July 19, 2022
Hello Nova Community, I’m Kevin Barry, the creator of Nova Launcher. I’ve made, make and will continue to make Nova Launcher. Today I’m announcing that Branch has acquired Nova Launcher, and hired myself and Cliff Wade (Nova Community Manager). Branch has also acquired Sesame Search and hired the Sesame Crew (Steve Blackwell and Phil Wall). I’ll continue to control the direction and development of Nova Launcher, and that direction is unchanged. Nova focuses on power users and customization. I will be adding some features powered by Branch, they’ll be optional like most features in Nova.
Branch is a big name in app development circles, but it’s mostly behind the scenes for consumers. Branch’s primary business is providing a platform for app developers to manage and measure deep-links into their apps. For example when you click on a link in an email or on social media that opens into an app, it’s probably a Branch link. Branch has a huge database of over 300 billion deep links into apps.
Branch also sees the problems with app discovery and navigation and is setting out to solve these problems. They saw a lot they like in Nova (and Sesame) and want to leverage that to build even bigger products without disrupting what makes these apps great.
Sesame Search is a shortcut and contacts search engine for Android. A few years ago Nova Launcher and Sesame cooperated to integrate Sesame results into Nova Search. Steve and Phil will continue to control the direction and development of Sesame.
Not to mess it up, don’t worry! Research, development, expertise and feedback.
Research Branch is setting out to fix the mobile app discovery and navigation problem which is no easy task. It will take experimentation and testing to get there. Branch needs a test-bed where we can try things out and see if they work and how to improve them.
Development Branch builds, and excels at, platforms. But it’s hard to build a platform without building, or working closely with, a client of the platform. Similar to how Google needed the Nexus, or now Pixel, products to be able to build Android.
Expertise I’ve been building Nova Launcher for over a decade and know a lot about Android. But while I will be sharing my expertise and contributing to other areas at Branch, this isn’t a talent acquisition. My primary responsibility continues to be to Nova Launcher, in the same manner I’ve worked on it in the past.
Feedback We need to keep hearing from you! The Nova community is incredibly vocal and has provided tons of feedback over the years, more feedback than I’ve been able to act on. Branch is very eager to hear that feedback in the area of navigation and discovery and to get that kind of feedback on future ideas and implementations. Notice that monetization isn’t mentioned here. While Nova’s monetization ability played a role in the acquisition deal and Nova Launcher Prime won’t be going away, monetization of Nova Launcher is not something Branch is interested in changing. Nova stays Nova. There’s no desire from anyone to transform it into a mass market app with obnoxious IAP, subscriptions and ads.
Here's what Alex CEO of Branch has to say about it
Branch has built a search and discovery product that is being distributed by every major Android OEM (Samsung, Xiaomi, Moto, etc) to billions of devices. It makes it easier to search across apps for pages inside. We're continuing to build new features for this platform, but it's slow to test because OEM deploy cycles take years.
Working with Kevin and the Nova community will allow us to get feedback on new features before we scale them to the billions. We make money by making our OEM platform better through the knowledge gained from Kevin. We do not plan to make any money directly from Nova or the community.
We’ve all read acquisition announcements saying nothing will change but they inevitably do. Though I don’t feel too much will materially change for Nova users, I want to make sure to cover what will. Nova Launcher has historically been just a one-time sale consumer product. I’ve tried over the years other things such as licensing to OEMs or rev-share for links, but those have just been small pieces. Now Nova Launcher is also a Research and Development project which means trading some of the burden of monetization for the burden of experimentation. I’ve always been very careful about how I release new features. By monetizing with a one time purchase, I heavily relied on press coverage of new features to attract new users. But this meant that the new features need to be stable and attractive enough for users to purchase Prime for. It also meant that I couldn’t release something pretty experimental, attract users to purchase it, and then completely overhaul it without upsetting them. Now things are flipped a bit. I don’t want to harm the stability of Nova Launcher, even its betas, but I’ll have more reason to release smaller things more frequently and make more changes in public releases rather than having a feature more completely designed before public release. Likewise, in the past I haven’t found the right balance of managing additional developers to work on Nova with me. This still doesn’t need to change, I can continue to be the sole developer of Nova itself. But I have been working with Steve Blackwell, of Sesame, on the new Branch search features in Nova Launcher and I’m hoping this is the right environment for Nova to benefit from development help. I’ve also generally avoided A/B testing, where some users see design A and others design B and analytics determine which design is adopted for all users. I likely will start doing some of this, but I’ll try to avoid making it distracting and continue to be respectful of users' customizations.
