Android P navigation: I could do better than that (concept)

(This concept has already been updated here. Original concept can be seen below)

I have an issue with the new navigation system on Android P.

It’s not that I think it’s copied the iPhone X, because I don’t think it has. Android has had swipe navigation for years (remember the old Google Now gesture? What about the notification shade?) and the swipes on Android P and iPhone X don’t do the same thing anyway.

Nope. My issue with Android P navigation is far more important than that. Take a look at this:

from 9to5google 

Yup, it’s that damn back button on the left. Look at it there, pushing the whole thing off balance. Sure, it disappears on the home screen, but for the rest of the time, you’re stuck with a lopsided navigation system.


I swear, I could do better than that.

Here are the scratchings I came up with over my lunch break today:

How to make it better:

It starts with how the back button needs to work inside apps. If we are going to go with swipes on the pill-shaped home button (which I’ll call the ‘pill’ from here on in), then we should notice the similarity between a swipe and a push. If we are going to swipe to go back, it needs to feel as though we are pushing something away. Now, the direction of the push comes from the presence of that slide-in menu thing that we normally get on the left of the screen within apps. To get rid of it, we already swipe the thing to the left and off the screen. Hitting the old-school back button does the same thing, so it makes sense for the ‘back’ function to swipe in the same direction.

So, this swipe left to back up should also be used to move back through different screens within an app. For this, I imagine the difference screens within an app as layers. As you click on icons within an app you go ‘deeper’ into the app.

Swiping left on the pill should ‘back up’ out of that layer and out to the previous. The animation can have the zoom out slightly off centre towards the lower left quadrant of the screen to reinforce the feeling that the user is ‘pushing away’ layer 3 to return to layer 2.

I’ll explain what happens when you get to the top layer in a moment, but for now, I’d like to consider what should happen when you swipe right on the pill. Currently in Android P this will open up a scrubber to move quickly between apps. This sort of mimics the function of the ‘overview’ screen you get to when you swipe up on the pill - a gesture that doesn’t seem to gel with the swipe-left-to-back-up idea. So, for now, I’m going to sacrifice the swipe-right-to-scrub idea (I’ll come back to it later) in place of a brand new navigation element to Android: swipe-right-to-go-forward.

Yup, that’s right: FORWARD. After all, if we have the ability to back up, why can’t we have the ability to undo that backing up and go forward again? We’re used to it in the web-browser, so why not have that familiar navigation element in Android as well? It literally reverses whatever happened when you just swiped-left-to-back-up and returns you to where you were. And if you haven’t ‘backed-up’ yet, well, there’s nowhere to go so it does nothing, just like the back button in old school Android does on the home screen.

So what do we do about losing that swipe-right-to-scrub gesture? Well, to be honest, I don’t really understand why we need a high speed scrub through apps anyway. How many hundreds of apps are you planning on having open at a time to scrub through anyway? And do you really want to scrub through them so fast you can barely see them? And if you really do, then why not do it from the ‘overview’ screen rather than having to drag that poor little pill over to the side, making the whole thing unbalanced again and increasing the risk of accidently triggering the Assistant by not moving your thumb quick enough or far enough?

Nope, there’s a better way.

If we imagine the overview screen acts as an example of where our apps are in space in relation to each other (ok, virtual space. Whatever), then we can see overview presents them as being laid out next to each other with all the home screens off to the right.

Scrolling within an app normally moves along the y axis; moving between layers within an app is simulated along the z axis - which leaves us movement along the x axis for switching between apps.

This brings us back to the earlier point about what happens when we get to the top layer in an app. In old school Android versions, pressing the back button again when on the top layer normally closes the app. In this concept, it does the same thing - apart from instead of the app dropping down to reveal the home screen behind it, we imagine the active app always takes the App 1 position on the x axis and the app swipes left along with the user’s gesture to reveal the home screen waiting there to the right. Move between home screens as you would do normally, but swiping right on home screen 1 would bring you into the overview screen, same as a swipe up might do, to let you quickly move back into the app you might have just swiped out of by accident.

But what we’re really interested in here is quick-switching between apps. And to do that we are going to swipe from the very edge of the screen.

