Opinion: Android Pie’s Gestures Are Pointless

I never do opinion pieces (my last one was published back in 2016). I tend to include my thoughts, if I have any, in my reviews which can get pretty lengthy. But I’ve been sitting on a particular opinion I didn’t think was appropriate to shove into my OnePlus 6T review (read that here!). Instead, I wanted it to linger a bit longer with me and see how I felt a few days later.

Unsurprisingly, I feel the same way. Android Pie’s gestures are pointless.

Okay, I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Let me fill you in on what Android Pie gestures even are.

Google demoing Android P’s gesture system onstage at I/O 2018. | Image: Google

Back at I/O 2018, Google announced Android P (as it was called at the time) would include a suite of gesture controls that would replace the traditional three-button navigation bar. To say it “replaces” the bar is a bit of a stretch, however, since the gestures stand as a similar idea to a three-button system just with some added flair. The feature was implemented likely in reaction to Apple’s iPhone X which was entirely gesture-controlled and still is to this day. But by no means are Android Pie’s gestures as good as what Apple has on its devices.

As I mentioned earlier, I have a OnePlus 6T review unit which I used to conduct my 6T review. On this particular device, you have the luxury of switching between a traditional three-button system, OnePlus’ proprietary gestures that heavily resemble the iPhone’s, and the default Android Pie gestures. I’ve stuck with OnePlus’ system as I find it to be the most fluent and sensible option, but I gave Android Pie’s system a chance as well, and by God does it make me sad.

In a nutshell, Android Pie’s navigation system is a super cheap way to call your phone “gesture-controlled.” You have a normal home button but in the shape of a pill instead of a hollow circle, a back button that only appears once you’re in an app, and no recent apps button. Why no recent apps button? Because you swipe up on the home button to access your recent apps tray.

That’s the only gesture in this gesture-based system. I don’t know what Google was thinking (or drinking, for that matter) for them to decide simply replacing one button on the navigation bar with a swipe-up gesture is enough. Admittedly, you can also drag the home button to the right or left sides of the screen to shuffle between apps, but it’s implemented so clumsily that I don’t even call it a gesture. Nothing moves fast enough for me and I always find myself just swiping through the recent apps meu like I’ve done on Android for years instead.

When I look at Android Pie’s gestures (not even use them, just look at them), I wonder why there’s only one gesture that people will actually use in the entire system. No one’s gonna swipe in their navigation bar, no one. So why only one gesture?

I wish I had a statement or something from Google to include in this section, but I don’t. This is just the company’s implementation, and it sucks.

Getting back to my original point, what Google did in this case is completely pointless. Tapping a recent apps button is as easy as (if not easier than) swiping up on the home button to get to the same exact screen. Having the back button temporarily to the left of the home button while you’re in apps makes zero sense since you’re a-symmetrical at this point and it looks aesthetically unpleasing. On top of that, the fact you have to tap the home button to go home and not swipe up is ridiculous to me since this is supposed to be a gesture-controlled interface, not a tap-tap-swipe interface.

And then there’s the drag-the-home-button gesture which, 🤦‍♂️, is just dumb. If I can just swipe up on the home button to do the same thing and probably get to my app faster than dragging a stupid pill-shaped button across the bottom of my screen, I’m gonna do it. It’s yet another pointless initiative in Google’s gesture-based interface for Android.

It’s even worse when you have a Pixel phone. Since you swipe up on the home button to get to recent apps, when swiping up anywhere on the Pixel 3’s home screen, you immediately enter the recent apps view with your home screen’s dock at the bottom. Another swipe up will get you to your app drawer. To be clear, I haven’t tried this implementation for myself, but at least according to those who have used it, it’s pretty bad. I just hate the idea of it.

That’s why I’m such a huge fan of OnePlus’ gesture system on the 6T. You swipe up to go home, swipe up and hold to go to recent apps, and swipe up from the left or right side of the bottom of the phone to go back. It’s cohesive, the animations are beautiful, and it makes sense.

What Google tried to do with gestures on Pie simply make no sense to me since they’re a very incremental improvement on what Android has had for years. I just want something more drastic of a change, something that those using an iPhone X or newer could get used to if they decided to switch to Android. I know OnePlus has it, but Google certainly does not.

At the end of the day, Android Pie’s gestures are just pointless. You might as well just use Android’s standard navigation bar if this is all you get out of Google’s gesture controls. They’re just pointless, and the fact you can’t get rid of them on the Pixel 3 makes me sad. Good thing I have a 6T.