When Android Pie was released in 2018, Google introduced its first attempt at redoing Android's navigation system. Pie got rid of the legacy three-button nav, and in its place, added a button/gesture hybrid system that wasn't the most graceful by any stretch of the imagination.
Now with Android 10, Google's redoing things yet again. This time, however, all of the buttons are completely gone in favor of a 100% gestural way of doing things.
This is a big change to the way Android works, and to help you make sense of everything, we've compiled a little FAQ to hopefully give you a better understanding of exactly what's going on.
How to switch to gestures in Android 10
After updating your phone to Android 10, the new gestures aren't turned on by default. Instead, you need to make your way into the settings and manually enable them.
Doing so is pretty simple, and works as follows:
- Open the Settings on your phone.
- Scroll down and tap System.
- Tap Gestures.
- Tap System navigation.
- Tap Gesture navigation.
And that's all there is to it. If you ever want to switch to a different navigation system at a later date, just follow the steps once again. You can change the navigation method at any time you want and as many times as you'd like.
How do the gestures work?
In Android 10, there are no longer any buttons at all in the navigation bar. Instead, you go home, back, and access your recent apps using a combination of different gestures without any kind of button-tapping.
We've seen other companies implement similar systems, including Apple, Samsung, OnePlus, and others, and Google's method takes a lot of inspiration from the way things are handled on the iPhone X.
Here's how everything works:
- Home — If you want to go to the home page, all you need to do is swipe up quickly from the bottom-center of your screen. This takes you back to the home page no matter what you're doing.
- Multitasking — When swiping up to go home, holding your finger on the screen for a second rather than taking it off right away will take you to the multitasking page. From here, you'll see a list of all your recently used apps and can scroll horizontally to see everything you've opened.
- Switch between apps — Piggybacking off the multitasking gesture, swipe up and hold, but this time slide your finger to the left or right of your screen. This will instantly take you to a recently used app rather than having to open the multitasking page and tapping it. When swiping left and right, you'll move through each app that's currently open in the multitasking menu.
- Back — Last but certainly not least, the important back gesture. With no more back button, going back to your previous page is done by swiping from either the left or right edge of the screen. Just like the old back button, you can use this for closing an app, going back to a previous page within it, closing folders, etc.
How does this affect in-app navigation drawers?
On the note of the back button, you'd be right in thinking that this causes issues with some apps. A lot of applications (including some of Google's) use a navigation menu on the left side of the screen. These are typically accessed by swiping on the left edge of your screen, but with Android 10, you now go back instead of opening those menus.
To combat this, Android 10 comes with something called "peek behavior." The idea is that you can still access in-app drawers with a swipe gesture, but the current implementation is, in a word, awful.
There are actually two ways to use peek behavior, and both are equally bad.
If you prefer using your phone with one hand, you need to hold your finger on the edge of your screen, wait for the in-app menu to peek out, and then swipe over. If you don't get the gesture just right, you end up going back instead of opening the menu.
The second method works more reliably, but requires two fingers to perform. From the edge of your screen where the in-app menu is, use two fingers to swipe across your display. I've found that this is easier to perform than the hold and swipe method, but the fact that it requires two fingers means it's impossible to pull off without using both hands.
How do I access the Google Assistant?
All of that's fine and dandy, but hold up a second — what happened to holding down the home button to access the Google Assistant?!
With the home button being no more, you can now bring up the Assistant by swiping into the screen from the left or right corner of your phone's display. You'll see indicators on either edge to help show you where to swipe, but after a few tries, it should start to feel pretty natural.
Can I switch back to another navigation system?
If you're updating a phone from Android Pie, yes. It remains unclear if you'll have the freedom of leaving the fully-gestural system on phones that come with Android 10 out of the box, but at least for devices such as the Pixel 3 and Pixel 2, you can switch back and forth between all of Google's existing navigation systems, including:
- Fully gestural navigation
- 2-button navigation
- 3-button navigation
The fully gestural one is what's described above and the way Google intends for Android 10 to be used. The 2-button navigation is the system used in Android Pie, and if you ask me, is the most confusing on the three available options. I won't stop you from checking it out, but if you do, you'll want to first read up on our tips for how to master it.
