As I mentioned a couple of articles ago, one of the really great features of the Android operating system is that virtually everything in it and be replaced with a substitute. This is a fully-supported feature that is readily accessible to regular users on non-rooted phones. I also said that in future articles I’d cover various components of Android that can be replaced with better, or at the very least different, 3rd-party alternatives, but in this one I’ll be focusing on the launcher.
Let’s begin by defining what a launcher is, and what purpose it serves on your phone. Put simply, a launcher is the app that runs continuously on your phone and provides the essential user interface components for starting (launching) apps, and for displaying information on what we refer to as “home screens”.
If you own a Nexus or Google Experience phone, then you get a launcher that is written and supported by Google. It’s quite simple, but it embodies the way Google believes you should interact with Android. If you own just about any other Android phone however, then you get a launcher that’s written and supported by the manufacturer of your specific model. It embodies the way the manufacturer believes you should interact with Android.
For example, Samsung phones come with a launcher called TouchWiz, while HTC phones come with a launcher called Sense. These are usually well-written launchers, but many manufacturers overdo it a bit and users may find them either gaudy, or sluggish, or both. It’s not unusual to see people claim a hatred for a certain manufacturer’s phones based on what they think of the launcher.
However, you aren’t restricted to running the provided launcher. Not only can you choose from a wide range of 3rd-party options, but making this new launcher the default on your phone is dirt simple. Once you pick your desired launcher and install it, press the Home key on your phone and something happens that you haven’t seen before. The phone prompts you to tell it...
which of the two apps you wish to use to complete the request.
You can make a one-off choice, but you’ll probably want to avoid doing that in this case, because you’ll be bothered with this request quite often. Instead you should pick the new launcher and make it your default. This way the new launcher will completely replace the manufacturer’s launcher in all circumstances going forward. If you ever want to return to the original launcher, you simply uninstall the new one. Android 4.4 has even formalized the selection of a launcher in one of the standard settings.
There are quite a few launchers available, some of which duplicate the stock Google experience, but with a few extras that make them even better. I personally use Nova Launcher, which is well-supported and has a stock-Google look and feel. However, there are launchers that take a completely different approach to the concept of app launching. Some merely provide a unique visual approach, while others turn the entire launch paradigm on its ear. There are launchers that make your Android look like an iPhone running iOS7, while others make your phone look like Windows Phone. Still others lean heavily on visual manipulations that create a launcher in 3D space. The choices are almost endless.
Most importantly however, many of these 3rd-party launchers are more efficient and much faster than the bloated launchers provided by the manufacturers. While it is true that certain aspects of TouchWiz or Sense permeate the very heart of the O/S and change the way it looks and feels, much of the despised aspects of them are more to do with the launcher.
It doesn’t hurt to give a launcher a try to see what you think, and many of them are available in free versions that simply disable certain high-end functions available in the paid versions. If you don’t like what you see, just uninstall the launcher and you’ll automatically fall back to your original manufacturer launcher, still setup exactly the way you left it.