Versus: For and against gesture navigation

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Versus: For and against gesture navigation


What’s not to like about gestures? They save tons of screen real estate and make navigating the large displays of today’s phones infinitely more manageable. That applies to both iOS and Android phones, but for the purposes of this article, I’ll be mostly referring to Android’s navigation system.

I love gestures on Android, but only when they are implemented correctly. Getting around your phone’s interface with swipes is quite handy and intuitive, especially when you’re using a larger phone. Once the bezel-less mania kicked in and devices started pushing past the 6-inch display size, the old three-button navigation system quickly became obsolete. Let’s admit it, they had a good run, but it’s time to make way for the new. Having to stretch your thumb all the way down to go back or to your home screen wasn’t the best experience, and as a result, gestures came to save the day.

But are all gestures made equal? No. I agree that earlier gesture interpretations like the ones Samsung and OnePlus devices introduced were inferior. As a reminder, these “archaic” systems require you to swipe up from the bottom part of the screen to access the Google Assistant or go back, access your homescreen, and recent apps. This was just a stopgap solution just marginally better than the three-button gesture navigation as it still required you to stretch your fingers all the way to the bottom of your device for every interaction. The same applies to Google’s initial gesture pill — it was just bad. That’s why Android 10’s new gestures are the best ones so far — they feel intuitive and are very easy to grasp. It’s pretty good that Google put on its big boy pants and forced manufacturers to use its new gesture system in Android 10.

Are Android gestures perfect? Well, no, there’s still a lot to be desired. iOS gestures are certainly better as the whole operating system feels like it’s built around them, whereas Android 10’s current implementation system, while good, feels like it’s sewn with white thread. The back gesture, for example, is very similar to what you’d get from many third-party apps available on the Play Store, like Samsung’s One Hand Operation +, for example.

Despite these justified criticisms, I still love gestures and always enable them on any of the phones I happen to use in my line of work. They often feel clunky, often mess with the navigation within my favorite apps, and generally, have lots of room for progress, but gestures are the future that I’ve already welcomed.


The reason I’m against the push for gesture navigation is that there are hardly any clear benefits that come with it. Peter says gestures are more convenient and even intuitive, but are they really? I agree that the display does look a bit cleaner without the buttons, but is that worth the hassle? Let’s break down why I think gesture navigation sucks.

It’s not faster

Doing a gesture often takes more time and effort than pressing a button. The gesture for “home” is usually swiping from the bottom of the display. Well, if you’re already there, you might as well just tap in the middle and save yourself the swiping motion. Things are even worse with the switch between your current app and the previous one that you used, the gesture usually involves two motions, one upwards and one to the side, instead of simply tapping twice on the recent apps icon.

The comfort gains are questionable at best

If gestures somehow worked from the middle of your display where your thumb naturally rests, I’d be inclined to accept their superior ergonomics. That’s not the case, however. You still have to reach the bottom edge or do gymnastics with your thumb to swipe from one of the side edges. And while Peter is right about larger phones getting harder to navigate, I don't think that's affecting the reachability of the navigation buttons. Most people still hold their phone with their pinky finger under it to prevent dropping so the larger size mostly affects reaching the top corners of the display. 

Additionally, some apps already have a specific functionality when you’re swiping from the side of the display. Usually, a swipe from the side will open a menu or a panel with additional information. But if you use gesture navigation that works with a side swipe for back, the edge is divided at an arbitrary point, one part serving one function, the other another. It's up to you to guess exactly how far up you have to swipe from to have the phone do what you want.

It saves marginal amount of screen real estate

One of the main purposes of gestures is to make your device’s screen look cleaner and give you a few more square inches for useful content. There’s nothing wrong with that; however, the days of small displays that would benefit significantly from that measure are long gone. Today, even budget phones come with screen ratios of 19:9 and some phones push that to as tall as 21:9. So in reality, having an extra third of an inch at the bottom of the display is barely noticeable. You’re sacrificing convenient navigation for almost zero benefits. To top it off, some gesture navigation implementations still have design elements at the bottom of the display that take up almost as much space as the buttons.

It's not standard

As with most things on the Android side of the smartphone market, with gestures as well, the different companies have their own vision of how things should work. Perhaps with time, there will be consolidation as the better solution prove themselves to be superior, but for now, it’s a mess of swiping from different directions, angles and sides of the display. And sure, most people don’t handle multiple different smartphones on a daily basis so that’s not such an issue for them. But when I pick up a phone at the office and see no buttons, there’s always a few moments of guessing what does what or trying to remember exactly what gestures this brand is using.

So, which camp are you in? Have you embraced gesture navigation as the future, or are you sticking to the old and familiar ways of the buttons? Tell us in the comments below!



1. ShadowSnypa786

Posts: 609; Member since: Jan 06, 2017

Im with Georgi on this one I have gestures disabled on my Samsung device. Used them for a day or 2 and I preferred just tapping on the actual icon instead of swiping. Im in the Against camp. The only gesture or swipe feature I used is to access the notification bar from swiping down in the middle of the screen very useful for big display devices.

10. sgodsell

Posts: 7515; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

It comes down to choice. Having a choice is better than no choice. This is where Android shines. iOS is, and has always been it's our way, or highway. Android has always been about choice. You are not forced to use gestures, and if you like navigation buttons better, then use them instead. The best choice should always be the customers choice. Not some company, or some way should ever be forced upon the users. That's where iOS fails.

