The problem with the new "navigation drawer" UI pattern

As you probably know, Google recently unveiled the official Holo design guidelines for for pull-out sidebar menu, and is currently pushing out the pattern to many of its apps. The official design guidelines can be found here.

Most of the commentary on this has been overwhelmingly positive. For example, here is Android Police praising the new UI pattern, and here is commentary from Taylor Ling.

I mostly agree with this. Sidebar menus have been implemented by different apps (including Google apps) in a rather haphazard fashion until now, so it's a good thing that Google has finally come up with a proper standard on how this is supposed to work. In general, the new UI pattern makes three big changes compared to how this was implemented before:

1. The action bar doesn't slide
2. The menu is accessed by dragging right from a small touch target on the left-hand side of the screen
3. The menu overlays the content rather than shifting it to the side

All of these changes make sense, and overall it's a successful effort to reconcile sidebar navigation with an existing UI paradigm that relies heavily on lateral swiping of tabs.


Even though the new navigation drawers make a lot of sense on paper, I can't shake the sense that I don't like how they feel.

After some experimentation, I think I know why this is. Compare the following two screenshots (I have turned on visible touches in developer settings). First, we have the classic pull-down Android notification tray:

And here we have Google Drive, featuring the new navigation drawer:

Notice the difference?

With the notification tray, the edge of the tray snaps directly to the point of touch, so it feels like you're directly manipulating the tray with your finger. It feels snappy and responsive.

With the navigation drawer, the edge of the drawer sits about .5 cm to the left of the touch input. It feels like you're dragging the menu with an invisible forcefield.

This sounds like a small distinction, but I actually think it makes a big difference. As much as we all mock Apple for their overuse of superlatives like "magical" and "delightful", the fact is that touchscreen devices do feel rather magical, and this is because they create the illusion that you are physically moving objects with your finger rather than giving commands to a computer. When I pull down the notification tray, it feels nice because it feels like I'm manipulating it directly. But when I pull out the navigation drawer, it feels like I'm using a shortcut command to open a menu on a computer program.

Fortunately, this is really easy to fix. Google just needs to make so it that when you pull out the navigation drawer, the edge of the drawer snaps directly to the touch input. Just make it work the same way that it currently works with the notification tray. It's as simple as that.

I guess they could also add some sort of visual indicator to show that you are currently touching the drawer, analogous to the horizontal blue bar on the notification trayer. But this is entirely optional - the really important thing is just to align the touch input with the object that you are moving on the screen.

Any thoughts?