It’s time to stop using three-button navigation on Android

Justin Duino / How-to Geek

Taking a cue from the iPhone, Google added gesture-based navigation to Android in 2018. It’s been a while since then, but many people still cling to the old three-button navigation system. Allow me to plead for gestures.

A big reason why so many people still use three-button navigation is Samsung. Although Galaxy devices have built-in gesture navigation, Samsung uses three buttons by default. You’ll have to manually switch to gestures yourself – not everyone will know they can do that.

More screen real estate

Navigation Bar vs. Gesture Bar

Let’s start with the most obvious argument: screen real estate. One of the reasons gesture navigation was developed was to free up more screen real estate for content. Simply put, removing the navigation bar gives you more screen real estate for other things.

Admittedly, that’s no big deal, especially since so many Android phones already have large displays. However, it makes a noticeable difference. As you can see in the screenshots above, the navigation bar blocks a few extra lines of text in the browser. If you want to maximize what you can see on your screen, gesture navigation is the clear choice.

Faster app switching

Multitasking is another benefit of gesture navigation. It’s faster to switch between recently used apps with a gesture than tapping buttons. Three-button navigation requires you to tap the Recents button once and then the recent app, or you can quickly tap the Recents button twice. Either way, it’s two roosters.

Three button multitasking.

With gesture navigation, simply swipe the bar horizontally from left to right to slide the most recent app into the frame. You can repeat the gesture—both left-to-right and right-to-left—to cycle through apps like a Rolodex. This is much faster than typing.

Gesture multitasking.

Because of this, gestures feel smoother than three-button navigation. As silly as it sounds, tapping a touchscreen is more of a “chore” than swiping. With each tap, you wait for the associated action. The swipe feels like a more immediate response.

Natural Interaction

The practical benefits may seem small, but that doesn’t tell the full story of gesture navigation. Swipe feels like a more natural interaction with a touchscreen. Taps can be imprecise, while swipes are generally more forgiving.

For example, the “back” gesture on Android can be performed from anywhere on the right or left edge of the screen. No need to stick your thumb in the bottom corner and hit the back button. It’s much easier to do it with one hand.

Similarly, the gesture to bring up the home screen is a simple swipe up from anywhere at the bottom of the screen. It feels very tangible to literally throw the current app away when the home screen comes into view.

That’s a big part of why I think gesture navigation is better than three-button navigation. Gestures make me feel more connected to the operating system. When you have the option to swipe away the current app or bring the last app into view, a button is just a hurdle to jump. It’s in the way.

Of course, Android’s gesture navigation system isn’t perfect. For example, the “back” gesture can interfere with side menus in some apps. However, I believe the pros outweigh the cons, and perhaps most importantly, this is the way software moves. Gestures are the future.

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