This week’s Android 13 Beta 1 release gave us a fresh look at what Google is working on for this year’s release. While it may not be crammed with big, radical changes like Android 12, all of these small improvements are something pretty sweet. We get a more complete picture of what Android 13 looks like to be on Google I / O in a few weeks, and one of the planned events worth attending makes us look at the back with a feeling of both confusion and excitement.
The event, “Back to the Basics of System Back”, teases “predictive back navigation with satisfying animations”, and it has left many of us curious as to what this might mean for how the back motion currently works on Android. Fortunately, the always reliable Mishaal Rahman dug a little on Esper.io. Although he is only able to make some qualified guesses at the moment – blaming the lack of functionality in the current Android 13 builds – he is slowly putting together what “predictive back navigation” can actually mean.
There are two puzzles here to unpack: predictable navigation and “satisfying animations.” As for the former, Rahman is not sure what this might mean. The word has certain ties to Google’s love of artificial intelligence and machine learning, and it could be related to Android trying to guess what the end user is trying to achieve when he swipes back. Android has long been accused of confusing and messy back-navigation. Depending on the app, it can push you back through menus, back to a previous page, or all the way back to the home screen. Rahman’s best guess is that this feature will better try to detect what the user actually wants to return to – another page upstream or the home screen. This is directly related to the second puzzle: the new animations.
Fortunately, Rahman has some more concrete details about this part. He’s found code in the Pixel Launcher that points to a new animation for the back-to-home transition, closer to the way it looks when you iron up to go home. Rahman explains:
What I think will happen is that when swiping back, the app window will scale and follow the user’s finger as they swipe inward. If the user avoids a minimum distance for the rear gesture to be evoked, another animation will be played out – the one from Android 12L, which elegantly animates the icon against its location on the home screen or app drawer.
Right now, Android 13 Beta 1 is missing the code needed to actually test this animation. Rahman notes that this new gesture will look at either the home screen or the app drawer, indicating to the user what action they are taking.
Of course, if this change were so simple, Google would have made it many years ago. Instead, the company needs to modify Android to immediately track the user’s finger instead of waiting to pass a trigger area – again, which brings us back to predictive gestures – so that the screen behind the gesture can animate properly. It should also take into account that apps on Android are responsible for what the rear gesture does, which has led to this feeling of confusion in the first place. Android 13 has a new API that allows the system to check for registered traders from an app. If none, the system can use the flashy new animation to send the user either home or back to the app drawer. If there are registered traders, it can push you back through the list in reverse order. Rahman stresses that he is still not 100 percent sure that this is exactly how the system will work, but it sounds like a solid qualified guess.
All of this sounds exciting – until you think about the chaos it could release on third-party launchers. Android’s shift to gesture-based navigation with Android 10 forced many to go completely away from launchers or to continue to rely on older three-button navigation. Slowly, Google and other OEMs brought support back to phones, but it took months, and in some cases years of waiting. If Google wants to completely reinvent the backbone – especially in such a complex way as this – it could get ugly again.
Either way, we should learn a lot more about Google I / O in a few weeks. It may not find a place in the main tone, but it is certainly an event not to be missed.
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