12. Rampage_Taco

Posts: 1095; Member since: Jan 17, 2017

Nailed it right here, Gestures work for some but not all. So instead of forcing 1 way of navigation, give the users the option. I use gestures on my Note 9 because it does look a little cleaner and in the end would help prevent potential screen burn of the icons. However, there are times when it takes an extra swipe for my phone to acknowledge my swipe, which could be on my case that prohibits me from swiping from a lower point on the phone. In this situations I get an urge to turn back to button nav

13. sgodsell

Posts: 7515; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

If you have a note 9, then you should know that those navigation icons have been changing and moving around on your screen for years now. So there is no burn in from those navigation icons (buttons). Not today. I comes down to use what you like on Android.

21. AlienKiss

Posts: 241; Member since: May 21, 2019

Unless you are using the display brightness to 100% all the time and the display timeout to more than 2 minutes, you should be ok.

16. Rocket

Posts: 697; Member since: Feb 24, 2014

The only gestures that i used everyday are the ones needed to open my camera, flashlight, play/stop the music when the screen is off and swipe down anywhere on the screen to access my notifications or swipe up to open the drawer. Nova launcher user here.

20. AlienKiss

Posts: 241; Member since: May 21, 2019

I'm in the Pro camp. I absolutely love the gesture controls. It makes everything so much easier for me. The only downside is that not all apps are designed to work with it. Not yet anyway. But I admit some apps that I use are really old. If you hate it from the start and don't approach it with a neutral eye, you'll always hate it. Think positive! :)

2. Rocket

Posts: 697; Member since: Feb 24, 2014

I'm with Georgi on this one too. I have gestures deactivated on my oneplus 7 pro. Navigation bar Ftw! Google needs to update the buttons, tho because that Playstation setup feels boring already (personally prefer Samsung's design)

3. Rocket

Posts: 697; Member since: Feb 24, 2014

What we really need is access to status/navigation bar full customization. I would love to be able to switch colors add/switch icons, etc, etc

4. User123456789

Posts: 1084; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

Buttons all the all. I have ipad 6. Much better to use one click to "exit" the app and double click to access the "multitask" than using swipe and pinch ....

5. Vancetastic

Posts: 1699; Member since: May 17, 2017

I was a big WebOS fan, so I'm for gestures!

17. Crispin_Gatieza

Posts: 3164; Member since: Jan 23, 2014

The first and still the best!

6. Bogdan88

Posts: 6; Member since: Jan 03, 2016

Gestures work great on 7t pro.

7. TBomb

Posts: 1632; Member since: Dec 28, 2012

Not a fan of gestures (at all) to start, but do iOS and Android really have THAT much of a difference between gestures? I feel like they are pretty similar. Would love to hear from someone who has used both and hear the true differences besides "one is slightly better"... Can intuitive gestures really vary that much? Is it better because the gesture requires a less dramatic swipe? Side Note: I am going to leave gestures on for a week or 2 to try them out when my P4XL arrives to give it a try - but I'm not expecting it to be better than my Nav bar.

11. sgodsell

Posts: 7515; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

If your using Android, then use what you like. The original navigation buttons are still there, so if you like them, use them. If you like gestures then use them. This is where Android shines above the others. You get a choice. iOS you get NO choice.

8. CableTelcontar

Posts: 97; Member since: Nov 19, 2014

Way back when I got my wife a BlackBerry Passport, I never really could use her phone. All that "gesture" nonsense was just ridiculous to me. Still ridiculous now. No. No gestures.

9. CableTelcontar

Posts: 97; Member since: Nov 19, 2014

And what the fraggle does he mean by "intuitive"? People throw that word around but I don't think it means what they think it means. From the ancient days of dumb phones, there has always been a button at the bottom for going back or going home. If my grandma picks up a phone today, she expects there is a button at the bottom for back and home. THAT is intuitive.

14. Chris_ABN

Posts: 196; Member since: May 16, 2018

I hate gestures. Period.

15. monoke

Posts: 1186; Member since: Mar 14, 2015

I hope OEMs continue the option to choose both. I love gestures but there's been far too many times where I'm swiping more than once cuz it didn't register the first time. The traditional 3 soft keys register 98% of the time but they just take up screen space as the only negative.

18. wickedwilly

Posts: 740; Member since: Sep 19, 2018

The best option is a customizable combination, by a long way. One of many reasons IOS is just not in the same league as Android.

19. hurrycanger

Posts: 1769; Member since: Dec 01, 2013

Gesture allows me to use all my screen estate in apps. Any apps. Chrome, Facebook, messages, Instagram, you name it. It's not like 10% more screen, but it feels significantly better. But not all gesture implementations are the same. Samsung's implementation (3 swipe areas at the bottom instead of 3 buttons) is my favorite. I believe that's what Oneplus uses as well, and something called Vivid Gestures on play store. The others seem a bit annoying to use, including Google's pill. After using it, looking at a phone with on screen button is a tiny bit annoying. Same thing when looking at the iPhone X and newer. It has gestures and no button, yet you still lose an obvious area at the bottom of the screen in almost every app.

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