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Probably the most divisive new feature in the second developer preview of Android P is gesture navigation. The optional 'Swipe up on Home button' setting removes the Recents button and replaces the Home button with a pill. Swiping up from the pill triggers the new Recents (also known as Overview) interface, and the apps are now arranged horizontally — much like the current behavior of iOS.
The apps in the new Recents menu no longer overlap like they did when they were vertical, which means you can see the entire app window for each one. With all of the content now visible, Google has added some additional functionality accessible from within the Recents navigation, which I'll break down below.
Smart text selection
This feature was announced at I/O last year, and it allows you to get direct links to other apps and services when you highlight pertinent text. For example, the name of a band might give you a link to the artist page on Spotify — The Killers was used by Dave Burke on stage yesterday — or a phone number might take you straight to the Phone app to make a call. Smart text selection is now available in each app window of Recents, too.
Left: Smart text selection in Chrome. Right: The same functionality from the Recents app window.
As well as getting smart links to other apps, you can also search the web for your highlighted text, copy it to use elsewhere, or share it immediately through another service. This goes for any text you can expect to highlight, but also for some you may not — more on that later.
In the onstage demo at I/O, only the above text selection feature was explained, but that's not where this ends. It turns out that images inside apps can also be selected and shared. If you open up Google Photos and swipe up to open Recents, you can then long press an image in the Photos window to trigger a share button. I've tested sharing the image from the Photos app and then sharing it this way, and you are sharing what is essentially a clipped screenshot, not a full-size image. That could still be useful in some situations, however.
Not only is it possible to select and share images in places you would usually be able to do so, but you can also take images from apps that don't normally allow it. Above (right) you'll see an album cover from Spotify that you wouldn't normally be able to copy and share. With this new method, you can. Again, what you're getting is basically a cropped screen.
Copying text from images
Another aspect of this not explained in the demo is that you can even copy text from images through the recents UI. Take a look at the example below, in which I screenshot a page from our site before opening up Photos, swiping up for Recents, and then copy text from within that navigation.
Even the zoom lens view works perfectly when grabbing text from an image. It is possible to use Google Lens in Photos to pull text from an image in this way, but it's a little unexpected that you'd be able to do it in the Recents menu like this.
You may have spotted my previous coverage on this, in which I failed to mention that it was demoed in the keynote yesterday. Sadly, due to writing duties, I hadn't had time to watch every second of yesterday's presentation and was unaware of the brief mention this feature got. Apologies for that — I hope this updated post can make up for it.
It's worth noting that this is limited to the Pixel 2/2 XL. Take a look at Dave Burke's demo here:
- Zac Kew-Denniss and Mehvish