App development

Gesture Navigation: A Backstory

Posted by Allen Huang and Rohan Shah, Product Managers on Android UI

mobile ui

One of many greatest modifications in Android Q is the introduction of a brand new gesture navigation. Simply to recap – with the brand new system navigation mode – customers can navigate again (left/proper edge swipe), to the house display screen (swipe up from the underside), and set off the machine assistant (swipe in from the underside corners) with gestures slightly than buttons.

By shifting to a gesture mannequin for system navigation, we are able to present extra of the display screen to apps to allow a extra immersive expertise.

We wished to present people an inside take a look at how we’ve approached this problem, the rationale, and among the trade-offs as nicely. There’s some nerding out on design round gestures forward, however hopefully it supplies some perception into our course of and the way we steadiness the developer and OEM ecosystem in service of customers. Should you’re in search of extra element on find out how to deal with these modifications as an app developer, take a look at Chris’s “Going edge-to-edge” article sequence.

Why gestures?

One of many wonderful issues about Android is the chance for app builders and Android companions to attempt new, modern approaches on the cellphone.

Within the final Three years, we’ve seen gesture navigation patterns proliferate on handheld units (although gestures have been round as early as 2009!).

This development was led by modern Android companions and Android apps making an attempt some very cool concepts (for instance: Fluid NG, XDA).

After we began researching this extra, we honed in on the consumer advantages:

Gestures could be a quicker, extra pure and ergonomic option to navigate your cellphone

Gestures are extra intentional than software program buttons that you just would possibly set off simply by grabbing your cellphone

Gestures allow a extra immersive expertise for apps by minimizing how a lot the system attracts over app content material, i.e. HOME/BACK buttons and the bar they sit on – particularly as hardware tendencies in direction of greater screens and smaller bezels

It wasn’t all roses although – we additionally noticed points with lots of the gesture modes:

Gestures don’t work for each consumer

Gestures are more durable to be taught and may take some adjustment

Gestures can intervene with an app’s navigation sample

However most of all, we realized that there was a bigger difficulty of fragmentation when completely different Android telephones had completely different gestures, particularly for Android builders.

During the last yr, we labored with companions like Samsung, Xiaomi, HMD International, OPPO, OnePlus, LG, Motorola, and lots of others to standardize gesture navigation going ahead. To make sure a constant consumer and developer expertise, the Android Q gestures would be the default gesture navigation for brand spanking new Q+ units.

Understanding that these gestures don’t work for each consumer, particularly these with extra restricted dexterity and mobility, three-button navigation will proceed to be an choice on each Android machine.

So why these gestures?

We began with analysis to grasp how customers held their telephones, what typical attain seemed like, and what elements of the cellphone customers used probably the most. From there, we constructed many prototypes that we examined throughout axes like desirability, speed-of-use, ergonomics, and extra. And we put our final design via a variety of research – how shortly customers discovered the system, how shortly customers obtained used to the system, how customers felt about it.

A novel component of Android navigation for the reason that very starting is the Again button. It’s appreciated by many customers that discover Android simpler to navigate and be taught (regardless of many debates on what the “appropriate” habits is) — and it is used lots! The truth is, 50% greater than even Residence. So considered one of our design objectives was to verify the again gesture was ergonomic, reliable, and intuitive — and we prioritized this aim above different much less frequent navigation resembling drawers and recents.

Wanting on the reachability charts beneath, we designed our two core gestures (Again and Residence) to coincide with probably the most reachable/comfy areas and motion for thumbs.

Phone screen heatmaps showing where users can comfortably do gestures, holding the phone in only one hand

Cellphone display screen heatmaps exhibiting the place customers can comfortably do gestures, holding the cellphone in just one hand

As talked about, we constructed prototypes of many alternative gesture fashions, evaluating consumer scores and timed consumer duties on what finally grew to become the Q mannequin to a number of different navigation paradigms. Right here’s a couple of graphs exhibiting the outcomes of our testing:

Comparison of user ratings for ergonomics and one-handed use across different navigation modes (higher is better)

Comparability of consumer scores for ergonomics and one-handed use throughout completely different navigation modes (greater is healthier)

Comparison of average time required to complete Home/Back tasks across various navigation modes (lower is better)

Comparability of common time required to finish Residence/Again duties throughout varied navigation modes (decrease is healthier)

Comparison of average time required to complete Overview/Recents-based tasks across various navigation modes (lower is better)

Comparability of common time required to finish Overview/Recents-based duties throughout varied navigation modes (decrease is healthier)

Customers, on common, carried out duties involving Residence and Again extra shortly than most different fashions – even quicker than they did with buttons. The mannequin did, nonetheless, come at the price of having the ability to shortly entry Overview/Latest apps, which customers go to lower than half as usually because the Residence display screen.

From a extra qualitative perspective, customers seen the Q mannequin as extra one-handed and reachable, though buttons had been nonetheless seen as extra ergonomic for extra customers.

App Drawers and different App Swipes

Though we arrived on the aspect swipe because the gesture for again that greatest balanced many tradeoffs, it is very important notice that there have been arduous choices, notably in how that gesture impacted apps.

For instance, we discovered that ~Three-7% of customers (relying on the Google app) swipe to open the App Navigation Drawer – the remainder of our customers push the hamburger menu to invoke the drawer. This drawer swipe gesture is now overloaded with again and a few customers might want to adapt to utilizing the hamburger menu. This was a troublesome alternative however given the prolific use of again we optimized for what labored greatest there.

As a result of it’s by no means a aim to vary out habits on customers, we tried a number of methods to allow customers to differentiate the drawer gesture from the Again gesture. Nonetheless, all these paths led to customers pulling within the drawer once they had been making an attempt to go Again and having much less confidence that Again would work.

Past drawers, gestures are a giant change for folks and it took on common 1-Three days to adapt – specifically, customers struggled with patterns like swiping proper or left on a carousel and triggering Again.

In qualitative research, we discovered that after an preliminary break-in interval of 1-Three days, customers grew to become fluent and will constantly distinguish between these two gestures. The vast majority of customers didn’t need to swap again to three button nav (although that continues to be an choice).

Further analysis confirmed that there’s a clear adjustment section for customers to get used to a brand new system navigation (throughout many alternative navigations). In our Q mannequin, we discovered that utilization of Again goes down for the primary 1-Three days. After that interval, the common # of Again presses/day finally ends up being the identical as Three-button and our P navigation.

So What Does This Imply for Builders?

With gestural navigation, we’re aiming to maneuver ahead and standardize the consumer expertise on Android. The mannequin we landed on is the optimum one for many customers, but it surely additionally implies that among the gestures battle with current app gestures, necessitating developer changes to how customers work together along with your apps. We take our accountability to Android builders critically and need to provide help to on this course of.

There are three key steps to assist gesture navigation:

Go edge-to-edge to allow your app to attract throughout the whole display screen

Deal with any visible overlaps with the system consumer interface (i.e. navigation bar)

Resolve any gesture conflicts with the system gestures

We’ve simply printed the primary article in our “Going edge-to-edge” sequence on Medium, detailing these steps in flip. The ultimate article within the sequence will cowl among the widespread situations we’ve seen, and how one can greatest assist them in your apps.

Thanks all for the suggestions — all your feedback and interactions have helped us enhance the gesture navigation expertise in Android Q and, extra broadly, assist make Android higher every day.

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