform-level standardization for icon packs? You bet your Android we do!

We've actually seen some manufacturers start to allow Google Play icon packs in recent years. ASUS's Zen UI Launcher (opens in new tab) accepts Google Play icon packs in addition to the ones found with ZenUI Themes, and BlackBerry Launcher (opens in new tab) supports Google Play icon packs, letting users give their home screen the look they want without losing out on BlackBerry Launcher's keyboard shortcuts or integration with BlackBerry Hub. While there's plenty of reasons to include support for Google Play icon packs, perhaps the most obvious one for these two launchers supporting it is that in addition to shipping them on phones, both of these launchers are available on (and updates through) Google Play to all Android users. They compete with the rest of the third-party launcher market, and so they have a popular feature other launchers have: icon pack support for Google Play icon packs.

Do we need a platform-level standardization for icon packs? You bet your Android we do! But until we get one, we at least need launchers that support icon packs to support the ones that come from Google Play instead of sitting in their tiny, walled garden of cheap masks and knock offs. It makes manufacturer launchers more competitive. It helps cut down on piracy. It makes users happy. And honestly, isn't that enough of a reason to do it?

Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.

28 Comments
  • What icon pack is that in the last photo on the left. The one with the black squares around it. Is that on the Samsung store or is it Google Play?
  • That's the "icon pack" from the Dark Glow theme on Samsung Themes, and beyond a few Samsung apps, it's just a black backer for your icons, easily replicable in Icon Pack Studio if you're on a non-Samsung phone.
  • To be fair, in Samsung's solution, it's not just the icon packs that change. I know plenty of "Material Design" themes that make it look like AOSP Nougat like the Nexus or even Pixel. There's even one that makes EVERY STOCK APP COMPLETELY BLACK (and ergo significantly friendlier to the battery than a white theme.) That power is only reserved to Substratum (which demands root) and LineageOS (which demands a LOT more than root) for all other devices which goes way past simple launcher icon packs...
  • To be fair, this isn't about root or theming apps. This is about needing standardization for icon packs. If Android wants to highlight theming with their campaigns, then they need the give the theming community something we've wanted for years: some standardization for the most basic of theming components! Some standardization of how widgets are read and backed up by launchers would be nice, too. And I ask Google for dark themes every chance I get, but I'm not rooting just for dark themes!
  • "And I ask Google for dark themes every chance I get" Keep fighting the good fight! Substratum is great as an idea, but got to be too much hassle for me. It's one thing when system updates were only once a year, but now they're almost monthly... It's just too much hassle constantly rebooting and filtering out broken layers that make you loop, coupled with how aggressive and widespread safety net is... I've gone stock. There, i said it! And I'm only slightly ashamed!
  • I've been stock for a long time and I'm not ashamed at all!
  • Me too, but once i took a lil bit of time to try and set up Nova Launcher the way i like it woowww, it was amazing, i can't go back to bare nude stock no more and right now Nova has Google Now integration stock, it's even better. Even though before, in order to have google Now you had to assign it in a special gesture it was still awesome.
    Stock is cool, but having Nova looks like stock and having the power of customization on top of it is even better.
  • Oh, when I say Stock I mean not rooted. If you made me choose between fighting someone and giving up Nova, I'll take the ass-kicking so long as I can keep using Nova (and keep my fingers/hands intact to use it).
  • Icons for non-stock apps are still generally designed to Google's guidelines. Since icon packs are not they appear too out of place next to the icons they don't replace for my taste.
  • That's why masks are important for icon packs.
  • Check out Icon Pack Studio. It can create masks, in a multitude of styles, that give a uniform look to ALL of your icons.
  • Awesome...... Icons.
  • Is....... Cumbersome.
  • Can't argue with you.
  • I would really love if the Pixel/Google launcher supported icon packs.
  • You can use Lawnchair , on xda, is basically the Pixel Launcher with icon support, gesture and google now swipe integration, works in any phone without root, I'm using it right now on my htc 10
  • Yep, new phone = install a 3rd party launcher the moment I boot it up. Not gonna let my 80+ paid icon pack go to waste.
  • :) I'm probably half way there - 40 or so icon packs - and growing. 👍
  • Because icon packs are awesome! Is HTCs theme store still the very hottest of messes?
  • HTC Theme Store is bad. Samsung Themes are fun and have many good themes.
  • One of the reasons why I love OxygenOS :)
  • I think that non-third-party launchers should keep things the way they are. Anyone that has the intelligence to theme and personalize their devices should be fine with the Status Quo. Your launcher, theming, and customization options are a window into the type of User you are. It is just a simple matter of having a desire to be different that gives themers an attraction to Android.
    Most people that use the stock launchers are fine with the basics. Some use their stock launchers for the added features. Others simply just don't care about personalization or don't know that exists. We, IMO, need to leave this area of Android alone. If you want to be different and think differently, do this to the best of your ability. Then leave all the NORMAL's to their unconfusing way of Sheeple Syndrome.
  • See, that's a problem. Icon packs are pretty basic, and lots of people who aren't into customization like icon packs because they can make their icons look better. Saying "if you want to theme, just use third-party stuff, leave the basic launchers to the basic users" demeans a large swath of Android users and encourages manufacturers to not invest the time and effort to make things better, meaning that when people try Samsung/HTC themes and see how shitty the icon packs look, they think all icon packs suck and shut themselves off from an aspect of Android that makes our system truly unique.
  • Tl;dr: I don't like this option, therefore no-one should have it.
  • Yeah, there should a standard icon format that works on all. I will say that I use the HTC theme store quite a bit, and my main problem is that there's too many themes and wallpapers. Never fooled around with the icon packs until now, except to grab the default one and put it back on after a theme made all icons hideous. I did give the icon section a quick glance, just because of this article, and installed one called Tha Drop v2 which i'm liking. It would go well with the liquid glass feature of a certain phone I'm getting in a day or two ;)
  • I completely agree. I just got a Moto G5 Plus and I absolutely love it! I love the launcher because it is almost exactly like the Pixel's but it sucks that I can't change the icons. Luckily, I like default icons.
  • 99% of loaders are complete garbage.
  • This icon problem on stock, unrooted phones may never change, as long as mfgrs stick to their "signature" way of keeping a look. All just because mfgs like apple keep a certain control over what they deem is right, doesn't mean android mfgs have to follow suit. Apple can only show commercials, using case art to differentiate their individuality, android's much more than that, and it should show the real individuality of what it can do.