What you're looking at above could well be the appearance of the navigation bar in Android N on Google's next Nexus phones, Marlin and Sailfish, when they launch - and possibly all devices using the stock navbar in Android N. According to a reliable source, Google's newest Nexuses may be getting a navbar do-over, but it remains unclear at this time if the new design we're seeing here will be available to all devices running N or only Google's in-house Nexus brand. A closer look follows.
We do not have possession of any APKs we can distribute or unreleased devices, so please don't ask for them.
We rate this rumor a 7 out of 10 confidence level. The source here is one that has been reliable in the past, and the nature of the evidence they have provided is, in its context, compelling. However, we feel obligated to subtract points for the following reasons.
- We currently lack a corroborating source for this information.
- The design itself may not be final, or it may only be a design exploration - though we feel this is unlikely.
- We are unable to share our primary source - the images you see here are recreations.
As such, while we feel this information is strong enough to share, we do want to asterisk it with the above. Google can change things very late in the design process for Android, or, as I like to say: Google gonna Google. So, while this new design may be the plan right now, by the time the new Nexus phones are released and Android N is finalized, it's possible the "plan" will change.
According to our source, the new multi-colored home button does animate in some fashion when long-pressed, with the various colors expanding in their corresponding directions until they all file out horizontally. I know - it's not exactly easy to visualize, but stuff happens. As you can see, all they keys are also now opaque - an interesting change.
Unfortunately, all we have is the above image that we can share with you, at least for now. We don't know if this design will be a launch exclusive to the new Marlin and Sailfish phones, if all Nexuses will get it as part of Android N, or even if it will be part of AOSP and available to all Android devices running N. I would assume at least that all Nexus devices with navigation keys that are receiving the update to N will get the new treatment above, but again, we can't be certain at this point.
A major change to the design of the home button is bound to be divisive (... on the internet), though realistically, will have little functional impact on how you use your device. That said, redesigns are always controversial, especially when quite so many... colors are involved. The opaque keys are already causing burn-in jokes in the AP chat room, though I honestly can't say I'm super worried about that - my Nexus 6's burn-in is still only noticeable when I actively go looking for it.
But a redesigned home button with more active animation may make sense for launching Google Now On Tap in particular, as a way to brand the experience as something distinctly Google. It also remains unknown to us at this point if this new design will be featured as part of AOSP, or if it will be an experience unique to Nexus and Pixel devices going forward. With rumors mounting that Google wants to make Nexus devices stand out with unique software features, I suppose anything is possible. We'll let you know if and when we learn more about Google's newest navbar adventure.