Latest Version of iOS Turns iPhone Backs into “Buttons”

Your phone's touchscreen might not be the only place it's responsive

iPhone being held
An attendee looks at a new iPhone X during an Apple special event at the Steve Jobs Theatre.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Downloading a new operating system update for your phone can involve changes small or large, depending on the update. Some might patch software that’s otherwise invisible to most users; others can make profound changes in the user interface. But whatever the scale of these updates, they have one thing in common: they can’t add or remove physical features to your phone’s hardware.

At least, that’s been the case up until now. But a new article at The Verge explores how this might be changing, beginning with iOS 14. The article, by Chaim Gartenberg, discusses a new feature that debuted in iOS 14: Back Tap.

Described at something that “blurs the line between hardware and software,” Back Tap is exactly what it sounds like — a feature which allows users to associate certain actions with double- or triple-tapping the backs of their phones. Apple isn’t the only company looking into such features; Gartenberg writes that Google had explored a similar update for Android 11, though it ultimately wasn’t included.

Making a smartphone respond to input from a place other than the touchscreen feels like a bold decision, though it’s also entirely of a piece with other developments in interface design — from shaking a phone to enable certain features to the increasing number of gestures a phone can respond to. The buttons and touchscreen on a smartphone may be the primary ways with which you interact with it, but they’re increasingly far from the only ones.

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