Sunday, 12 February 2012

Bezel Swipe, a Solution to Pan and Swipe Confusion?

Release of Google Chrome beta for Android was an event that many of us have been waiting for a long time. The new browser is very good even in this early beta phase. 

Google didn't choose to follow an easy way simply replacing the rendering engine in the stock Android browser but did instead rethink mobile browsing user experience. Chrome for Android has a lot of small subtle animations and details that might or might not be gimmicky. Some of them are very useful and some of them might end up being not useful. My tip of the hat to Google's team for trying these things. Time will tell which ones they should let in and which ones they should take out.


Bezel Swipe, Goodbye Pan vs. Swipe Problem
The new browser also introduced a gesture that is not much used on Android but has been utilised on other platforms even in very central tasks like multi tasking etc. It is the bezel swipe. Bezel swipe is a swipe gesture that starts outside the phone UI ie. on the phone's bezel.

A browser is a superb example of a gesture confusion problem I wrote about couple of months ago. In short the problem is that it is difficult to differentiate between user's intention to swipe and to pan the UI viewport.

On a browser user can zoom into a web page which makes the page too big for the screen. User will then move around by dragging with a finger. This is all good and well but what if we want to provide a gesture to move between tabs? A swipe won't do because of the above problem. Having to pan to the edge before changing the tab the way you move between zoomed pictures in the gallery would be awkward.

In the new Chrome browser user can move between tabs using the bezel swipe gesture. While it is not yet perfect (getting the app to recognize the gesture isn't always bullet proof) it is very usable. Once Google engineers tweak the technical gesture recognition algorithms to perfection I believe that this will be very good way to solve the gesture mixup problem. 



New Gestures Always Come with Problems
Introducing new gestures always has the problem of gesture discoverability. Panning and even swiping can be discovered by accident if they're implemented correctly. But what are the chances of users discovering the bezel swipe? For now every app using this gesture must point it out to their users explicitly. But maybe it becomes a common place on Android platform and users start to expect it. We will see.