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The popular third-party Android launcher, Lawnchair, has lost part of its development team due to concerns about the app’s use of code taken from Google’s own Pixel Launcher.

One of the key elements of the Pixel series is its launcher, regarded by some for its clean design and seamless integration with Google Search, Assistant, and Discover. When using another Android phone, it can be easy to miss having some of those features of Pixel Launcher.

This led to the development of Lawnchair, a third-party Android launcher app that is built on the open-source foundation of Android’s “Launcher3” and adds in some of the core features of Pixel Launcher. For instance, you can use the same At a Glance widget that’s available on Pixel phones, complete with features added in Android 12 and some custom options that were created by the Lawnchair team.

However, there are some concerns about how exactly Lawnchair has managed to so closely resemble Google’s own Pixel Launcher. These concerns were publicly voiced this week in a Telegram announcement from a member of Lawnchair’s development team.

Today, I have become aware that one of the other core contributors has been adding to Lawnchair portions of code from a proprietary app whose source code they do not own. I have never been informed of the aforementioned actions, and I strongly disapprove of them. I have never encouraged or engaged in such activity.

With the above in mind—and with regret—I will be ceasing to contribute to Lawnchair. […]

Elsewhere, the official Lawnchair account clarified on Twitter that the “proprietary app” the developer refers to is in fact Google’s Pixel Launcher.

Looking into the publicly available source code of Lawnchair, there are numerous references to “nexuslauncher,” which is Google’s own internal designation for the Pixel Launcher. More directly, past versions of Lawnchair have directly incorporated decompiled code from the Pixel Launcher. Another member of the team has even directly confirmed that code from Pixel Launcher has been included from the very beginning.

Based on the developer’s announcement, it appears that this practice has continued into recent years, if perhaps in a less obvious form. These aspects may not come as a surprise to some, as Lawnchair has managed to quite effectively mimic the look and feel of the Pixel Launcher. In the Android community, it’s long been something of common wisdom that reverse engineering was likely involved in Lawnchair development, but the concern is still valid. 

In some parts of the world — and particularly Europe — the legality of reverse engineering is very limited and not always well-defined. As helpfully explained by Gerrish Legal, there are some legal exceptions available, but reverse engineering and decompiling for the purpose of creating a competing product is almost certainly not permitted in Europe.

As some of Lawnchair developers are in Europe, the app’s use of code that was reverse engineered or decompiled directly from the Pixel Launcher could potentially have legal ramifications. The Lawnchair team has not yet shared a public statement, but one developer defended the use of Pixel Launcher code by pointing to the app and its code being freely available.

For the time being, all we know for sure is that the small group responsible for Lawnchair now has one less core team member, leaving the popular Android launcher with an uncertain future.

Dylan Roussel contributed to this article.

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Kyle Bradshaw

Kyle is an author and researcher for 9to5Google, with special interests in Made by Google products, Fuchsia, and Stadia.

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