For a long time I was a big fan of the AOKP navigation bar. It has so many options, with up to 24 actions including the navring, but lately I barely use any nav buttons at all. What happened?
I started using GMD gesture controls for almost one year now and I really love it. I mostly use it with bezel swipe gestures for back button and last app, but the biggest impact for starting my “zero button experiment” was the app “Overlay Launcher” . I accidentally stumbled upon as I saw someone mention it in a XDA thread.
So what exactly is the experiment?
Since I was using the software buttons on my Nexus 7 more and more rarely, I wanted to know if I could actually navigate my tablet in daily use without any buttons at all.
Using the tablet without any use of any kind of navbar/navring,PIE or other software button replacement solutions only depending on GMD and OL(Overlay Launcher).
So, all I used to navigate was GMD gesture control and Overlay Launcher. GMD needs superuser permissions,OL does not. (Update: I talked to the dev about su for OL and that was his answer – “Using SU on Overlay Launcher – To issue key event such as “Back, Menu and Power”. If you use Hotspot action of keyevent, you will be required su permission. This is the only reason of using su”). GMD is way more flexible and powerful, but OL is easier for a faster start and it’s launcher launches almost instantly compared to the one launchpads of GMD. I was able to get the dev version of GMD and notice a significant improvement in launch speed.
On the other hand GMD can create up to 5 separate launchpads,where OL is limited to only one. Also you will need to completely hide the android navbar in order to get the full screen swipe gesture navigation experience. GMD has such an option, but it also hides the status bar as well. Though the developer is close to finishing a solution for the navbar only hide.
What can I do with those apps ?
Let´s start with GMD.
Think of any action you are able to do on your android device and GMD is capable of triggering it using a gesture. There are no limitations. You can use up to 5 fingers to trigger any action and you are completely free in creating the sort of gesture you like. But I wanna use it quick and simple that´s why mostly use bezel swipe gesture. I made a screenshot below and illustrated all my used gesture so you can easily see what I mean.
Here is a video to show off GMD
Let´s get to Overlay Launcher.
Its main features are the hotspots, which are limited to 1 in the free version and open to 4 in the paid version. The launcher can also contain up to 50×50 items (apps/actions). Every hotspot is highly customizable and can be used to trigger lots of different things. You can edit its trigger length, width, position and color,though I prefer the invisible option since I want the full screen and not block it with any visible hotspots which would be kinda the same as buttons. You canscroll left, right, up and down. You can choose single tap, long press or double tap and assign a wide variety of actions to it like navbar button actions, last app, assign certain apps/tasks and many more.
Again here is a screenshot of my assigned action using OL.
Here is a Screenshot so you can see the Launcher that comes with OL
(Don´t forget the impressive 50×50 grid that is possible)
Who would use such a setup?
To be honest, I doubt it is for the common user or newbie mainly because you need root for the whole experience (even though you could do quite a lot without root, only using Overlay Launcher). Also it needs quite some time to set it up properly to your personal preferences. It is more pointed to the people who wanna try some sort of new way of navigation and are not afraid of trying something new, but also for people who don’t like to see buttons everywhere and prefer gestures like some other OS use. I think people who used a Blackberry Playbook once can understand this a bit better. I used one for a few months and liked the bezel swipes even though they were very limited.
What are the pros and cons?
+ Less precise hitting necessary since you use swipes on certain areas and don´t have to exactly hit some small buttons. Once your muscle memory kicks in you don’t think about navigating anymore, you just do it
+ Less stretching of the fingers needed since you can do most gestures from the same place
+ The amount of actions are theoretically limitless, you can do anything, even more than stock android can do. Personally I think actions like last app are invaluable and should be already baked in the stock system
+ You have the chance for a 100% full screen experience without having to see any kind of visible navigation, which makes the screen feel incredibly bigger and more spacious than you would imagine
– Creating a proper working environment can take up quite some time
– There is quite the learning curve you have to get over to use the full potential of this method
– It can sometimes get complex to setup certain actions and gestures
– You have to remember a lot to not to mess things up, but you can always keep it simple if you want to
– You have to keep away from certain positions with overlay launcher since it doesn’t have a keyboard listener option. So you don’t accidentally trigger actions when the keyboard is up.
Should Google do it?
I´d say no, this kind of navigation is just too far away from mainstream and would be overwhelming for most of the users out there. Also it would never be as open and capable as both apps combined right now are.
Result of the Experiment and additional thoughts
Will I continue using the tablet without any buttons?
Most probably yes, I don’t see any reason why not. I didn’t really run into any kind of trouble since I use a similar setup on my One X (even with the capacitive buttons). Using my setup I really don’t depend much on the basic buttons anymore. To be honest, not everything is perfect. There are some apps where you have to get close to the hotspots of Overlay Launcher and sometimes I trigger the launcher accidentally because OL has no app blacklist. I did send a message to each developer mentioning some minor things I would like to be improved on and both promised to do their best doing it.
My biggest complain about GMD is the slower launching launcher but the developer promised to improve that very soon and his to-do list of awesome improvements and changes is quite impressive. Overlay launcher would need a keyboard listener and blacklist on the other hand badly to stop the accidental triggering.
This article wasn’t one of those app vs. app comparisons even though both do quite a few similar things. But they are both unique enough on their own for a standalone experiment it’s more up to what you prefer. If you want it easy and quick, I’d recommend Overlay Launcher as addition to your normal way to navigate. On its own it could be slightly too limited to allow total button less navigating. If you want no boundaries and limitless options to create gestures to fulfill all your swiping needs and the possibility to get rid of any other navigation without any sort of disadvantage GMD is the way to go.
Personally I wouldn’t wanna miss out one of both since they both in combination make the perfect team for me. It’s the perfect balance of ease of use with advanced customizations to use android on a completely different level, you’re either hate it or love it
After reading this article it should be obvious to which group I belong to. Now I would like to ask the readers, how do you navigate your android device and are you willing to try something new?