Nokia completed the multi-billion dollar sale of its phone-making business to Microsoft back in April. But that doesn’t mean it’s done with phones entirely. Oh no.
The company that transferred some 32,000 of its staff to Redmond in exchange for more than $7.2 billion has just released a launcher (aka an alternative homescreen) — for Android smartphones. So the devices which compete with Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform.
Truly epic trolling, Nokia.
The launcher, called Z Launcher, depicted in the below intro video, focuses on gestures and contextual relevance in a bid to enhance the Android user experience — adapting which apps, contacts and websites it shows in a shortcut list on the homescreen depending on factors such as time of day, where the user is and what they normally use.
On the gestures front, the launcher also lets users trace a single letter on the screen to shortcut directly to a particular app — so, for instance, if you’re looking for Uber then squiggling a ‘U’ on the screen will bring up all the apps starting with U.
The Z Launcher looks pretty light on features but bear in mind this is a pre-beta release.
It also represents what are still early steps for Nokia into the Android ecosystem. Back in February, prior to selling its hardware division to Microsoft, the company released a handful of devices running its own Android fork, called the Nokia X Software Platform. Those devices are now the property of Microsoft but the rump of Nokia Oyj is free to build software for Android phones — and clearly intends to do just that.
The Android launcher space is an interesting one. Facebook tried a takeover of Android with its Facebook Home launcher back in 2013. But that was an epic flop since it vastly overreached — attempting to switch out the variety offered by multiple third party Android apps with content only from Facebook.
Others have had more success in this space, such as the Go Launcher or the Nova Launcher, although homescreen replacement remains a minority pursuit, with the vast majority of Android users sticking with whatever they’re given — rather than taking the trouble to download something different.
That said, launchers are interesting as they offer the potential to differentiate atop Google’s platform. Rival mobile OS maker Jolla, for instance — the startup behind the alternative Sailfish OS – is set to release a launcher at the end of this month to give Android users a taster of its operating system in the hopes of encouraging them to go the whole hog and reflash their Android device with Sailfish.
Nokia doesn’t have an OS of its own to push at this point, but it does have software services that it could promote via an Android launcher — if it’s able to garner enough eyeballs. So it will be interesting to see how Z Launcher tools up.
Android users wanting to kick the tires of Nokia’s newest Android-focused mobile effort can download the launcher from zlauncher.com.