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AH Primetime: The App Drawer’s Funeral Procession

March 6, 2016 - Written By Daniel Fuller

As many of our readers will already know from one source or another, mostly everybody is losing their minds in the Android purist circle right now. Why? Because the app drawer is on its deathbed. Specifically, it’ll be eliminated entirely in the yet-unnamed Android N, according to leaks and rumors. We may not be one hundred percent certain that the beloved app drawer, the thing that has aided in home screen customization since Android’s inception, is a goner, but most are pretty sure at this point. That said, is it really that big of a deal? This may sound like a bit of an opinion piece, but it’s entirely possible that Google knows what they’re doing and there’s a method to the madness.

So far, details have been incredibly sparse on how exactly the whole thing will work. Will only certain apps be on the home screen, with the option to add the ones you want and hide the ones you don’t? Will you have to throw apps in folders if you don’t want them taking up space? The thing that is certain is that elaborate customization will still happen in some form. In the screenshots we’ve seen thus far, if they’re real, there’s almost no detail of how the launcher may work, aside from not having an app drawer. That gives us zero to go off of. The lack of an app drawer may well be entirely optional, a la the Galaxy S7. The app drawer-free interface on the LG G5 may just herald the end of an era, but for now, we have no evidence. To put some additional braking power on the hype train, Google denied that the leaked video from Google Maps on Twitter actually represents any future updates.

All that said, let’s bring the hypothetical hype train full speed and ask a daring question. If the app drawer is killed off, will it really be the end of the world? To many, it will. Outcries abound on Twitter and the feeling of concession to Steve Jobs and Jony Ive’s visions for a user interface is thick on the air, but is that really how it will be? If you’re familiar with the practice of ricing, or customizing a home screen to look totally different from the manufacturer’s intention, you should know how far it can go, even on an iPhone. Errant iDevices in various tech and culture forums end up looking like something out of Star Trek, among other things, while Google’s belle of the ball sports every look in the book, from a home screen similar to a tiled Linux desktop to a minimalist, lockscreen-esque chic. If all that’s possible on an actual iDevice, as well as current Androids, what could possibly make you think that Google would disable those possibilities in their newest launcher, app drawer or no app drawer?

Now, let’s rip the speed lever out of the socket and put all the coal on the fire of our hypothetical hype train. What will life be like if Android adopts a true iOS-style interface? For starters, yes, home screen customization will become way more limited. I am by no means saying that’s OK, but I personally doubt it will happen, to be clear. Anyway, should that happen, there are some options. As mentioned above, iPhones can be “riced;” Google it if you’re curious, there are tutorials everywhere. Widgets will likely also still be a thing, since the iPhone finally got those not long ago, basically meaning that Apple was admitting that they have their place on a mobile device. A crafty user could still rice their screen like normal with Zooper and a few other widgets, then shove all their apps into folders on the next screen over. Great customization is also possible with all of your apps hanging around the home screen; ask any MIUI user. Quick settings customization will still be there, perhaps even to a larger degree than it currently is with the system UI tuner. Once custom ROMs roll around, of course, you’ll have Cyanogenmod’s theme engine, BitSyko’s Layers and all of the other fledgling options starting to hit the market.

As a final point to touch on before we cap this off, the likelihood of full-on iPhone-aping being as low as it is, I’d like to take this opportunity to present my guess as to how Google would handle killing off the app drawer. I’m seeing apps having the capability to hide and be recalled via the same long-click menu that we currently use to throw them off our home screen, uninstall them and view the app info for them. Thus, users will have the apps they actually use somewhere on their home screen and the ones they don’t, such as preinstalled manufacturer apps or stock versions of apps they’ve replaced, hidden away. Otherwise, things will likely be mostly as they have been. That is, of course, only my guess. To end the article on a helpful note, should this come to pass and you have an issue with the way Google handles it, you can check out this breakdown of the best launchers on the scene at the moment.