Google May Kill the Back Button in Android Q

The back button has been a steadfast feature of Android devices since the smartphone operating system debuted. But it looks like if Google’s current plans for the next Android update go through, the button will be sent out to pasture in favor of a gesture control.

Credit: Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

While phone makers using Android often have their own methods and options for navigation, and the iPhone X uses a rightward swipe from the left edge of the handset as a back command, the Google Pixel 3, which runs on the stock version of Android 9.0 Pie, uses a virtual home button, or ‘pill’ for its gesture based navigation.

Users can access recent apps, their app drawer, Google Assistant or the home screen by various lengths and directions of taps on the button. However, although there is no longer a recent apps button, it still retains a virtual back button.

After examining a leaked version of Android Q it obtained last month, XDA Developers (via The Verge) have found a new command to go back. In the build, dated around January 2019, you can now swipe leftwards on the pill in order to go back, with the dedicated button removed completely. It’s also tidied up transitional animations, meaning that swapping between recent apps is cleaner and quicker.

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XDA previously found some interesting features inside Android Q in January, noting the appearance of a desktop mode and a system-wide dark mode, plus lots of other small changes that would enhance the general user’s experience should they be present on the final version of the OS.

We’ll hopefully find out for sure if the back gesture and all the other features make it to public release at Google I/O 2019, taking place between May 7 and May 9.

Along with some Google Watch and Google Assistant news, we could hear more experimental operating system news in the form of an update on Fuchsia, Google’s next-gen OS designed to work on any and every device you can think of.

Richard Priday
Assistant Phones Editor

Richard is based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, tablets, gaming, and whatever else people need advice on. Following on from his MA in Magazine Journalism at the University of Sheffield, he's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.