In 2014 and only a few months after Microsoft officially took control of Nokia’s phone division, Nokia released the first beta of the Z launcher. With the Windows Phone era officially over, the software team that remained at Nokia wanted to create their own take on the Android operating system, and the result was quite fascinating. Watch the Z launcher in its full glory below:
Z launcher certainly wasn’t perfect, but it was very interesting. It tried to change the way you interact with your phone, by offering you smart suggestions that would change based on your usage and even based on your location and time of day. It was a very early implementation of smart software that adapts to you, and even though it was quite lacking in terms of customization, this was by design. I also love how modern Nokia Pure font still looks today on that interface. I think it’s truly a shame that this project was killed when it could have been a differentiating factor for Nokia-powered android devices had it been developed further.
I’m a huge advocate for innovation in the software realm. Once upon a time, we had different operating systems with almost completely different user experiences. From Windows Phone to MeeGo, to Blackberry 10, and even going back to Palm’s WebOS. Competition forced brands to think out of the box and it was wonderful. These days, Google and Apple continue to polish the UX they created over a decade ago. I find using both mind-numbingly unimaginative. I refuse to believe that UX has peaked in 2010. We essentially interact with our phones almost exactly the same way for the past decade or so. Even Android skins follow the same usage patterns, and using one is very similar to everything else minus a fresh coat of paint and a couple of extra options here and there. It’s a shame, as software innovation was a big reason for excitement over tech before.
Unfortunately, most Android OEMs these days lack imagination. They are either too comfortable or too afraid to experiment, so we either get stock android with make-up, so often super tacky looking, or iOS clones running Android. Don’t know what’s worse, but I continue to find myself searching for more. And no, the ability to use 3rd party launchers doesn’t excuse this whatsoever. The app ecosystem continues to be the biggest and almost impossible barrier of entry these days, but I remain hopeful that a 3rd player would emerge and bring innovation back to the table.