2 years after Apple, Android phones still cannot get gesture navigation right

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
2 years after Apple, Android phones still cannot get gesture navigation right
The very mention of the Apple brand seems to trigger an emotional response in pretty much every tech enthusiast out there: some swear in loyalty to the brand, while others hate it with a passion.

With so much emotions, it's often hard to look objectively at the Apple side of the industry, and every strong claim - be it positive or negative - is bound to get a strong reaction. Fully understanding that, I am still convinced: in the nearly two years since the iPhone X launched with its brand new gesture navigation system, Android phone makers have rushed to catch up with Apple and despite the many efforts, no one has managed to do it just right.

But in order to criticize Android phone makers approach to gesture-based navigation, we have to take a close look at what makes the iPhone X with its gesture navigation so different and special.

What makes iPhone gesture navigation better?

It feels different, but how do you describe a feeling?

Let's make one thing clear: the iPhone was undisputably first to introduce a gesture navigation system. Unlike some other Internet controversies, there is really no other Android phone that used gesture navigation throughout the system when the iPhone X launched. This would not matter all that much: being first just for the sake of it is after all not something one should be proud of, but what it does clearly show is that Apple was clearly innovating. The fact that multiple other Android phone makers quickly started introducing gesture navigation shortly after the iPhone X strongly suggests that they were rushing to catch up and reacting to Apple setting a trend.

Understanding the way the iPhone X used gestures is really easy: you swipe up to go back to the home screen, swipe and pause shortly to get to the recents cards, and swipe from the edge of the screen to go back a step.

Such a superficial description of the works of the gesture navigation system, however, risks convincing the unaware user that any other company that implements the same directional gestures could just call it a day and say it has properly implemented gesture nav.

The devil is as always in the detail and that detail is brilliantly explained in a WWDC 2018 presentation called "Designing Fluid Interfaces" where Apple designers explain the little things that they had to spend long hours working to get just right.


There are a few key details, a few things that happen behind the scenes to make the iPhone gesture navigation feel so light, smooth and enjoyable. We will shortly go through them and then quickly see what's going on in Android land.

Latency



The first things that you will notice is off on many Android gesture implementatons is latency. Things are either just a bit jittery, or don't quite happen instantly. And latency is an extremely hard thing to get right: it's a simple definition, get everything to run at 60 fps always, and you are done, but... how do you do it?

Apple explains the importance of getting the latency of gestures right with a few analogies and says it has worked the extra hours to get it to that 60fps level:


Redirectable interface



What does that even mean? Well, redirecting is the ability to change your mind, tap to open an app and decide right in the middle of it that you first need to go back home, and then open multitasking, and then on and on. The "redirecting" part is our ability to change our mind constantly in midst of doing something. Some of the best Android implementations simply lack this feature (for example, Huawei's gesture system basically copies the Apple gesture directions, but does not support redirection of gestures).

Here is how Apple explains its redirectable interface:


One gesture



Having redirection and perfect latency, means that gestures are not viewed as separate, but kind of as one motion, just in different directions. Here is why this matters:


The lightness of multitouch



The other secret aspect of Apple's iPhone gestures is something called lightness or the way a tiny gesture is amplified into a bigger animation and action, but still feels light, so you don't need to swipe from one end of the screen to the other just to get an app to close.


Android Gesture Struggles



Android phone makers have been trying to create a gesture interface with some phone makers copying the Apple way of doing gestures (Huawei, Xiaomi, most recently Google), while others have their own take (Samsung, Apple).

The struggles of Google itself are quite revealing: the company introduced a weird mixture of gestures and buttons for navigation with Android 9 Pie, but it was just a strange concoction that never felt fluid and was blasted by even loyal Android blogs. Eventually, Google gave in and it is working on a iPhone-esque navigation system with Android 10 Q, but first betas shows that it lacks the refinement, the aforementioned lightness, latency and one gesture feel that Apple has worked hard on achieving.

