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Google’s Phone app tests a questionable design change

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Summary

  • Google is testing a new design for its Phone app, potentially replacing tabbed navigation with a side navigation drawer.
  • The new layout features a hamburger menu at the top, linking to Contacts and Voicemail, with the Favorites page potentially missing.
  • The app may also soon include functionality for satellite communication.



It looks like Google is testing a peculiar redesign of its Phone app. PiunikaWeb is reporting that code in the Phone app suggests Google is thinking about removing the tabbed navigation we’re used to in favor of a decidedly dated alternative: a side navigation drawer, often colloquially referred to as a hamburger menu.


Google tinkerer AssembleDebug was able to activate the hamburger menu in version 128.0.625763929-publicbeta of Google’s Phone app. As shown in the screenshots in AssembleDebug’s tweet below, the new layout replaces the tabs formerly found at the bottom of the Phone interface — tabs for Favorites, Recents, Contacts, and Voicemail — with a side navigation drawer accessed from the app’s top search bar.

AssembleDebug’s screenshots show a Phone app that opens to the existing Recents view by default, with a hamburger menu containing links to Contacts and Voicemail. There’s seemingly no Favorites page here, though it’s important to note that this design reflects a work in progress that could change before its public release, if it ever sees the light of day at all.


So-called hamburger menus were once a mainstay of Android app design, squirreling away various functionality in a menu accessed either by tapping the distinctive three-horizontal-lines icon or by swiping in from the left side of the screen. As gesture navigation has increasingly become the norm over the past several years, this type of menu has become less popular; now, as swiping in from either edge of the screen navigates back in the Android UI, menus accessed in similar ways can be a little confusing.

Many Google apps, including Messages, Photos, and recently Contacts, have replaced their side menus with a more legible tabbed interface for navigation. There are notable exceptions, however, including Gmail — whose hamburger menu contains so many options that you’ll have to scroll to see them all.



Satellite communication is in the works, too

Potentially more consequential than the strange design tweak, AssembleDebug also uncovered a string in the Phone app’s code referencing a “SATELLITE_COMMUNICATION” permission. We’ve heard that satellite connectivity will be a notable addition in the upcoming Android 15 release, and that the Pixel 9 will feature a new Samsung-built modem capable of communication over satellite, so it’s no great surprise that Google’s preparing for that future on the software front.

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