Finally, bigger scope in the area of search, discovery and navigation. I love Nova Search, it’s fast and attractive, the microresults save me a ton of time, and with Sesame it can navigate virtually your whole device. But it’s hard for indie apps to push this even further. It needs buy-in and relationships with other apps and bigger companies. Branch has and does that kind of thing.
We'll be releasing a Nova 8.0.2 beta APK soon with a peek at on-device shortcut and contact search powered by Branch. All searching and indexing takes place locally and does not leave your device.
Branch will want to measure usage of the Branch-inspired features in Nova. Nova Launcher already has basic analytics, with an opt-out. This will continue. There is a different priority in what to measure now and so we'll make some changes in that regard, but I’ve had a lot of internal discussions about privacy and analytics with various people at Branch and they are both responsive and respectful of user privacy and my concerns about doing the right thing for Nova Launcher users.
The beginning of this was really in 2018. I was working with Phil and Steve on the Nova+Sesame integration, but we hadn’t released or announced anything yet. Then while I was in town for Google I/O, I met Alex Austin, CEO of Branch. Alex explained his vision, including having app search show shortcut results. I amusedly expressed that I was essentially working on this idea with Sesame. We discussed a bit further by email and Alex also connected with Sesame. I didn’t end up going any further with Branch in 2018 but more recently Alex reached out again. They’ve had some success and were looking to grow it further. We discussed ways to work together a bit and Alex made an attractive acquisition offer. He did the same with Sesame. I’ve had a number of acquisition offers over the years. Generally it’s been easy enough to see why they would be bad fits. I’d sometimes look for reasons it could be okay, but the reasons would never be strong enough to be compelling. If a company like Google or Facebook bought Nova Launcher, Nova would ultimately cease to exist. If an OEM bought Nova, it’d get bogged down with boring OEM needs. If a small app startup bought or merged with Nova, they’d likely take it down with them. Branch is different. They respect Nova as it is and want to maintain that. They’re not a big company like a Google. They’re not a slow moving company like an OEM. Branch is quite successful in their area and has specific needs for a consumer launcher app that matches what Nova is. Alex continued to say the right things, he doesn’t want to change the branding, he doesn’t want to change the monetization. He wants me to continue to be in charge of the direction and decisions for Nova Launcher. I met with more of the team, I was impressed with them and it was clear that Alex had made it clear to them that I’d maintain control and direction. Also, it wasn’t just that they knew I’d continue to be protective and respectful of Nova users, it’s that they want that too. Naturally it was a very big decision and I still had a lot to think about. I was having an unrelated conversation with the Sesame devs when Branch came up. We spoke a bit subtly trying to respect our NDAs, but managed to work out that we could be working together again and take our initial work on app shortcut search and discovery to the next level. It all started to come together and look really positive. After more meetings, lots of back and forth between lawyers, and a last minute trip to Palo Alto, the acquisition closed and Nova Launcher, myself, and Cliff are officially part of Branch.
-Kevin Barry Creator of Nova Launcher
Cliff, Phil and I will be in Nova's Discord answering questions about the Branch acquisitions, Nova 8.0.2, or whatever. Other Branchsters may drop by as well. Branch is fielding formal press inquires at firstname.lastname@example.org