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Google releases final beta for Android Q and changes the back gesture yet again

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The official release is “a few weeks away”

Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

Google says that it is “just a few weeks away” from releasing the official version of Android Q. Which means that today is the day for it to release the final beta version, beta 6. There isn’t a ton that’s new in this version — except that Google has once again tweaked how the back gesture is going to work. It also is launching “the final API 29 SDK, and updated build tools for Android Studio” as a part of this release.

Here is how Google describes the new back gesture behavior, which is definitely what everybody is going to be wondering about:

We’ve made further refinements to Gesture Navigation in Beta 6 based on user feedback. First, to ensure reliable and consistent operation, there’s a 200dp vertical app exclusion limit for the Back gesture. Second, we’ve added a sensitivity preference setting for the Back gesture.

The “200dp vertical app exclusion limit” is a little technical, so here’s what it means. Essentially, apps that want to opt out of having the back gesture affect their app can do that — but they’re only allowed to stop the back gesture from working on 200 “density-independent pixels.”

The idea is that some apps let you swipe through things — like slides in a gallery — so excluding a portion of the screen makes it less likely that you’ll accidentally trigger the back button. Another example is a slider on a video — setting an exclusion around that would make it easier to grab the slider and move it when it’s next to the edge of the screen.

This thread from Chris Banes from Google’s developer relations team has a photo that helps explain it:

There is also, as 9to5Google first revealed, a new “back gesture sensitivity” option. After you activate gesture navigation in the beta, this setting will let you set a preference between low and high. That’s not super clear, and unfortunately, there’s no live visual to indicate just how much screen is reserved for the back gesture. But, the higher you set it, the wider the window will be. The pop-up warns that “Higher sensitivity may conflict with any app gestures along the edges of the screen.”

It’s definitely a feature that many users will end up playing around with, because despite Google’s best efforts there is still a lot of confusion about how to deal with the lefthand side of the screen. Lots of apps put a drawer there, and though you’re supposed to be able to hold your finger down in that area to “peek” the drawer and pull it out, it’s still a super confusing gesture. (Pro tip that’s also potentially confusing: sliding your finger up at a 45 degree angle sometimes opens the drawer instead of triggering the back button.)

Google says it’s changing these gesture settings “based on user feedback,” which is a very politic way of saying “everybody has been freaking out about how confusing and potentially bad this gesture is and so we needed to change it again.” It seems that every beta has had a different take on how both the main gestures and the back gesture will actually work — so hopefully this iteration will strike a happy balance for users. Either way, time has run out to make more changes before the official release on Pixel phones later this summer.

The company is still trying to educate developers on how to deal with these gestures, and is promising another blog post soon explaining more about how they can “optimize” their apps for the new gestures.