Android P is shaping up to a be a big update for Google’s operating system, down to the basic way you navigate the OS, which Google is overhauling in P with a new, gesture-based system similar to the one on the iPhone X (or Palm’s webOS, if you prefer to trace these things back to their original source).
As rumored, instead of the familiar, three-icon array of on-screen buttons that have been a mainstay on Android phones for years (even Samsung, a longtime holdout for real buttons, uses them now), Android P borrows a page from Apple’s book and offers a single, oblong line at the bottom of the screen that you’ll use to swipe around the OS. Some things are still the same. Just like before, you’ll be able to tap to go back to the home, and holding down the home button will still bring up Google Assistant.
Google is also adding new gestures that completely replace the old icons entirely. Instead of the right-side square button to access multitasking, you now do a short swipe up, bringing you to a redesigned, horizontally scrolling list of your open applications, along with access to the Google search bar and a couple of suggested apps. The scrolling cards are actually interactive, too. You’ll be able to tap in and select and copy text without ever leaving the scrolling interface. A longer swipe up will bring you straight to the app drawer, should you need to find an application that you don’t already have open. Lastly, you’ll be able to scroll between your open applications (similar to the iPhone X) by tapping and sliding along the home button, bringing up a new interface that lets you pan over to the app you want.
The back button isn’t entirely gone, either. Google is still sticking with a virtual button there, too, although it’ll only appear contextually inside applications, not as a constant global key.
It’s perhaps the biggest change Google has ever made for Android navigation, which has used the same basic UI since the virtual buttons were introduced back in 2011 as part of Android 3.0 Honeycomb for tablets. (It would make the jump to phones later that year as part of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.) And while Google has updated the visual parts of the UI or added functionality (like holding down the home button to access Google Assistant), the base design has always been the same: multitasking button on the right, back button on the left, with the all-important home button in the middle.