Nova Launcher and Sesame Search have been acquired by Branch, an analytics company
The popular home screen app for Android devices, Nova Launcher has been acquired by Branch Metrics, a company that specializes in analytics. Sesame Shortcuts, which supported integration with the launcher app, has also been acquired.
While this may be good for funding the development of both apps, there could be some downsides to it.
I've been using Nova Launcher for close to 10 years, though my Google Play Store receipt for the Prime version is from 2015. It's the first app I install after a flashing a new ROM, or getting a new phone. When I bought the Redmi Note 10 Pro last year, I disliked the gestures in MIUI and found that Nova Launcher's own gestures were unusable because of limitations in Android 9+. But, I knew that Nova Launcher supported gestures by using some workarounds on Pixel devices, so I flashed a Pixel Experience ROM on my phone, to get the home screen app working on my mobile.
Nova Launcher and Sesame Search have been acquired by Branch
I think I have said enough, I'm clearly a fan of the app. But, I have to put my bias aside, and ask what would an analytics company want with the app? TeslaCoil Software has promised that the core user experience including the user's privacy will remain the same, and any changes made to the app will be optional. You can't expect a company to just acquire an app's rights, and let it continue in its existing state, would you? What's the point of it, if they don't get anything out of it?
The Play Store listing for Nova Launcher says that it has had over 50 million downloads. Even if just 10% of those users are actively using it, I think it's safe to say that Nova Launcher boasts a very large user base. That means, Branch, could potentially benefit from this as well, right? This is virtually a gold mine for telemetry.
An announcement made on Nova's website sheds some more light about the acquisition.
What does Branch do?
Branch has a massive database with over 300 billion deep links in apps, and provides a platform for developers to manage and measure these links into their apps. Here's an example (quoted by Nova): A link in an email or social media that a user interacts with and opens in another app is likely a Branch link.
The future of Nova Launcher
The company wants to improve the mobile app discovery and navigation experience, and sees potential in Nova and Sesame. And as for changes that users can expect, Nova Launcher will be introducing new features on an A/B testing basis, to analyze which design users prefer. Nova 8 will offer on-device shortcuts, and contact search powered by branch, the data for searching and indexing is saved on the device and does not leave it.
Kevin Barry, the creator of Nova Launcher, and Cliff Wade, the Community Manager for the app, along with Steve Blackwell and Phil Wall of Sesame Search, have been hired by Branch. They will continue to lead the development of Nova Launcher, so that's a positive sign.
Nova Launcher will have other Branch-inspired features, the usage of which will be measured via analytics. It will have an opt-out option, i.e., the telemetry will be enabled by default. Based on the developer's words, Nova Launcher will remain as a premium app with a one-time payment to unlock the Pro version. The fact that they say nothing is changing in terms of privacy likely means there will be no ads in the app.
If you want to backup the app, the current version is Nova Launcher 7.0.57. A beta version of Nova 8 was released a few days ago, but I haven't tried it yet as I don't have a spare device to test it. I'm sure that users who don't like this bit of news will want to look for alternatives to Nova Launcher. There are a few good ones available such as KISS Launcher, or one of the forks of Lawnchair Launcher like Neo Launcher (formerly Omega Launcher).
Note: One of the developers of Lawnchair Launcher walked away from the app today, after claiming that another member of the team had been adding proprietary code from a different app to the open source app, without disclosing it. A message that was posted on Lawnchair's Twitter account says that it is not stolen code, but just reverse engineered code from the Pixel Launcher (made by Google.) Make of that what you will, but it surely hasn't been a good day for launchers.
Only time will tell if Nova Launcher remains as good as it is.
What are your thoughts about the acquisition? Will you stick to Nova Launcher or jump ship to a different one?
My biggest question is if the original author will still be doing the programming? If so I will give it a try after making full backups. That way I can always roll back for now if needed. As for why I am not sure yet but i am sure the answers will come with time. Kind of like when you sold Ghacks; the quality hasn’t dropped off. So for now I will just keep an eye on where it goes from here.
RIP Nova Launcher, you sold your soul to Satan. I hate you now.
Oh boy, Nova sold to an “analytics company”? This does not bode well. I’ve been using Nova (Prime version) for several years, and would like to keep using it without it “analyzing” my data. Will probably stick with version 7 for now, and in the long run perhaps by necessity install some other launcher app (though I’m pretty sure in that case I would hate all the fuss of retuning, and would miss some of Nova’s configurability). I’m curious to see if perhaps some readers here will come up with what they consider the best suited alternatives for replacement.
Henk, I have looked for Nova in de do you mean this Nova https://play.google.com/store/apps/developer?id=TeslaCoil+Software ?
You think that the free version is als still safe enough?
Yes, that is the correct app. The version stated in the article hasn’t changed.
Understandable, because collecting data is very beneficial nowadays. Your data can then be used to train neural network.
