The nickname for Android 9 is “Pie.” It’s not the most inspired of Android names, but it’ll do. What really matters at the end of the day are the new features in Pie — and there are plenty of those.
If you are a Pixel owner, you’ll be happy to hear that Pie will start rolling out as an over-the-air update today. The same goes for every other device that was enrolled in the Android Beta (that includes any Sony Mobile, Xiaomi, HMD Global, Oppo, Vivo, OnePlus and Essential devices that got the betas) and qualifying Android One devices. Everybody else, well, you know the drill. Wait until your manufacturer launches it for you… which should be the end of the year for some — and never for quite a few others.
Overall, Pie is a solid upgrade. The only real disappointment here is that Pie won’t launch with Android’s new digital wellness features by default. Instead, you’ll have to sign up for a beta and own a Pixel device. That’s because these new features won’t officially launch until the fall (Google’s hardware event, which traditionally happens in early October, seems like a good bet for the date).
Let’s talk about the features you’ll get when you update to Android 9 Pie, though. The most obvious sign that you have updated to the new version is the new system navigation bar, which replaces the standard three-icon navigation bar that has served Android users well for the last couple of iterations. The new navigation bar replaces the three icons (back, home, overview) that are virtually always on screen with a more adaptive system and a home button that now lets you swipe to switch between apps (instead of tapping on the overview button). You can also now swipe up on the home button and see full-screen previews of the apps you used recently, as well as the names of a few apps that Google thinks you’ll want to use. A second up-swipe and you get to the usual list of all of your installed apps.
In day-to-day use, I’m not yet 100 percent convinced that this new system is any better than the old one. Maybe I just don’t like change, but the whole swiping thing does not strike me as very efficient, and if you leave your finger on the home button for a split-second longer than Google expects, it’ll launch the Assistant instead of letting you swipe between apps. You get used to it, though, and you can get back to the old system if you want to.
Google’s suggestions for apps you’ll like and want to use when you swipe up feel like a nice tech demo but aren’t all that useful in day-to-day use. I’m sure Google uses some kind of machine learning to power these suggestions, but I’d rather use that area as an extended favorites bar where I can pin a few additional apps. It’s not that Android’s suggestions were necessarily wrong and that these weren’t apps I wanted to use, it’s mostly that the apps it suggested were already on my home screen anyway. I don’t think I ever started an app from there while using the last two betas.