Just over a month and a half ago, Google released the 9th edition of its Android mobile operating system, "Android 9 Pie", and so far the technology reviews of the update have been mixed although mainly positive. Android, the world's most widely used smartphone operating system with over two billion active monthly users, has used dessert references to distinguish its OS updates since version 1.5 was labelled "Cupcake". And while Android's naming convention hasn't changed with "Pie", many of its features that affect user experience have changed quite a bit.
In addition to some aesthetic updates to simplify the quick settings drawer and introduce new circle-shaped app buttons, Android 9 Pie changes the three standard back, home, and multi-tasking navigation buttons that have been at the bottom of the screen on Android since version 4.
Taking their place is a new gesture-based navigation scheme that retains only the home button, which now has a sideways pill-like shape. An upward swipe from the bottom of the screen brings the user to an Overview pane similar to the previous multi-tasking mode and on the pane (and in certain apps like Google Chrome) the back button becomes visible. From the Overview pane, a second swipe up allows the user to view all apps, and dragging the home button to the left or right scrubs between seven recently opened apps.
These changes to the navigation have been divisive. On the one hand, it is similar to the gesture-based interface on the iPhone X, which also lacks a home-button, and many reviewers have said they prefer gestures to the old button-based system. But there is room for improvement. Deiter Bohn at TheVerge.com notes that the gestures aren't natural enough to many users to be appealing.
"The negative reaction isn’t about how complicated gestures are...it’s about how they feel. Where the iPhone’s gestures let you flow from one thing to the next with a single gesture, Android’s feel a little more staccato," notes Bohn.
Luckily, along with most things in Android, users are not obligated to adopt the new navigation system. Users can turn off gesture-based navigation in the Android settings menu under System/Advanced.
Several other less noticeable changes have been added to make the phone's interface more convenient. For instance, several new features allow users to perform common or simple tasks without deep-diving into their apps. Users now have the ability to select and copy text from an open app on the Overview/multi-tasking pane and then swipe over and paste the text into another open app. Users can also tap and hold an app from the apps viewer pane to access quick actions - like accessing your Amazon Watchlist or getting directions home in Google Maps - without loading the app full screen.
Orientation toggling has also become smarter. Many users find it more convenient to use their phone with automatic rotation disabled so the orientation doesn't suddenly change while lying down or moving around their phone. Yet one-off orientation changes are still useful when viewing web pages or videos. Android 9 Pie anticipates these cases by adding a one-time orientation switch button to the bottom right corner when a user turns the phone on its side while in a web browser and some other apps.
Sound volume is also easier to control than ever. There are separate toggles for media volume, call volume, ring volume, and alarm volume. Helpfully, the new Adaptive Battery feature economises your battery life by restricting power to apps that are still open but haven't been used in a while.
Text selection and screenshots are also improved - by working more like iOS: Android users finally have the help of a magnifier that appears over selected text to help them carefully move the cursor, and screenshots can be immediately edited and shared before being saved.
Conspicuously lacking in the new update are the new Digital Wellness features that were promoted in the Beta releases. Similar to the Screen Time features in the new version of iOS, Digital Wellness is designed to give greater control over notifications and allow users to track their phone and app usage. Google says these features will be added in updates later on this autumn.
Photo credit: android.com