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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Comments (18)

18 responses to “Hands-On with the Android P Beta: Gesture Navigation”

  1. Daekar

    All of this kerfluffle sounds like a storm in a teacup to me. The UI as Paul explains it seems rational, if not terribly discoverable. The Microsoft Launcher already contains some gestures like this (I got rid of my App Drawer button ages ago) and so do others like Nova... in fact, Nova supports all kinds of custom gesture functions.

    As long as Google keeps the back button accessible when it's needed, I don't really see a problem for folks comfortable with undiscoverable UIs.

  2. Lateef Alabi-Oki

    Android P's gestures are not even the same as the iPhone's. They seem better and more intuitive. And I'm glad they didn't go 100% gestures. You still tap to go back and home. So you get the best of both worlds.

  3. Stocklone

    I loved using navigation gestures on my Blackberry Z10. You can zip around that phone so incredibly quickly with just your thumb. The ecosystem sucked compared to what Google was offering but BB had the better OS. BB10 even showed you a paste button as soon as you clicked on a text box after copying something. None of this long press to get the paste button when everybody knows I am obviously going to paste what I just copied. Of course reviewers cried that how can anybody know to swipe up from the bottom and declared the OS a failure.

  4. codekoenig

    I really don't think gestures like that are intuitive. Intuitive is when you see something you can interact with it. If there is a icon on a touch screen, you can tap it to make something happen. Natural gestures like swiping up and down on a screen to scroll are also intuitive. But gestures on a button aren't - you can't see they are there, there is no obvious connection between your gesture and what is actually happening - you have to learn about it. That is not intuitive.

    It works good for tech people like us who are used to learn the depths of a system to be more productive - but for the masses, not so much. The great success of the iPhone was it's simplicity and obvious explorability of it's UX … disconnected gestures on buttons undermine that.

  5. Pedro Vieira

    Google should force apps updated or new to Android P to use their own back button and get rid of the system-wide Back button. It never worked well, it's unpredictable and incoherent.

    Keep only the home button like iOS and make swiping/flicking to the left and right switch to other apps.

    That's it. Simple, intuitive and you get a cleaner UI, unlike this mess with one button on the left and no button to the right.

    • Daekar

      In reply to PeteMiles:

      Completely disagree. The lack of a standard universal back button is one of the things I hate about iOS. A UI that is constantly changing all the time is a bad idea because it denies the use of muscle memory or instinct.

    • jgraebner

      In reply to PeteMiles:

      I sure hope they don't do that. I find the presence of a predictable, system-wide back button to be one of the biggest advantages of Android over iOS from a UI perspective.

      I'd be fine if the button was replaced with a gesture, but I definitely don't want to go to the iOS system where every application does its own thing for navigating back.

  6. JacobTheDev

    I've heard a lot of mixed things about the gestures, but I've found them to be pretty decent myself, and you seem to be on my side ?

    I'd definitely like to see a tweak so that they overlay apps similar to the iPhone X instead of just taking up the same amount of space; without that extra vertical space the gestures are just there for the sake of being there, it doesn't make much sense.

  7. nerdile

    I'm not sure what "kerfuffle" is being referenced here. I suppose that's because I get my info from people like Paul who actually try out the features, and then write thoughtfully about them.

  8. dcdevito

    Paul, does swiping right mimic the current fast app switching?

  9. IamDefiler

    This goes to show how far ahead of the curve webOS was when it was released.

    • jdmp10

      In reply to IamDefiler:

      Yeah, webOS was definitely way ahead of its time and in many ways is still more intuitive to use than what we have currently on the iPhone X and this latest Android P DP2.

      When I first heard Matias Duarte (lead designer of webOS at Palm) was coming to Google as Android's head of design, I was so hopeful we would see him transform Android to mimic many of webOS' best UI attributes. If Apple hadn't gone the route it did with the UI changes for the iPhone X, who knows if Google would've even followed the same path in Android P.

  10. curtisspendlove

    I’ve always been if the opinion that “who made whom” arguments are always silly. If everyone wins, who cares.

    If it is anything like the iPhone X gestures, I’m glad for Android users. I’m at the point now where I get angry with other iOS devices that don’t support the new gestures. :)

  11. rameshthanikodi

    can anyone explain to me how swiping up on the home button is "easier" than just pressing the multitasking button?