How to get iPhone X-like gestures on any Android device right now

Want to get around your phone with gestures instead of buttons? You don't need an iPhone X (or even a OnePlus 5T) to do it.

iPhone X Gestures on Android

Getting around a phone with gestures is getting an awful lot of attention right now — including right here in the Android empire.

Apple popularized the idea of gesture-based navigation with its notchtacular iPhone X, and now, OnePlus is bringing a similar concept to owners of its OnePlus 5T device.

As part of a new beta version of its Oreo update, OnePlus is giving users the option to ditch the traditional on-screen navigation keys and instead use a series of iPhone-reminiscent swipes to move around the operating system — a swipe up from the bottom-center area of the screen to go home, a swipe up from the bottom-left or -right to go back, and a swipe up and hold from the bottom-center to open the Overview function and jump to a recently used app.

(Side note: This is the first and hopefully last time I'll ever use the phrase "swipe up from the bottom" in a story.)

Even in its rough-around-the-edges form, the system is generating plenty of praise. The gang at Android Central say OnePlus "has nearly solved Android's navigation future," while the voices of The Verge proclaim this first effort to be "shockingly great" and suggest all other phones follow suit.

If all this gushing over gestures has you feeling a touch of envy, fear not: You can implement a similar system on your own Android device this very minute. All you need is the right app to do it.

Ready, set, swipe

Android actually has several gesture-providing programs with varying levels of complexity and requirements. I tried them all, and the one I'd recommend for most people is the aptly named Gesture Control — which offers the best overall balance of function and usability without requiring a worrisome level of permission access. It's fully functional in its free form, too, with an optional $3.49 upgrade that'll add in some additional settings.

When you first run the app, it'll prompt you to authorize it as an accessibility service. That access is needed in order for the app to be able to activate system functions like Home, Back, and Overview — which, of course, is core to its very purpose. It's worth noting, though, that the app does not have permission to access any networks (you can see this for yourself by looking at the "Permissions" link at the bottom of its Play Store listing) and thus can't directly transmit any data off of your device.

iPhone X Gestures on Android: Gesture Control (1) JR

So how does the thing work? It's actually pretty simple — and pretty similar to what we just described with the OnePlus setup, albeit with a few twists (and with ample room for customization).

By default, Gesture Control lets you swipe up from the bottom-center area of your screen to return to your home screen from anywhere in the system. You can swipe horizontally toward the left along that same bottom-of-screen area to activate Android's Back function, meanwhile, and you can swipe up from the bottom-center and then hold your finger down to open Android's Overview function.

It takes a little practice, but once you get used to it, getting around with these gestures is really easy and kinda fun. Depending on how you like to work, I could certainly see it saving time and making it faster to move from one thing to the next.

And then there's all that aforementioned potential for customization: In Gesture Control's settings, you can change what action any gesture performs — and you can configure additional gestures, like swiping horizontally toward the right along the bottom of your screen or swiping horizontally in either direction and then holding your finger down for even more actions.

Next-level gesture control

All of those options open up some interesting possibilities. You could assign a gesture to activate split-screen mode on your device, to launch Google Assistant, to open your notification panel, or to serve as a shortcut to any other app you want (if you spring for the $3.49 upgrade, in that final case). You could even set a gesture to adjust your device's volume or screen brightness, if you were so inclined.

Gesture Control has a bunch of tools for tweaking its behavior, too. By default, for instance, the app puts a line on the bottom area of your screen to remind you of its gesture activation zone — much like the iPhone X does. Here, though, you can opt to change the line's color, hide it altogether, or hide it and then have it reappear briefly whenever you touch it. You can even move or extend the active gesture area to make it work better for your own personal swiping style.

iPhone X Gestures on Android: Gesture Control (3) JR

The one catch: Gesture Control doesn't actually make your regular on-screen navigation buttons go away — so while you get the benefit of the fancy new method of getting around, you don't get the benefit of having that sliver of space on your screen freed up from the now-redundant traditional navigation buttons.

Some phones, like the Galaxy S8, have built-in options for auto-hiding the on-screen nav bar whenever you're inside an app. Android itself, however, has no such option. (It does have a native "immersive mode" that makes the buttons disappear during certain activities, like full-screen video viewing, but that's not meant to be an always-activated sort of thing. There are apps that'll force that mode to stay active all the time, but that then keeps your keyboard from appearing when it should. Like I said, it's not designed for this; it's designed to hide the buttons or make them transparent as appropriate so they're never truly in the way.)

Unless your device has its own nav-bar-hiding option, then — or you're among the power-user crowd who enjoys venturing into device-rooting territory to access advanced system modification tools — there aren't any great options to send the nav bar a-packin'.

A silver lining, though: There are tons of ways you can expand upon the same principle and create even more gesture-based methods of interacting with your phone — from keeping widgets a swipe away to adding gestures to your fingerprint sensor and bringing an always-accessible "taskbar" to your device. Custom launchers like Action Launcher and Nova Launcher can give you all sorts of customizable gestures for your home screen, too. The only limitation is how much time you have to experiment and figure out what works best for you.

At the end of the day, that's one of Android's greatest assets. Regardless of what sort of experience a phone ships with out of the box, you always have the ability to take control and make things work the way you like.

And when it comes to something as personal as mobile technology, that kind of power is invaluable to have.

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[Android Intelligence videos at Computerworld]

Copyright © 2018 IDG Communications, Inc.

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