When I used the iPhone X for a month, one of the things I most loved about the experience was Apple's gesture navigation model. It was simple and, once I'd become accustomed to it, extremely quick and natural to use. The bonus to Apple's approach is that it completely obviated the need for anything like software navigation keys, opening up more of the screen for content. The iPhone X also looks striking as a result - the edge-to-edge screen displays content from top to bottom - and it allowed Apple to keep the phone a more manageable size.
Google has now entered the gesture navigation fray, along with OEMs like Huawei, Motorola, OnePlus, and others that have been experimenting with alternative nav models for years now. Google isn't eliminating the navigation bar, though - it's just been reimagined, and in its current state, well... I'll be blunt: it sucks.
If you haven't used the new gesture navigation or are otherwise unfamiliar with it, I'll give you a quick primer. The multitasking button is gone - that's the first thing to know. The home button is now a pill, and the back button appears in apps, but not on the launcher. Swiping up on the home button opens the new multitasking interface (which I actually think looks great), and swiping up a second time opens the app drawer (this makes no sense). Or, if you're on the homescreen, a long swipe up to the middle of the screen briefly opens the multitasking UI then flips open the app drawer. Swiping right on the home button allows you to quickly switch back to the last app you had open (functionally, this is equivalent to double-tapping Recents, aka Overview, on Oreo).
Google has taken what was a not-particularly-attractive but otherwise functional navigation model and replaced it with one that isn't any better (arguably, it is worse). At the same time, I'd argue strongly that this new navigation bar is even uglier than the old one. It's visually uneven with the missing multitasking key, and now the back key isn't filled. I suspect the latter inconsistency is about highlighting that the back key is ephemeral, which I get, but it looks like something out of a bad custom ROM - not a serious smartphone OS.
We also get no extra real estate out of this deal. The navigation bar still takes up a big strip on the bottom of the screen in apps, unlike the iPhone X, which integrates the home bar seamlessly over the interface of applications (and it's completely hidden on the homescreen). The beauty of Apple's system is that gestures allow you to get rid of overt visual elements for extremely common actions. Pull up to go home. Hold up to multitask (or go up and left to immediately multitask). Swipe on the bar to quickly switch between apps. Swipe from the left of the screen to go back (admittedly, this isn't true in many apps, which still use the back button in the upper left).
Reviews of the iPhone X routinely cite gesture navigation as one of the best features of the phone, and for all the problems I have with using an iPhone, the gesture navigation is easily the thing I miss most after coming back to Android.
Android P's half-baked attempt - one foot in the world of gestures, one back in software keys - simply isn't an acceptable compromise. If the argument is that Google doesn't want to completely change things on people too quickly, I call BS. If iOS users can learn it, so can Android users. Google's take on gesture navigation manages to completely ignore the reasons people love navigation on the iPhone X, and instead presents us with something that feels like change for change's sake. Having used it for a full day now, I can say I'll likely be switching back to the old buttons.
If Google really is set on this new layout, I have a feeling its manufacturer partners simply won't use it. Instead, I have the strong suspicion we're going to end up in a situation no one wants - every smartphone brand having its own take on gesture navigation until someone finally just copies the iPhone outright, and everyone follows suit.
For once, I hope Samsung does get on the Apple bandwagon.