What is the navigation bar on Android

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The Android navigation bar is one of the basic elements of the interface of this operating system. It mainly allows you to move between the different menus and sections that you have on the screen. Depending on the button you press, the result is one or the other. This element is usually located at the bottom of the screen and is always accessible to the user, with some exceptions. For example, when you play a video in full screen or play a game, this item will be hidden automatically. In all other situations, it will always be visible.

The navigation bar, as a concept, was not released with any specific version of Android. Rather, it has historically been in charge of replacing the physical buttons on some specific smartphone models. In general, the trend of manufacturers has been to take better advantage of the front of the devices and give ground to the screen. However, the navigation bar, virtualized or physical, has always been there. To this day, with the obsessive race to stretch the screen to unsuspected limits, this element is an intrinsic part of the interface.

Although device manufacturers can customize it to their liking, it usually consists of three buttons:

  • Back button or back button: Usually, this button is in the left zone of the bar. Some manufacturers, such as Samsung or Xiaomi, allow you to customize your situation and set it both in the left and right areas. Thus, they allow one of the most used elements of the navigation bar to be always available regardless of whether you are right-handed or left-handed. Its main function is to undo the last action you have carried out. Android stores a history of all your movements to which you can return by pressing the back button. For example, if you open Google Chrome, do a search and access one of the results, with the back button you can go back between those three actions, closing the application itself, if you wish.

back button

  • Start button: Located in the center, it is responsible for returning us to the main screen. If you activate it while inside an application, you will return to the launcher. In recent years, the home button has taken on another function. With the advent of virtual assistants, like Google Assistant, it has become a shortcut to quickly invoke them. In the latter case, you need to long press on it.

start buttonstart button

  • Recent items button: The last item on the bar is responsible for activating multitasking. In this way, you can, at a glance, see all recent applications. This view shows all those apps that have been opened and that have not been explicitly closed by the user. However, that does not mean that all of them are in permanent execution, since the system is in charge of closing them for a better management of energy and RAM memory. Additionally, this button can be used to quickly switch between the two most recent applications, with a quick double press, or to activate the split screen, with a long press. These last two functions are active according to the manufacturer.

Recent buttonRecent button

The navigation bar in danger of extinction?

The use of this very basic element in Android seems to be on the wane. With the arrival of the iPhone X, in 2017, Apple eliminated its classic and unique navigation button and presented a series of on-screen gestures that were responsible for replacing it. Quickly, some manufacturers in the Android world, such as Xiaomi, they tried to copy said system, which replaces the navigation bar and makes better use of the space on the screen. Google, for its part, introduced this feature natively in Android 10, officially launched in 2019.

full screen gesturesfull screen gestures

Thanks to gesture navigation, the back button is invisibly positioned on both sides of the screen and activated by sliding from its edges. On the other hand, the home button has become a quick gesture from the bottom of the screen to the top. Also, if the user pauses in the center of the screen, recent applications are accessed. The voice assistant runs from the bottom corners.

These gestures have not been without controversy. In fact, have a serious compatibility problem with many applications that, following Google’s own patterns, placed their main menu on one of the sides. Therefore, many users find a direct conflict between opening an application menu and the gesture that allows you to go back.

In any case, the navigation bar still present in the latest version of Android. In fact, in their initial configuration, devices usually offer it as the default navigation method and leave it up to the consumer to use the gesture system or not.