Skip to main content

Android Pie should just adopt Motorola's one-button navigation gestures instead

Android 9 is finally out, and it's not called Pecan, Popsicle, or Pancake ... it's Pie! Along with its short and sweet name, Pie is bringing a lot of new features to Android, including a handy new one-button navigation system that does away with the black bar full of software buttons.

It's great in theory, but there's something missing from Google's new navigational system. You can tap the new "pill" button at the bottom of the screen to go home or long-press it to launch Google Assistant, which makes perfect sense — that's exactly how the home button has always worked. You can also drag the pill to the right to switch apps, either quickly to jump to the previous app or with a slower drag to open a horizontally scrolling list of apps.

There's inexplicably no gesture to go back, though, so Google just left the back button in place when you're in an app. Seriously?

What was Google thinking, not adding a back gesture?

Luckily, Google isn't the only one working on simpler navigation. OnePlus has a new way to get around the OnePlus 6 without any buttons at all — instead, it's all based around swiping up from different spots at the bottom of the screen. Swipe up from the center to go home, swipe up from the left or right to go back, or swipe up and pause to launch the multitasking pane. It's nice to win back the bottom of your screen, but I never cared for this navigation either, since switching apps is considerably slower and clunkier than with a traditional software button.

Motorola debuted its own one-button navigation format with the Moto Z3 Play, and while it isn't perfect, it's by far my favorite implementation, and in my opinion the easiest to adjust to. Motorola uses a pill-shaped button just like Android P, but it essentially mirrored the button layout we've all gotten used to on Android over the last few years — tap the pill to go home, drag it to the right to access recent apps, and drag it to the left to go back. See, Google? It's not that hard to add a back button gesture.

Coming from pretty much any Android device (aside from recent Samsung phones, which default to a reversed order with the back button to the right of the home button), this should feel super natural to move to, since you're just moving the pill towards where the respective buttons would normally be anyway. Unfortunately, with Motorola's pill you still get a slim black bar at the bottom of the screen, but it's significantly shorter than the bar when using the Android's standard three buttons, so I'll take it for now.

Ultimately, though, I'd love for Android to eliminate that black bar holding the button entirely. I mean, isn't it basically the equivalent of a notch at the bottom of the screen?

What say you? Have you been using any form of one-button navigation, or are you still perfectly happy with the three-button format we've had for years? Let me know in the comments below!

Hayato was a product reviewer and video editor for Android Central.