Now, we don’t want to swipe from anywhere along the edge of the screen to drag in another app - particularly as that gesture is often reserved to bring out sidebar menus. But what about the area of the screen at the very bottom on either side of where the pill sits? How about if we put a little indicator here, just peeping into the screen, to show how the apps are stitched together along the x axis and use a simple pull on the indicator to quick switch neighbouring app?

In fact, once the user understands this gesture, the indicators can disappear entirely, leaving us with no interruptions on the display save that single pill button in the centre.

And if you are really keen on that nasty scrubbing gesture to move between apps, then I’ll let you have it both ways when you’ve brought up the overview screen. Move the pill right or left on the overview screen to quickly scrub between apps in the overview screen.

So, we are left with one little pill on screen to do all the work.

But there’s one problem: the keyboard.

When the keyboard pops up on old school Android versions, the back button transforms itself into a down button that tucks the keyboard away below the bottom of the screen.

from Stackoverview: 

What I’d like to do here is a little bit more daring and probably the most risky change I’m proposing due to how different it is.

When the keyboard pops up in this concept version of Android, I want to pill to move up with it.

Now, while this does mean that the home button is now in the middle of the screen rather than at a nice secure place at the bottom, I still think it’s a pretty good option. All the normal swipe gestures on the pill would still work from this raised position AND it has the advantage of actually making a little more of the app visible to the user because there is no longer any need for any wasted space below the keyboard for the navigation bar or a strip of unused space for the pill to sit.

And the way to drop and close the keyboard becomes obvious: you just drag down the pill to its normal position at the bottom of the screen.

So that’s it. That’s how a dumb-ass high school Literature teacher reimagined Android navigation controls over lunch and an evening learning to use Google Drawings and Blogger.

What do you think?

(Disclaimer: ideas are cheap; execution is everything)


  1. I linked your post on Reddit. I hope you don't mind. I'd consider adding double tapping the pill to quickly switch between current and previous app. Just like it does today when you double tap on the Recent Button on Oreo.

    1. Oh, sweet mercy, it just got 200 comments in ten hours overnight. Cheers!

    2. I took your concept one step further.

      Here's the summary.

      Swipe Gestures
      - Swipe Up -- Current Android P Behavior
      - Swipe Down -- Expand notification
      - Swipe Left -- Back
      - Swipe Right -- Current Android P Behavior

      Tap Actions
      - Single Tap -- Home
      - Tap and Hold -- Google Assistant
      - Double Tap (Option1) -- Activates context-aware search action (Google, Omnibar in Chrome, Search in apps)
      - Double Tap (Option 2) -- Quickly switch between 2 apps.


    1. I'm convinced a swipe-left-to-back-up is only going to work really well if it includes the swipe-down-to-close-keyboard gesture; that's ended up key element in the whole design, I think.

  3. Great proposal.

    I think the keyboard needs to be revisited a little more. Samsung currently offers the option to be able to "hard press" the bottom center of the screen (no visible button) which acts as a home button. The suggested pill placement is definitely the best spot, but I think it should only serve as a "hide keyboard" function. Android P should adopt this touch sensitive home button .

  4. I really like the push pill left to got back idea. It brings in the symmetry and it make sense. Wondered why they only gave the pill a function in one direction and just left the back button there.

    Personally I prefer the push right as it is now with the multitasking. I don't have much need for a forward since the screen I will be on will likely already have a UI element I can tap that will take me forward to where I was. I mean that must be how I got there in the first place right?

    I'd be happy with that one change to replace the back button with a left swipe. Never felt a need to go forward.

    Doing swipes from the edges can be tough when one handed, especially on large screens or if one has small hands. Having everything controls pretty centered makes it accessible. Plus what happens to the side menu?

    1. I think you're right about that. If the swipe right acts as a quick switch back to the previous app (and the apps are organised on the x axis in order to last use, meaning the 'open' app is always is the right most position) then there's no longer any need for the 'quick switch' functions at the side of the screen, making it even more simple.

  5. How about my current setup ?, i think it's more one hand friendly.

  6. I had to do a module on application development; you have some cool ideas, but I don't see forward navigation working. It might just have been my limited experience but when the back button is pressed the current activity is destroyed (or fragment is popped from backstack). I can't see where the 'forward stack' would fit in.

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