Android Q gesture FAQ: Understanding how Android's new gestures work

Android Q is a big change for Android navigation. Let’s break it all down.

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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 Q, 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 do the gestures work?

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In Android Q, 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 will this affect in-app navigation drawers?

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On the note of the back button, you’d be right in thinking that this might cause issues with some apps. A lot of apps (including some of Google’s) use a navigation menu on the left side of the screen. These can typically be accessed by swiping on the left edge of your screen, but with Android Q, you’ll now go back instead of opening those menus.

To combat this, Android Q Beta 5 introduced something called “peek behavior.” If you’re in an app and swiping left to access its app drawer, Android Q will understand that you’re trying to open the drawer and not perform the back gesture, hopefully alleviating a lot of headaches.

How do I access the Google Assistant?

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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.

Google does note that it’s still fine-tuning this implementation, meaning it could change by the time Android Q is officially released.

Can I switch back to another navigation system?

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At least in the Android Q beta, yes.

This could change once the final build of Android Q drops, but in the latest Android Q Beta (Beta 5), you have three different navigation systems to choose from.

  • 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 Q 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.

How to master the 2-button navigation in Android Q

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?

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Unfortunately, this is one of the biggest downsides of Android Q’s gestures.

Starting with Android Q Beta 6, 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:

We’ll address the remaining issues in a post-launch update so those users can switch to gestural navigation. We’ll be working with our device-maker partners to include with their devices shipping or updating to Android Q.

This means third-party launchers should eventually work with Q’s gestures, but from the sound of the above statement, this won’t happen until sometime after Android Q is officially released.

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.

While I’m frustrated Q is initially releasing with this incompatibility, and frankly dreading the deluge of negative reviews and support requests from users who blame Action Launcher for this situation, I am confident this is a short term inconvenience and relieved the Android team is committing to remedying the situation for Q.

While we can’t say 100% for sure why gestures won’t be compatible with Android Q when it officially launches, 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 will gestures work on phones from other companies like Samsung or OnePlus?

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Similar to what we saw with Android Pie’s navigation, don’t expect Q’s fully gestural system to make its way to phones that have their own custom software.

Android Q’s gestures will be available on Pixel and Android One devices (such as the Nokia 7.1), 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 Q’s gestures compared to the adoption rate we saw with Pie, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for it.

Android Q: Everything you need to know!

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