71 Comments
  • Yes. This.
  • Yes, this, squared . . .
  • Yes, this, to the cube root of 27
  • If they are going to use a navigation bar at all they're doing it wrong. If they're going to switch to gesture navigation they should get rid of the navigation bar or else just leave it the way it has been. Everyone knows how Android navigation works. It is easy and intuitive. The navigation gestures are not and you aren't gaining any screen space and it isn't any faster. They need to stop copying Apple for every little UI thing. You know that ban Google made on more than two notches? I would bet $100 if Apple came out with four notches Google would change their tune within a year. Wireless charging, notch, no headphone jack, navigation gestures, launcher icons forced to be the same (those white background circles are still ugly AF).. The list goes on and on... Stop copying Apple.
  • ^ you nailed it! It's pretty obvious Google is following Apple and trying to make their OS look and feel like iOS. Along with adding a notch for a phone with a bottom bezel still.
  • Well, except for the wireless charging part....
  • Nope. Google took it away in the Pixel phones until Apple added it back. Wireless charging died with the Nexus program. Apple adds it and a year later here comes Google.
  • Well that's just incorrect. It didn't die at all. Samsung has supported wireless charging for quite a bit now. Since before Apple, in fact. You know how I know? When I had an 8 Plus, I could wirelessly charge it on my Samsung Wireless Charger that I got a year and a half before that.
  • They weren't talking about samsung, they said Google (and the pixels). 
  • And the article is about Android, not Google alone.
  • I don't even want wireless charging.
  • I didn't care for wireless charging either... until I received the charger with my Note8. It's not a deal breaker, though.
  • Apple has been perfecting gestures across all of their products for years so everyone can stand to learn from them as they are known for their user experience. That's why Google and everyone else keeps copying them. I'd say 95% of the time they are right on the money regarding UX/navigation. Not to say they are perfect but most people go Apple for the user experience. If I had to nitpick the new navigation in iOS I would say the Control Center gesture/access could use some work. Control Center should probably be accessible else where. As far as notches go, it was a necessity to have it for the edge to edge design. It's not yet possible to fully implement cameras and a phone speaker under a display and mass manufacture it. They already have a patent for this and are working on minimizing the notch for now as evidenced in the leaks for this year's iPhone and eventually phasing out the notch when the tech is mature enough. Android manufacterers are shamelessly copying the notch without doing it for the intended purpose (edge to edge).
  • Apple didn't perfect anything. They just adopted gestures that have been available on webOS, BB10 and MeeGo way before their adaptation of the same. They have just omitted one very important gesture and that's the back gesture. Not all apps support edge swipe to go back but instead you have to reach the very top of the screen to tap return button. Both Apple and Google gestures are half baked. There is absolutely 0 reason for gesture sweet spot to be on the edge bottom of the bezeless screen, that makes no sense especially on Android tall screens. That requires lots of hand travel which is very uncomfortable and not natural at all. Instead gestures should be done anywhere on the screen. Android also has additional flaw which constantly makes user to operate on the very bottom of the screen as well as the top of the screen, so your hand is constantly traveling on that tall 2:1 screen. Android P haven't solved anything really, it's just instead of hunting the pixel to tap the button you know have the sweet spot to do your swipe gesture but Android wouldn't be Android if it didn't make it redundant as two swipe gesture do exactly the same thing in the process while the back gesture just like with Apple is non existant, it's a button all over again.
  • I agree, you said it. I use xposed edge, and Google’s, and apple’s are primitive.
  • So Google is copying the king of copying?
  • @Mike Dee I don't see Apple rushing to copy every new feature, design and etc that a rival implements like all the other rivals have been doing with Apple. Sure, Apple copies but I don't see them copying for the sake to be exactly like their rival. All the other rivals including (Google now, Samsung which has a long history of doing it, Huawei, Xiaomi and etc) do it to exactly match Apple to say /show their phone can do what Apple does.
  • I've been using Huawei's navigation dock button from the day 1 I got myself the mate10pro and I never went back to "standard" buttons.
    Combined with gestures from Nova Launcher and Huawei's own gestures, I setup my phone (and start screen) so clean, that could hardly go back to regular android with a bunch of icons and bottomscreen buttons.
  • Wow that's a great implementation from Motorola, definitely prefer that over what's in Android P currently. Probably too late for Google to change now, but hopefully they reconsider it in the .1 update.
  • It is great! I am using it and find it easy, fast, and intuitive. I do not even think about the navigation gestures anymore.
  • I have the OnePlus 5t, and I switched to the gestures a few months ago and haven't looked back. I do miss double tapping the home button to quickly switch between apps, but having my full (beautiful!) screen available to me is totally worth it.
