You’ve probably heard the rumblings that the next iteration of Android (the as-of-yet-unnamed Q) evolves the half-baked gesture navigation, which arrived in Android Pie, into something a bit more thought-out and polished.

Before you hit the panic button, Google has done something smart and made the choice of navigation styles up to the user. If you don’t want the full-on gesture navigation, you can opt for the traditional three-button navigation, or the two-button version (which is a cross between traditional and full-gesture). The choice is yours.

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However, it’s that full gesture navigation I want to address. I jumped onto the Android Q beta program at the first release. During Beta 1, I was surprised to find the navigation controls hadn’t changed from Pie. When 9 rolled out, it was clear Google was transitioning to something. What that something was, was up to speculation. However, anyone who had even the slightest grasp on UX design knew that what Android Pie offered was incomplete. At that point, what we had was tethered to both the past and the future, but neither one took precedence. That limbo was confusing and anyone with hopes that Android was finally getting full-blown gesture navigation was left wanting more.

And then Google released Beta 2 of Android Q. To my surprise, the navigation controls remained the same. Sure, the operating system was a bit more polished and stable, but this was the 10th release of Android, surely Google had bigger tricks up their sleeve.

It wasn’t until Beta 3 rolled out those tricks were made known.

Full gesture navigation

Like a thief in the night, full gesture navigation for Android was born. Upon first boot of Beta 3 I was greeted with a window asking which type of navigation I preferred (Figure A).

Of course, being the curious sort (and knowing I’d cover this next-gen nav system for the platform), I opted to go the Fully gestural navigation route. I confess, that moment be the most excited I’d felt about Android in years. Finally, Google was offering the means to interact with applications that not only made sense, but took full advantage of modern mobile hardware.

The gestures explained

How did it play out? That is, after all the question you’re asking. Before I answer the question (you knew that was coming), let me give you the gist of how Fully Gestural Navigation works. Essentially:

  • The Home button is gone.
  • The Back button is gone.
  • Swipe up from where the Home button was to go back to the home screen.
  • Swipe up from mid-screen to open the app drawer.
  • Swipe down to open the Notification Screen.
  • Short swipe from either the left or right edge of the screen to go back.
  • Short swipe up (from the search bar) and release to open the app list.

I will admit, it took me a few hours to get acclimated to the new style. During that period of adjustment, there were times when I thought, “Maybe I’ll go back to the old-school navigation and be done with it.”

I’m glad I forged on. Why? Because once my digits were accustomed to the new swiping method of moving around the interface, I found it to not only make perfect sense but exponentially more efficient to use. That’s right, the Fully Gestural Navigation system for Android Q makes the traditional method seem like the abacus of interfaces. Using Android with one hand now is a busy, on-the-go user’s dream come true.

In fact, I was standing in line at a local big-box store, happily swiping about on Android Q Beta 3, when someone spied how fast I was zipping around the interface. The person in question looked over my shoulder and said, “How did you make Android so fast and fluid?” When I answered them, the look in their eyes was akin to a child on Christmas morning. They couldn’t wait to get their hands on Android Q, just to have that full-gesture navigation.

And that, my friends, is how truly brilliant the new Android navigation is. It’s not just change for change’s sake–it makes the interface far easier and efficient to navigate, all the while giving Android a long-overdue modern polish.

Breathe easy

For those of you who hate change, you can breathe easy, as you won’t be forced (like Apple users) to accept the new navigation style. If you prefer buttons and tapping to a button-less swiping system, stick with the three-button navigation. Or, transition to the Fully Gestural Navigation by first adopting the two-button navigation and then, eventually, move up to the full-blown gestural navigation.

No matter how you prefer your interface, Android now has you covered. But trust me when I say acclimating yourself to the Fully Gestural Navigation is well with the few stumbles you might experience during those first few hours.