Others like Samsung, for example, have gone with their own take on gestures, but they can feel cluttered, all starting from the bottom of the phone and none utilizing the sides (probably because they would conflict with Samsung's Edge panel functionality). The animations are nowhere nearly as smooth and the experience is just not as fluid.

We have already mentioned that Huawei and Xiaomi have basically copied the iPhone gesture system, but Huawei does not support redirection and the latency is just not there on even their top phones, let alone the more affordable devices.

OnePlus is the only one that gets latency close to what Apple achieves, but it's not quite there and its own take on navigation also includes a ton of swipes from the bottom which often interfere with in-app buttons.

Overall, we have everyone doing gestures their own way and no one quite doing them right, which shows that all these companies were reacting and often rushing to get a solution after Apple, but none so far have the refinement of the iPhone gestures. Let's hope that this changes in the near future.

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79 Comments

1. Tipus

Posts: 894; Member since: Sep 30, 2016

LMAO! Victor is on the roll :)))

17. sgodsell

Posts: 7431; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

Victor you talk about Apple's gesture navigation system, and how in your eyes it's the best. However Android has always been about choice. Something that Apple has NEVER been. If you want a gesture system, then you can have it on Android, and there is more than one gesture navigation to choose from. However if you like navigation buttons. Then Android has you covered, and there is multiple versions of that as well. Apple had to introduce another navigation system for the iPhone X, especially since Apple's one touch button (and TouchID) was gone, and it's display grew to 5.8 inches. Androids multiple navigation buttons were superior to Apple's one touch button navigation. Hands down. Plus in many ways Androids navigation buttons are still faster, and superior to Apple's gesture navigation. But if you like gestures, Android gives you that, and if you like the navigation buttons Android gives you that too. Apple it's our way or the highway. Clearly Victor would enjoy being under Loki's (Avengers) subjugated rule. You don't just have one way with Android, Victor. You have multiple navigation systems. But no, you don't want to mention any of that, do you Victor?

75. Mikele

Posts: 175; Member since: Nov 19, 2013

Don't mind him always wants attention.

125. Dbosss unregistered

Apple does one and works perfect, android does it in 100 ways still nothing matches apple's perfection!! I would say the contents that victor added is something useful to know how the feature actually works! i would appreciate it rather than bitching it. Oh yeah! i use galaxies since i born and i tried apples gesture systems and delighted using it!

22. Cat97

Posts: 1923; Member since: Mar 02, 2017

Except OnePlus. They have perfect gesture navigation. The Android Pie gesture navigation sucks.

23. maherk

Posts: 6939; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

The gestures on Huawei devices are perfect as well. No delay or lag whatsoever.

101. mootu

Posts: 1527; Member since: Mar 16, 2017

100% agreed.

49. oldskool50 unregistered

Coming from a guy who thinks Samaung should drop the S-Pen from the Note. Instead of just saying, get a Galaxy S instead. Victor is a certified insane crazy loser.

122. Atrixboyyy

Posts: 605; Member since: Nov 03, 2011

I thought that was a pretty ridiculous claim as well.

71. TheOracle1

Posts: 2331; Member since: May 04, 2015

I'm switching to Apple just because of this nonsensical clickbait article.

2. Plutonium239

Posts: 1231; Member since: Mar 17, 2015

I don't care about gesture navigation. Having navigation buttons works just fine for me.

13. adecvat

Posts: 644; Member since: Nov 15, 2013

> 2019 > navigation buttons /facepalm

20. sgodsell

Posts: 7431; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

Why would that be a facepalm, when Android gives you multiple options. Apple gives you only ONE option. If you enjoy being a sheep or falling in line with what ever Apple dictates to you, then adecvat. Sheep will be sheep. I guess Apple is proud to have you as a follower.

34. DolmioMan

Posts: 334; Member since: Jan 08, 2018

While I respect that Android gives you choice, Apple still has the better gestures and by far the most responsive interface. If you’re a die hard Android fan then you have the choice of sub par gestures or dated navigation buttons.

