The Android operating system has evolved a lot from the first to the current version, but there are also constants that have remained until today. This includes the basic idea behind the main navigation, which includes the back function, among other things. With Android 13, this should now become intelligent and can trigger different actions depending on the AI decision.
Android has always had a back function that can be used to return to the last step. It started with a hardware button, later a software button, and today it’s a gesture, but the idea behind it is the same. But back is not the same as back. Sometimes you want to close an open menu, sometimes return to the last screen, sometimes undo an action, and sometimes exit the entire app. Especially with the last one, it can still be observed today that many people tap the button several times in quick succession or perform the gesture.
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With Android 13 one would like to introduce the predictive back navigation, the name of which already reveals that something is to be predicted. This means that the back button will continue to fulfill its numerous duties, but the operating system will decide which function to trigger next. Unfortunately, due to a lack of functionality, it was not yet possible to find out exactly how this is supposed to work in the first beta and via teardown.
Basically, however, we know which actions can be triggered and that this is decided according to certain patterns or an AI. It is quite possible that the function will adapt to the user. But app developers should also be able to set signals to prioritize certain actions. It could be that this causes problems and confusion, especially in the first implementation.
What I think will happen is that when swiping back, the app window will scale and follow the user’s finger as they swipe inward. If the user lets go past a minimum distance for the back gesture to be invoked, then another animation will play out — the one from Android 12L that gracefully animates the icon towards its location on the home screen or app drawer.
But the back navigation should not only be more intelligent, but also more beautiful. There is talk of new animations, and there is even talk of “satisfactory animations”. What that means is largely unclear, but the above description by Mishaal Rahman probably sums it up quite well. So far he has not been able to understand it himself, but he has been able to determine it from the numerous code fragments.
We can be curious to see in which direction this development will continue. To me that sounds like great progress, but it will probably cause trouble, especially in the first few months. It’s just an estimate, maybe it will work well from the start. At the latest from Android 14 and a short period of getting used to it, you probably won’t want to do without it anymore. It could become problematic especially for third-party launchers to deal with.