A giant leap for Android overall …
OnePlus is in an unclear situation. She is accused of violating the security of user data, and most recently, a massive credit card hack was identified, which affected at least 40,000 users who bought something on the site. There were public calls to stop buying their phones.
But the company continues to work, releasing new color options for its flagship OnePlus 5T and working on a stable release Android of Oreo for its 2017 sample devices. In the recent and latest beta (Open Beta 3) for the OnePlus 5 and 5T, the company introduced a new way to navigate the operating system. After very little time using the innovation, I declare that this is the best alternative to on-screen navigation buttons at the moment. This gesture system is somewhat similar to the gestures with iPhone X, adding Google-specific nuances to overcome the difference between Android and iOS.
Here's how it works: you activate a new item in the settings that hides the traditional Android block of navigation keys (from left to right) 'Back', 'Home', 'Recent applications'. Android has used a combination of these keys since its inception, in virtual or capacitive performance. But with the ubiquity of taller, larger displays, manufacturers are struggling to find a way to use the entire screen real estate.
After activating the setting, the onscreen keys disappear and a short introduction to three new gestures appears: swipe up from the middle of the bottom of the display to go to 'home', swipe up to the left or right of the bottom of the display to go back and swipe up from the middle of the screen and long tap to activate the recent apps screen.
At first glance, this combination almost completely copies the user experience iPhone X with its swipes and gestures, although OnePlus's decision takes into account the 'dependence' Android of the 'back' gesture, as opposed to the swipe from left side of the display to return to the previous screen.
But even at this early stage, OnePlus' solution feels quite natural and organic, which cannot be said about the navigation gesture systems from Huawei and Motorola. I have not yet had to go back to the traditional on-screen keys, and there have been no false positives. The gesture animations are a bit clunky and the vibrations after each gesture are rude, but these things can take some getting used to. Feels like for the first time you can use gestures to navigate Android without hating the phone.
Switching to gestures also deprives the user of the shortcuts that both Google and OnePlus have added to the onscreen buttons over time. For example, with the release of Nougat, double-tapping the recent apps key automatically returns to the previous open app, and holding this button opens multi-window mode. And OnePlus has a large collection of additional programmable shortcuts tied to on-screen and capacitive keys. With gestures comes simplicity, and these macros disappear.
The new functionality also does not resolve the issue of intermittent clumsiness of the Back key in Android. For many years, application developers have been forced to decide where the key should return – to the previous screen or to a specific place in the application, as Google wants. Things get even more complicated when an application is launched inside an existing one, which creates a 'matryoshka' from windows, requiring endless clicks on the Back button. OnePlus simply recreates the existing behavior using gestures.
It has long been rumored that future versions Android will dispense with on-screen buttons, given the near bezel-less displays' push for a 'clean surface' concept, and move on to a combination of swipes and gestures to navigate the OS. This fundamental change should have followed from Google itself, which, as part of its annual software cycle, then had to pass the innovation on to phone manufacturers.
Of course, Android does not work that way, over the years all manufacturers, from Samsung and Huawei to HTC, have revised and adapted their navigation paradigms in order to adapt them to any changes in Android. But until recently, the trend has been to follow what Google is doing. This was until 2017, when Samsung switched to on-screen buttons, which proved the willfulness of companies in the matter of navigation.
It's unlikely that OnePlus' gesture replacement, which now exists as an optional feature in the beta software, will become the norm on the company's handsets, at least for the foreseeable future. But this small step forward proves the possibility of the existence and operation of such a system in Android.
This solution brings dynamism to something that has long been in Android in a static state: the location of the frequently used Back button. Considering the fact that the gesture is accessible from either side of the display, we can conclude that neither right-handers nor left-handers are affected. Screens are growing, one-handed use is questionable, and therefore for me, as a right-handed person, it is very important that you do not unwind your finger in an attempt to reach the other side of the screen, and so hundreds of times a day.
Written by Daniel Bader
As a OnePlus smartphone owner and a hater of onscreen navigation keys, I couldn't get past this article. Yes, we are talking about a beta version, but I hope that as many manufacturers as possible will learn a useful lesson from the described functionality and include similar settings in their smartphones with widescreen displays with an aspect ratio of 18: 9. At least for OnePlus and their approach to their software, such a step seems more than logical and adequate.
Honestly, my world will never be the same again: I'm seriously starting to consider the feasibility of switching to a smartphone with the aforementioned aspect ratio. And 5T looks like a very attractive candidate. However, you need to wait for the Oreo update for Hydrogen (hello OnePlus) and then see where the gesture development is heading. Such steps from third-party manufacturers are perceived by users as favorably as possible, so the company has every chance to restore its image to the eyes of consumers.
What do you say, a new paradigm of control and navigation – blind and thoughtless copying or the future Android?