Nova Launcher, which we wrote about a few months ago has just received a major 4.0 version release. If you look at the Play Store page for the app , you will find that the changes are mostly visual redesigns which align with the material philosophies of Android 5.0.
What is not listed include the numerous enhancements that have been done to the launcher under the hood. These include a plethora of accessibility enhancements, the ability to use OK Google hotword detection, as well as the customization of touch gestures that can be used inside the launcher.
As far as accessibility, there are three noteworthy items to note:
- Moving icons now gives you audible feedback on where they are located. Place your finger on an item inside the app drawer, and double tap + hold it on the screen with one finger. This will emit a small vibration if done correctly. As you move your finger, note how Talkback announces where your finger is on the home screen. It will say “Row 2.5, column 1.” This is very precise, as rows or columns can be either a full or half value on the grid. In our testing experience, quickly moving your finger will not silence Talkback’s announcements, so it’s best that you slowly move an icon. Dragging an icon on top of another one will create a folder. This behavior resembles rival platforms in terms of accessibility.
- Unread badges for notifications do not work in version 4.0 as far as being announced by Talkback. (The counter shows up visually.) We highly suggest Sending an e-mail to the Nova Developers and tell them of this bug or feature regression. As before, using the feature still requires the Teslaunread plug-in as well as a Nova prime key.
- Nova Launcher now tells you what pages of the app drawer you are on, and moves consistently among them with 2-finger flicks. This was an issue we mentioned prior that is now fixed.
There are other very important features to note here. One is that “OK Google” detection no longer requires a premium license. If all you want is OK Google and less options for customizing the launcher (for example, free version cannot hide apps), we highly recommend the free version. For the more advanced Android users of you out there, the prime key is still worth the price, even if the hotword feature is now free. Please note that it is now moved into “gestures and inputs.” You will also need to use the latest Talkback Beta (4.2.0) for it to work.
As for customizing gestures? Some of this could be useful with talkback. For example, you can customize what “Swiping down” does (by default, of course it opens the notification list), but changing the double tap gesture might not be useful as Talkback conflicts with its function. If you use quick settings more, you could make the double-tap-hold and flick down command open quick settings.
This release of Nova launcher is a major one, and it highlights how a developer can design completely accessible and usable applications with the proper implementation of Google’s native accessibility guidelines. While there is a feature regression, letting the developers know of it could foster a launcher which is well supported with any Android screen reader. Don’t let visual changes fool you — sometimes changes do not have to be seen to be felt.