Lastly, Google's 3-button navigation is the system we've been using for years — featuring the iconic back, home, and recent apps buttons. There aren't any gestures at all here. Instead, it's just tapping the buttons to perform their various actions. You know, the good old days.
Do the gestures work with third-party launchers?
Unfortunately, this is one of the biggest downsides of Android 10's gestures.
In Android 10, using a third-party launcher will result in the 3-button navigation being turned on by default. Furthermore, app developers cannot update their apps to work with the fully gestural navigation.
Commenting on this, Google said:
This means third-party launchers should eventually work with 10's gestures, but it remains unclear when exactly that will be.
Some app developers have expressed concern regarding this change, including Action Launcher creator Chis Lacy. Lacy says the he's spoken with Google about this decision, and while the company does seem comitted to the importance of third-party launchers, says there's still the risk that gesture support is never added for whatever reason.
We can't say 100% for sure why this is an issue in the first place, but Lacy says it could be due to Google's System UI team being too laser-focused on integrating the gestures as tightly as possible with Google's own Pixel Launcher.
How do gestures work on phones from other companies like Samsung or OnePlus?
Similar to what we saw with Android Pie's navigation, don't expect 10's fully gestural system to make its way to phones that have their own custom software.
Android 10's gestures are available on Pixel and Android One devices (such as the Nokia 4.2), but for phones like the Galaxy S10 and OnePlus 7 Pro, they'll continue to use the custom gestures that Samsung and OnePlus created themselves.
It is technically possible that more companies will adopt 10's gestures compared to the adoption rate we saw with Pie, but I wouldn't hold my breath for it.
Joe Maring was a Senior Editor for Android Central between 2017 and 2021. You can reach him on Twitter at @JoeMaring1.
I've been using Vivid Navigation Gestures with my Pixel 3A on Android 10 with Nova and it works great so far. Kind of a workaround but allows me to use the launcher I want.
I don't really use drawers so the swipe-from-edge-to-go-back thing sounded okay to me. (I don't dispute that it is misdesigned. It clearly is. I'm just saying it doesn't deter *me*.) But I turned gestures back off after giving them a chance for about two hours, because the "Home" action doesn't take you home "no matter where you are" (to quote the official Android page on the subject). Swiping up from the bottom when I'm on an alternate screen simply brings up the big list of all apps (which this gesture has always done). Even if I'm in an app, swiping up doesn't take me "home" it just takes me back to whatever screen I was in earlier. That's not helpful. I want the "Home" gesture to take me to my "home" screen. (Doesn't sound like a lot to ask, does it?) If anyone has a workaround that can make gestures work more "as advertised" in this respect, I'd appreciate it.
Agreed, this is annoying and my biggest complaint with the new gestures. I use 5 Home screens with the first one being the main Home screen. When there was a Home button, I could be on any one of Home Screens 2-5 and tapping the Home button would return me to Home Screen 1, my main Home screen. I used this often. With the new gestures I need to swipe right several times until I reach my main Home screen.
I found the 2 button gesture system introduced in Pie to be really intuitive. I'm giving the new full gestural system a try out but so far i'm not convinced - what have i gained in exchange for the very useful back button that i used to have?!
I agree, I have really come to enjoy the 2 button gesture system on my pixel 3. It is intuitive and works well. Not sure about removing the back button entirely. I give the new one a try but right now I'm not convinced.
I just read a CNET article on mastering these gestures because the back gesture is very annoying especially with slide out menus. I can't tell you how many times I've backed out of an app like Instagram by just trying to swipe though multiple pictures on a post or words with Friends just trying to grab a letter on either end. I'm learning to start my swipe a little further in from the edge to combat that but the CNET article had a tip for slide out menus and it's genius. Swipe diagonally down to activate the slide out menus. It works consistently and I'm surprised Google hasn't mentioned it. The stupid "peek" function only works when you touch an area in-between stuff on the screen which is quite precise. Holding phone in left hand and swipe thumb diagonally from upper left towards bottom right at about a 45° angle (same motion as activating Google assistant from the bottom corners) opens slide out menus. Enjoy!
Correction to my comment above, the 45° swipe for the side menus works in either direction.. either going down or up, just go a little slower than a "flick" and it'll work every time.
No mention of picture in picture? How can this be accessed with gestures?
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