Here’s hoping Google gets ’em fixed before Q gets finalized.
Once upon a time, getting around Android was a pretty simple process.You wanted to go to your home screen? You’d tap the Home button. Needed to move back a step? You’d hit the Back button. Felt like hopping directly between some recently used apps? Yeah — you’d smash that Overview button in the same bottom-bar area of your screen. The only real variable was whether you used a phone made by a (cough, cough) certain company that stubbornly insisted on putting those buttons in the wrong order for no apparent reason.
Nowadays, it’s a different story. Some Android phones still use that standard three-button setup. Others use 2018’s Android Pie gesture system, with its single centered “pill” that puts the Home button and Overview button into the same centered spot. Not all phones with Pie have that gesture system activated, though. Some Android device-makers have added their own custom gesture setups into the mix, while others are opting to shield their loyal device-owners from any gesture-induced confusion for the moment.
And come this fall, when Android Q starts to roll around, we’ll have yet another new gesture system in the wild — one that made its debut with the third Q beta in May and is slowly evolving with each subsequent Q preview.
It’s confusing as hell, to use the technical term. Folks going from no gesture system to the new Q gesture system — especially those who aren’t so tech-savvy — are gonna have a heck of a time adjusting to the new tapping-free approach for getting around a phone. And the unlucky mortals who just got used to Pie’s gestures are gonna be doing a good amount of groaning when they find themselves facing Yet Another New System (a common enough theme here in Google Land that it’s officially now earned proper-noun status).
You know what, though? Despite all the short-term confusion and the nausea-inducing flipping and flopping (or flopping and flipping, if you prefer), I’m optimistic this latest change will be a positive progression for Android in the long run. The truth is that Pie’s gesture system was never especially great. And once you get over the initial shock of the latest switcheroo, Q’s reimagined approach is without a doubt the more natural, more intuitive, and generally just better arrangement.
Or at least the better foundation. For all its positives, Android’s new gesture system still has some serious usability issues — quirks that make it irksome and sometimes even impossible to use effectively. It’s still a beta-level thing, so we have to be a little forgiving, but Q’s time for active development is rapidly coming to a close — with just two near-final “release candidates” left before the official Q rollout — so we also have to start thinking realistically about what sort of experience the final Q release will bring us.
Here’s hoping Google irons out these areas and achieves a smooth, polished-feeling gesture experience by the time the final Q software arrives:
1. The Back command inconsistency
After having lived with Android Q’s gestures for a full two months now, I’m confident in saying that swiping inward from the edge of your screen to go back a step is a spectacular way to get around your phone. Working your thumb all the way down to the lower-left corner of the screen, where Android’s traditional Back button lived, was always a bit of a chore — one of those awkward palm-yoga-requiring movements (mind out of the gutter, bucko) — and being able to swipe anywhere along either edge of the display seems superior in every way.
I’d actually toyed around with creating similar setups using third-party apps before, in fact. It really is an ergonomic improvement given the size of our modern-day phones, and now it’s built right into Android itself.
The problem is that it doesn’t always work consistently — and that, in turn, causes you to yell out family-friendly curses like “GEE WILLIKERS, GOOGLERS!” or “GO TO HECK, YOU GOSH DARNED CELLULAR TELEPHONE APPARATUS!” while angrily twirling your metaphorical old-timey moustache. (You do have a metaphorical old-timey moustache, right? They’re invaluable when it comes to comically expressed rage.)
The most common area where you encounter this flub — one you may have heard about or perhaps even experienced yourself by now, if you’re a beta-rockin’ sort of land creature — is when you’re using an app that has one of those slide-in left-of-screen menus, as many Android apps do.
The slide-in gesture for opening the menu, y’see, is pretty much the same as the slide-in gesture for going back a step in Android Q. And so you end up in a dicey situation where you get stuck swiping eternally — while viewing an individual message in Gmail, for instance — and never moving back but instead opening and closing your current app’s menu in a maddeningly endless cycle.
And gee willikers, lemme tell ya: That’s enough to make even a sane person’s brain boil. (Or so I’d imagine.)