And what do these companies that collect data/neural networks do… Display adverts that you have blocked?
Every time I reply with the blocked advert argument I get tumble weed for a response.
Sell this data to advertisers and data broker. On top of that you are assuming that people are blocking ads and / or telemetry which is false in an extreme majority of cases. Most people haven’t even heard of adblocking.
This is a tech blog. Comments were aimed at other blog readers.
Most users don’t give a hoot about privacy – just look at what they post to social media sites.
Well, hellooo there, Surveillance Capitalism! And how did y—… Did I leave the door unlocked?
That’s called cronyism, capitalism doesn’t harm any parties involved. Since you clearly failed to make the distinction it’s clear that you have a lot to learn before you can speak with validity on the topic.
From user Horaticus on Reddit Android. tl;dr: ditch Nova.
* * * * *
Hey! I can be relevant!
I used to work at Branch (I hadn’t heard of them at the time), supporting the team that this acquisition was likely driven by. People are correct to worry in my opinion, while I was there I was essentially decompiling APKs from third party pirate sites so that internal tooling we built could inspect various indices to generate metadata maps which were used to drive contextual search inside installed applications. Seems cool on paper, but all that data is being farmed ~~out and sold~~. EDIT: I’ll give them credit and say that there is some form of “anonymization”, and that data is *not being sold directly by Branch*, but who knows what their customers are up to. Branch’s end goal was to integrate with OEMs to ass-blast your privacy right out of the gate.
To give people an idea of what kind of unethical company we’re talking about here…
* Right after the world ended (pandemic) they laid off a significant chunk of their workforce (a week after telling us there wouldn’t be a layoff mind you)
* [Apple passed a series of privacy changes to their platform] (https://interestingengineering.com/apples-privacy-cut-278-billion) which essentially killed Branch’s current ability to gather analytics on the platform. Having to have users opt-in to tracking screwed them. [Here’s some corporate Kool-Aid if you’re thirsty](https://blog.branch.io/how-to-prepare-your-mobile-app-and-attribution-stack-for-apples-ios-14-privacy-and-idfa-changes/).
* With the above point, the BIG focus was on Android analytics, especially in India, where the consumer protection laws are a lot more lax.
Edit 2: Another red flag about Branch, you can’t even get to their website if you’re using basic ad and tracking blocking tools.
Edit 3: And before anyone brings it up, parting ways with this company was the best thing that ever happened to me.
Branch Metrics are based in Silicon Valley.
If a Silicon Valley based company buys something you use, it should be a giant red flag. They can never be trusted and are some of the most morally-corrupt entities on the planet. This is not a good thing.
RIP Nova Launcher. I used it years ago before I got my OnePlus. I stuck to the default Oxygen OS launcher since.
It seems I won’t be moving on from v6 any time soon…
Why not v7?
– I can avoid whatever analytics this acquisition has brought in
– I can still use TeslaUnread, which I still find very useful!
– Apparently v6 is not compatible with Android 12, but I’m still on 11 so it’s not an issue yet :P
Oh please. You probably typed this post from a device that is 90% Silicon Valley in origin.
“I don’t care, I don’t have anything to hide. Besides, you are all using Android and Google and Microsoft products everyday too so your privacy is blaaa blaaaa vomit vomit blaaa blaaaaa more dumb sheep vomit blaaaaaa blaaaaadi blaaaaaaaaa”…
Despite the fact that i’m using iptables based root firewall to restrcit traffic of applications it looks like 7.0.57 will be my last version of Nova launcher running on my android 8.0. 8.1 brought neural networks support, with the help of which corps are harvesting data on your devices and sent it back for resale and user profiling.
Oh dear. Used to be my go to launcher app. Surprising there aren’t any good launcher apps in F-Droid. No more updating Nova launcher now. Thanks for bringing this Ashwin(hate you in reality for bringing this awful news).
Another one bites the dust.
Thanks for this article!
Looking for a replacement asap.
– I see that F-Droid has fairly recently updated KISS Launcher and 3 year old Lawnchair Launcher, both mentioned in the article. They have other launchers, too. Any informed thoughts on alternatives?
– I have Nova Launcher 7.0.57 (free version). I can’t find any telemetry options in settings. Does anyone have any advice on setting privacy configs?
‘Any informed thoughts on alternatives?’
F-Droid alternatives are barebones.
‘Does anyone have any advice on setting privacy configs?’
There is an error reporting feature. That should be disabled. Best approach is to disable internet permissions of Nova launcher. That way you can be absolutely sure without worrying about in-app telemetry settings.
Company gets bought out-I’m gone. Installed an apk extractor app and backed it up. I always nuke updates anyway.
I have found that Pear Launcher offers quite a comparable feature set, and does not appear to be collecting any data per the app dashboard. My firewall also indicates it hasn’t made any attempts to get on the internet for as long as I’ve had it installed (less than an hour).