Google first introduced gesture navigation as we know it today with Android 10, after initial experiments with the format in Android 9. Since then, the company has not made any big visual or conceptual changes to gesture navigation. The former changes with Android 13 Beta 3, though. The latest pre-release version of Android 13 makes the navigation bar much bigger and bolder, making it look a lot more like the design Apple has opted for on the iPhone.
The navigation bar on Pixel phones has always been super slim and mostly out of the way. This is almost a necessity as many Android apps still don’t properly incorporate it, with a lot of them not allowing content to be drawn behind the navigation bar to this date, even though that has been strongly encouraged since Android 10. Google has changed this with the launch of Android 13 Beta 3, though, with the navigation bar now much bigger and bolder than before, and the area carved out for the bar now consequently much bigger.
From left to right: Android 12 navigation bar, Android 13 Beta 3 navigation bar, Beta 3 three-button navigation
This new big bar isn’t a problem on the home screen, and it arguably looks more prominent and is easier to spot as a part of the system interface. However, the increased size also leads to a bigger cutout at the bottom of the screen on apps that don’t support showing content beneath the bar. This means that in apps like Chrome, you will sacrifice ever-so-slightly more screen real estate to navigation. Since gesture navigation is meant to stay out of the way, this new look combines the worst of both worlds compared to the legacy three-button navigation.
On iPhones, this bigger navigation bar works well because virtually all apps on iOS have been updated to properly support displaying content beneath the navigation area, including the web browser Safari. In Apple’s closed ecosystem where developers only need to support a handful of devices, this is easier to achieve, and it’s possible that Google is trying to use this new design to pressure Android app developers to make a similar move. However, the company itself needs to implement edge-to-edge interfaces in many of its own apps to lead as an example, and since the new design doesn’t negatively affect app developers but rather users, it’s unlikely that this will lead to a paradigm shift.
We need to note that this tweak will likely only affect Pixel phones and other devices that use a skin close to what Google’s first-party hardware offers. Manufacturers like Samsung and OnePlus already offer a much bigger and bolder navigation bar than Google, and it’s unlikely that they will change their current designs to accommodate the changes made by Google. Some manufacturers even allow you to remove the navigation bar altogether, giving you even more screen real estate to play with.
The new navigation bar is by far not the only change coming to Android with the latest release. For a deep dive, check out everything that’s new in Android 13.