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Android 9 Pie Gesture interface: How to get started and initial impressions

Android 9 Pie brings gesture-based user interface that would need a bit of learning to get accustomed to.

Google Pixel 2 XL Android 9 Pie Multitasking screen 805px

Photo Credit: Rehan Hooda


Last week, Google made Android 9 official and gave it a name: Pie. Whether you like the name Pie or not, the underlying features are definitely something you are going to experience in the immediate future. Most of the features that Google is introducing with Android 9 show the direction the search giant plans to take for its mobile operating system.

With smartphones getting rid of bezels and devices getting edge-to-edge display design, Google is envisioning an era where buttons will be replaced by gestures. The update brings a tonne of new features including an updated gesture menu, tweaks to overall look and feel of the operating system and things like Digital Wellbeing, which will help users understand how they are spending time with their digital devices. Here is how Android 9 Pie’s gestures work and how it changes user experience:

Getting started with Android Pie Gestures:

Google seems to be reserved about the idea of gestures being the primary interface. There is a learning curve involved for those who have been using Android for years and are accustomed to using the standard three button navigation involving back, home and recent apps. So when you install Android Pie on your phone, you will be greeted with traditional navigation bar.

The new gesture-based navigation system is optional right now but there are already rumors of Google making it the only UI option with the launch of Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL later this year. In order to enable the gesture navigation menu, Google Pixel users can head over to Settings > System > Gestures > Swipe Up on Home button. Inside this menu, you will find a toggle to enable the setting.

Once you flip the toggle to turn blue, the traditional navigation interface will be replaced with a gesture-based navigation menu. The new gesture-based interface is represented with a pill-shaped home button and a back arrow key, which is essentially a thin. Google is bidding adieu to recents menu and the back arrow only appears within apps and not the home screen.

Android Pie Basic Gestures

Once you have enabled the gesture-based interface on your Pixel or Essential Phone, here is how the user interface works

Tap: A single tap on the home button takes you to the home screen
Long Press: Long pressing the home button summons the Google Assistant, similar to older interface
Swipe Up: Now swiping up from home button brings the multitasking or overview screen
Long Swipe Up: A long swipe up from the home button pulls up the app drawer
Flick Right: Switching to last used app is now accomplished by flicking your finger to right from the overview screen
Swipe Right: Swiping right lets you browse recently used applications
Swipe Left: This gesture does not do anything
Back Button: This brings you back to the previous screen

While the gesture interface might not sound much different from the traditional navigation buttons, it does take some getting used to. There is a learning curve for gestures like swipe up and long swipe up. There are occasions when you would end up getting into app drawer when you intend to open the app switcher.

Android Pie Overview Screen

This is one of the biggest revamp within Android Pie this year. Google is introducing a brand new overview screen that acts as a big change from the one seen with Android Oreo. Now, all the apps are arranged horizontally as opposed to vertical alignment seen with apps on previous version of Android.

In order to switch between apps, Android Pie users need to swipe right or left rather than scrolling up and down. All the app windows are much larger than it was previously with the release of Android Oreo. In the overview screen, Android Pie users also get access to search bar for looking into things on their phone and the web as well as access to five suggested apps at the bottom of the screen.

Android Pie Gestures: Initial Thoughts

While Android Pie is official, the gesture interface seems very much like a work in progress. Since the release of first beta of Android Pie, Google has tweaked the interface multiple times before settling with the pill shaped home button and the elaborate interface. It also has a longer bar at the bottom for swiping across applications, which seems reminiscent of Apple’s gesture interface on the iPhone X.

The interface works but it is just not as intuitive as that of the traditional navigation interface. There have been multiple occasions when I have tried to open the multitasking interface and actually ended up entering the app drawer. Also, while you can swipe right or left across applications, you cannot swipe to go back to a screen. For that, you need to click that thin back button next to the pill-shaped home button.

Watch: How to install Android P on non-Pixel smartphone

Google does notifications and split-screen multitasking better than Apple on the iPhone. With the release of Android Pie, Google is somewhat making it difficult to invoke the multitasking option. In order to enter split-screen multitasking, Android Pie users need to first tap on the app icon and then click on Split Screen. One might argue that this is a lot simpler than drag and drop interface of Nougat or Oreo but the older seems faster.

In order to quit, you simply enter the overview screen and swipe up to remove them from the carousel. This is definitely much improved and faster than the option where you would click on the app and wait for a little X icon to appear and then tap on it to kill the app. It is very easy to say that gestures are the go to user interface, especially for future devices that will have a larger screen but smaller dimensions. It is a welcome change but since it is optional out of the box, there is a possibility that not many users will even try it.

Another thing to bear in mind that all of Google’s OEM partners have built their own gesture interface which mimic layout but work similar to gestures on Apple iPhone X. The gesture implementation on the OnePlus devices seem to be much more intuitive than that of Google’s but we will need to wait to see how it gets better with machine learning and future updates.

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  • Published Date: August 13, 2018 4:31 PM IST