51. oldskool50 unregistered

Navigation buttons arent dated. Doesnt your car still have manual navigation buttons in addition to the onscreen ones? Because my car does. In fact in have ma dual controls for the air system and audio system and both also have onscreen navi buttons and I have swipe gestures too. I use all of them. Buttons are faster then I am driving because I can feel what I am doing without looking. Something you cant do with onscreen navi. Calling buttons dated is stupid. Doesn't your tv remote still have buttons? Even tvs still have manual buttons on them even if they are hidden. You just sound stupid. Preferring ome over the other, doesn't make it better. It actually has to be better. Like Face ID over FOS. You may prefer it, but it's not better than FPS. Just like for writing and drawing your fingers are not better than a pen or pencil. Gale digital paint is not better than real paint.

91. DolmioMan

Posts: 334; Member since: Jan 08, 2018

You talk a lot without saying much. Nav buttons take up space on the screen and if you hide them then you have to perform a gesture to reveal them... Your example with the TV is stupid, TV’s used to have buttons on them but then we found a better way and created the remote control, there are still buttons on those because it’s simpler, cheaper and better than touch controls whereas gestures are straight up better than nav buttons.

92. Plutonium239

Posts: 1231; Member since: Mar 17, 2015

I do not care that the buttons take up room on screen. I would support having thicker bezels on the top bottom and side for more impact protection from drops. I dislike super thin bezels, it leads me to accidentally touching the screen when I hold it.

120. oldskool50 unregistered

How do they take up space? The old buttons were built into the phone. The latest ones are on the screen. When I don't need them they disappear. So what space are they using? Even when they are on the screen, they dont take up that much space. If you are gonna complain about buttons taking up 1/4"of thickness on a frikkin 6"+ display, then dude you are a joke.

37. apple-rulz

Posts: 2186; Member since: Dec 27, 2016

sgodsell you snap to attention on every Apple article, so you’d definitely fall into the sheep category. Apple owns a piece of your mind and soul, that much is obvious.

45. Matte_Black13

Posts: 27; Member since: Oct 12, 2018

MOST of Android gives you the option, but not all. Unless something has changed, Pixel phones on Pie DO NOT have the option of buttons. At least when I had it, it didn't.

50. TBomb

Posts: 1563; Member since: Dec 28, 2012

I have nav buttons on Pie in my P2 XL

113. Jtox1968

Posts: 1; Member since: Jul 11, 2019

I'm a Pixel owner and yes, we do indeed have a choice!

100. ShadowSnypa786

Posts: 592; Member since: Jan 06, 2017

Same I keep my navigation buttons on, not a fan of swiping up and down when I can just tap it instead when its faster.

3. haruken

Posts: 306; Member since: Nov 06, 2013

'all starting from the bottom of the phone and none utilizing the sides (probably because they would conflict with Samsung's Edge panel functionality)' Samsung's One Hand Operation says hi. More advanced than anything out there, even by GOD Apple.

4. pogba

Posts: 112; Member since: Jun 13, 2018

You have a right to an opinion victor, i respect that. But i also have a right to disregard your opinion if i feel like so. And i do.

6. YeahYeah

Posts: 250; Member since: Mar 16, 2016

Victor... you desperate now

32. srgonu

Posts: 557; Member since: Feb 13, 2012

Victor you can prove you are unbiased with your next title: 10 years after Android, Apple iphones still didn't get the customization at all.

7. rebretz

Posts: 114; Member since: Dec 26, 2011

I want to know how Phonearena lets an article like this get published. There is at least one huge factual inaccuracy. After that I gave up on this article. Apple was not the first to use gestures as the navigation in the UI. Palm all the way back in 2008 or 2009. I mean this isn't the first time Victor has written complete false hoods. Maybe he doesn't remember any phone having gestures first but a little research goes a long way.

11. maherk

Posts: 6939; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

And it's not like Apple was inspired by Palm OS' gestures, they completely ripped off the whole thing and implemented them as they are in IOS.

26. palmguy

Posts: 982; Member since: Mar 22, 2011

Oh yes, they did.

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