  • I agree. When I got my 5t, I started with gestures. They were completely second nature within a day or two. I wouldn't ever go back to buttons. I even added a few additional gestures that fit well with Oneplus' system using Microsoft launcher. Pulled out my old Lumia a few days ago. I was constantly trying to swipe up to go back. It became really frustrating. No buttons no more. Now if Oneplus could copy chop-chop for flashlight. That is another intuitive gesture.
  • You can already do Motorola implementation on Android via this app built by the XDA dev community. https://www.androidcentral.com/e?link=https2F2F...
  • I use this, with an app that facilitates removing the original nav bar via ADB. I like that it doesn't block the screen like a nav bar. If it gets in the way of any buttons on screen, you can set up a gesture that hides the pill half-way in to the edge of the screen.
  • You shouldn’t have removed the nav bar, just put the phone in expanded desktop. Very rarely, do I need the nav bar, but it’s always nice to know you still have that function. Xposed edge does a wonderful job with gestures, and can do more than any of these other solutions( like put “ invisible” gesture points anywhere on the edge of screen, that can do anything you want). As good as it is, though, I’m not ready to go totally gesture, so when I may need a button, I just swipe up from the bezel, and use one. Heck, I can use gestures one handed, without even looking at the screen.
  • I tried using Navigation gesture app from XDA, Huawei Dock button on my Mate 10 Pro and J touch. Nothing really beats the 3 keys in terms of speed, functionality and consistency. It hides when the app needs a full screen, adds additional functions when the app needs it and is hardly noticeable as one doesn't really need the full screen for most apps. Getting into previous app, going into multitasking, bringing up split screen, going back. A touch is faster than a swipe anyday.
  • krishnansasikumar, Yes, Yes, Yes!
  • Loving Navigation Gesture, especially the options to change the shape and size of the pill. Plus I can make it transparent.
  • C'mon BlackBerry, now's your time to merge BB10 and your Android launcher together!
  • Yes! Second that motion!
  • Totally agree
  • Oh no, that's horrible. I went from a 5 yo Samsung Galaxy S4 that had hard buttons on it with the traditional navigation layout (I know, ancient) to the 1st Gen Pixel XL. The on-screen standard layout works so well. The software based bar only appears when you need it. Otherwise it's invisible. Simple. If it ain't broke, don't fix it
  • As long as they let me disable the gesture navigation crap I don't care how the implement it. I'm not going to use it anyways.
  • This. I like having dedicated buttons, it's intuitive and faster than most gestures.
  • I have a OnePlus 6 and use the navigation gestures. It has no buttons or anything at the bottom and they work great. Why have anything at the bottom unless it's just to get people used to gestures before removing it all together?
  • Use xposed edge, and you can put your own “invisible “ gestures any place you like. Say you want a gesture on the right edge, to go back, because you can reach it “one handed”, a gesture in the top middle for recents,or a gesture for home at the bottom right. You can have all that and more, there’s a pie, and you can make your own keys, if you want to. Adjustable edge points too. You can literally set the gestures up to conform to how you hold your phone, and where your fingers can reach, try it. No pill involved, so you don’t have to “search” for that too.
  • I've been using the swipe up zone navigation on my OnePlus 6 for a couple of months and have actually gotten very used to it. There are rare instances where I swipe back or to the home screen when I attempt to scroll which is admittedly annoying, but I still have come to prefer it far more than software buttons, and I don't like the idea of an ever present "pill" button either. The whole point is to get rid of the visual distractions of overlayed buttons on the screen and to open up more unobstructed screen space, isn't it?
  • I totally agree.
  • I read an article about how Google should have gotten rid of the back button on the new gesture navigation and thought 'that sounds about right' but when I actually used it, having a back button (most used button) that I could press (instead of clicking and dragging) was MUCH easier. Google did it right.
  • Hey don't kill me, but I actually love Google's navigation and would've instantly turned it off if it worked like Motorola's.
  • There's really no reason why the "pill" can't be superimposed on the screen. Once you rest a digit on it, the pill will take over from simply tapping anywhere on the screen. BB10'S gesture navigation was still miles ahead of this, though.
  • But overall, BB10 is miles behind Android.
  • Android navigation is broken. Android's old style of navigation feels like it was just thrown together. Using the back button for everything including exiting apps is not intuitive or good practice. Also the way apps are set up is confusing. Other Settings "apps" that you access from within Settings? Also, the Google Search "App" which should just be a core part of the OS since it's already integrated in the home screen. It should open links in respective apps like Chrome, etc. not in the Search App which just gives you results that link to a web browser. Weird, confusing behavior and disjointed. The fact the you are using buttons to navigate an touchscreen OS is outdated and clunky. Why not use a keyboard to navigate while your at it? Android 9 gestures are a step in the right direction. Navigation should feel more natural and intuitive like an extension of your arm. Think Minority Report. A simple swipe up into multi-tasking view to view your open apps, swipe up again and the you have your app drawer. It's like your open apps are on top and the app drawer is on the bottom and you are swiping/scrolling through them. Swiping left or right will scroll quickly through your open apps. Much better than keep tapping this button to get here or there. They really should get rid of the back button altogether and leave it up to the developer to program a back button into an app or just use swipe gestures in apps to go back or forward.
