Hands-On with the Android P Beta: Gesture Navigation

Posted on May 10, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Android with 18 Comments

Hands-On with the Android P Beta: Gesture Navigation

After finally figuring out how to enable gesture navigation in the Android P beta, I was happy to discover that it works wonderfully.

Thanks to the many readers who pointed this out to me in the wake of my previous post, Hands-On with the Android P Beta. I wasn’t able to find this in Settings, but it was hiding in plain sight. You enable gesture navigation by navigating to Settings > System > Gestures and toggling “Swipe up on Home button” to On.

Once you do this, the navigation bar at the bottom changes so that the Overview (multitasking) button is removed, the Back button is displayed only in apps, and the Home button becomes a more subtle “pill” shape.

There are some complaints that this new navigation style, which involves using new gestures on the Home button, is a direct copy of what Apple did previously with the iPhone X. And when you add that to other similar feature copying, like adding notch support, that Google is thus devoid of originality.

Here’s the thing.

As I noted in my iPhone X review, Apple’s new gesture-based navigation system is so good it’s almost intuitive. And if Google is “copying” Apple here—opinions differ as to the exact source of this innovation—then I’m OK with it.

In fact, let’s put this in perspective. 20 years ago, I argued that Microsoft copying Apple’s Mac GUI in Windows—which it most certainly did—was, in fact, beneficial because it brought WIMP (windows, icons, menus, pointer) computing to the masses. If a GUI falls in the forest and no one uses it, did it really happen? Or something.

Anyway, the Android P navigation gestures are excellent and, like those on the iPhone, are largely intuitive. You know, assuming you’ve used any touch-based device at some point in your life. Which you have.

They also all into a natural progression from hardware buttons to software buttons to gestures.

Pressing Home works as before. A single press returns you to the Home screen and a long press invokes the Google Assistant.

Back, likewise, works as before. It’s just not on the Home screen. But when you’re in an app, it appears, and you can press Back to navigate back to the previous screen.

Likewise, the Back button rotates to “Down” when using a virtual keyboard so you can hide that keyboard, as before. No real changes here.

Accessing the app drawer–“all apps,” as I think of it—works as before, too, but you must now make a full swipe up from the bottom of the screen to access this list. A half-swipe up now reveals the Overview screen, where you can access full-sized thumbnails of your most-recent apps, search, and a row of most-recently-used apps at the bottom. I find this to work well, and since “Overview” and the app drawer are, by nature, related (in that you’re looking for other apps), this combination makes sense.

But there is one more gesture.

You can now swipe right on the Home button/pill to switch, one by one, through each of the apps in your most-recently-used apps list (the thumbnails that appear in the top of the Overview screen). Just flick, flick, flick until you find the app you want. Or, keep sliding to the right to find the exact app.

That one isn’t completely intuitive, I guess, but it works well enough, and once you see it in action, you get it.

What’s missing in all this is the resulting full-screen experience you get on the iPhone X. Apps don’t stretch to take up any extra space, as there’s still a (perhaps slightly smaller) navigation bar at the bottom. Whether that changes—or requires app updates—is unclear.

But the new navigation system works. And works well.


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