To Google's credit, though, it's offering users a choice. When new Android Q devices start going on sale later this year, they'll all have the classic three-button navigation system and the new swipe-centric system we've been talking about. And to be clear, I do mean all new Android Q devices will have these options.
To make the act of using Android feel as universal and consistent as possible, device makers like Samsung, Huawei, LG and the rest will have to offer these navigation systems on new phones, even if they've developed their own gesture interfaces. If you already have an Android phone that you eventually update to Q, your navigation system won't change by default. (For now, that seems like the only way to keep the gesture controls that debuted with Android Pie.)
The benefits to this approach are pretty clear: if you ever switch Android phones post-Q, you probably won't face a steep learning curve as you get acquainted with your new device. And by ensuring that all new Android Q devices have the new gesture navigation, Google is making it so that devices with smaller screens don't feel nearly as cramped. That said, most phone makers of note have already cooked up their own gesture navigation systems in response to the (lackluster) option available in Android P, and the last thing Google wants to do is take that option away from users.
The company will strongly "encourage" its hardware partners to embrace Android Q's navigation schemes, but the Samsungs, OnePluses and Huaweis of the world can continue to make custom skins with custom gesture interfaces for people who really want to use something different. The catch, according to a Google spokesperson is that those companies have to offer Google's gestures right out of the box if they want to include some custom gestures.
Huang said the reason for this push to standardize navigation is because of app developers: their job gets infinitely more difficult if they have to worry about how different swipe gestures performed inside apps gets misinterpreted as something else. By insisting on one (or two) main modes of interaction, Google is trying to take some of the load off developers who might otherwise have to design their software with specific devices in mind. As far as Huang is concerned, that doesn't lead anywhere good.
"If everyone does their own thing, Android apps are going to get worse," he added.
And to be clear, Google hasn't just sprung this on its hardware partners this week. According to Huang, the company reached out to major phone makers well in advance, and some OEMs have specifically asked Google to develop standard Android gesture controls. Well, wish granted, whoever you are.
With Android Q's summer launch getting closer by the day, Google doesn't have much time left to iron out the early issues with its new gesture controls. Based on what I've experienced in the last few days, though, Google has taken some significant steps forward when it comes to the ease and quality of interacting with Android. That's only going to become more important as it tries to connect with its next billion users, so here's hoping the coming months are well spent.