  • MOTO Z2 already has the pill gesture capable button, and it's great! Hope Google reacts to your good article before Android P is launched.
  • My Moto X4 was a replacement for a larger phone and the one-button nav was a selling point to me, in order to reclaim as much screen space as possible. The front fingerprint reader serves as the swiping epicenter, so the whole screen is available (gotta make some use from that enormous chin on the X4!). The negative is that the repetitive movements hurt my thumb joints. Seriously, I'm concerned about getting something like gamer's arthritis! Hard to explain, but the motion required for onehanded use is not as easy as simple tapping. YMMV, but I'll likely go back to on-screen buttons with my next (bigger) phone.
  • I think they originally called it "Blackberry Thumb."
  • Blackberry 10 gestures were the best. Google should adopt those gestures. Blackberry should work with Google to bring these gestures to the platform, if not for themselves.
  • Agreed
  • Absolutely Flicked via the BlackBerry keyboard on my Pixel 2
  • How were you able to get the Blackberry keyboard?
  • That's what I want to know! I tried using Cobalt's blackberry manager and that did not work on my pixel 2. It won't let me download any blackberry apps from there.
  • Tried the new navigation thing for about a month when I got Android P DP1.
    I tried.. I really tried.. but its a fail. But trying to swipe up once, then up again to get the app drawer always led to me just swiping away the default task which also uses the swipe up command to slide it away... trying to do too many things with swipe up. The 3 button system isn't broken... don't fix it.
  • Oneplus 6 has it nailed for me, turned the gestures on just to try them and haven't gone back, only problem is it's hard coded in the muscle memory after a while and unfortunately my work phone is a creaky p.o.s with real buttons, which I now struggle with and regularly feel like throwing in the nearest skip!! (Galaxy xCover 3, what were you thinking Samsung?!?!)
  • The perfect solution is the Moto phones with front fingerprint, it doesn't use the screen at all but also isn't a button that clicks, plus it's the best place for the sensor.
  • No, No, No, I don't want Google copying anything from Motorola, they're a horrible, horrible OEM, Google should copy OnePlus instead, OnePlus Oxygen OS has some really great feature for Oxygen OS.
  • LMAO calm down pixel fan baby.
  • Blackberry 10 had a nice gesture base software. If they could have just gotten the apps right.
  • This.
  • Am I the only one who actually likes Google's implementation? Works well to me, especially since they fixed the clunkiness with the latest beta.
  • I'm good with it.
  • I have no problem tapping a button to go home, tapping a button to go back and tapping a button for recent apps. That's why I'm using the preview with the default navigation option.
  • OnePlus does it the best. Stay off my screen.
  • I don't understand half the complaints I read about various smartphones. I can change phones and adapt to features at the drop of a hat. A phone UI doesn't bother me as long as it doesn't lag.
  • I came to Android in December after being with BB10 since launch. I have a Moto G5S Plus and on setup enabled one touch nav using the fingerprint sensor. I love it and it's easy to use. I've never used the traditional Android nav buttons.
  • I'd like to see more gestures like BlackBerry 10, or leave the 3 button navigation as it is. Don't go 1/2 way Google. Do it or don't. Flicked via the BlackBerry keyboard on my Pixel 2.
  • Basically I agree. No point doing a half arsed implementation.
    Either keep the nav bar and buttons or switch to gestures and dump the nav bar completely, not this hybrid "solution".
    I don't like gestures but I'm prepared to adapt if done properly.
  • Is it possible to get the newest launcher on an original moto z force?
  • Absolutely agree.
    That's more simple than it is at android P on my Pixel 2 XL
  • I love Xiaomi's method. In all fairness it's just like apples but it works nicely. Google's method is just dumb. It take up just as much space as a nav bar. Wasted screen space. First thing I do on any non xiaomi phone is disable nav bar and install LMT for pie gestures but it's not as soon as Xiaomi's full screen solution.
  • Moto has the button gestures and so does Huawei, on my P20, even a back swipe. I gain the space the stupid screen eating nav buttons took. Don't worry, it took about 5 minutes to get used to.
  • Samsung has an 'add on' called 'One Hand Operation+' that enables gestures from the side edge of the screen.
    It's configurable in terms of location, you can place it high or low up on the edge area or enable it for the full length of the device. I place it where my thumb naturally comes to rest whilst holding my 'Note 8'.
    You can enable left/right edge or both. You can enable short or long swipes or both, each swipe type having a number of configurable navigation actions for horizontal swipe, downward swipe or upward swipe.
    This is the way to implement navigation gestures, configurable by the user.