Back Tap is one of those hidden gems in iOS 14 that came to light after the WWDC Keynote. Apple often does this with new features that trend toward Accessibility. However, while Back Tap is a valuable feature for those who may struggle with certain types of input, it also has a wide variety of applications for all iPhone users.
The concept of Back Tap is incredibly simple. You can assign an action to a double tap or triple tap on the back of your iPhone. Considering that your fingers usually rest in that position naturally, it’s a perfect way to trigger a desired action.
Back Tap even works with most cases, which is essential since most iPhone owners use one. I have an Apple Smart Battery Case and it works just fine when I tap on the thick battery section of the case. Back Tap works as well as it does because of the precision and accuracy of the iPhone’s accelerometer and gyroscope, which are the actual triggering mechanisms for Back Tap. It’s less about the actual taps on the back of the iPhone and more about the slight movements those taps create.
To take Back Tap for a spin, just head to Settings-Accessibility to get started. From there, select Touch.
At the bottom of the Touch Settings, you will find Back Tap.
To enable Back Tap, go into the menu and select actions for Double Tap and/or Triple Tap.
As you can see below, there is a long list of available options covering iOS functions and Accessibility here.
Since I have an iPhone 11 Pro Max, I’m currently using Back Tap to trigger the hard to reach options of Notification Center and Control Center. Normally they would require a swipe down from the top of the screen. Now I can trigger either with the correct number of taps on the back of my phone and then remove it from the screen with the same number of taps. This feature is so easy to use that it feels like it should have always been there.
Another option that might be of interest to other big screen iPhone users is Reachability, which can bring both Notification Center and Control Center within easier reach by moving the entire screen down. That feature is a lot harder to use on devices without a Home Button, but Back Tap makes it viable again for reaching elements at the top of the screen.
If these options don’t interest you, then there are so many more to choose from. Beyond the normal system functions for the iPhone, you have several different Accessibility options. Below that in the menu, you have the ability to trigger any Shortcut you’ve created, which takes the usefulness of Back Tap up several notches.
Do you want to use Google Maps as your “default” mapping program? Just create a Shortcut and link it to double or triple tap. Do you prefer Google Assistant to Siri. Same thing. Just tie it to a Shortcut and assign it. There are so many options for how Back Tap can be used in combination with Shortcuts. That is what makes it such a powerful little feature.
Back Tap is a small addition to iOS 14, so small that it didn’t make the stage at WWDC, or even the slide covering other features. However, I venture to guess that it will be one of the most used features for many of us who choose to enable it. I currently find myself using it to get to Notification Center and Control Center on a daily basis. I can’t help but hope that Apple will find other interesting ways to expand this functionality in the future, as there are so many other things that could be triggered via touch and motion. Having only two option is my only disappointment with Back Tap.
I think this feature is also a harbinger of things to come with Apple’s wearables. We already have some similar touch functionality with Apple’s AirPods and AirPods Pro. I have to believe that we will see an expansion of additional touch features covering the Apple Watch and iPhone in the near future. However, I think the true culmination of touch and motion integration features such as Back Tap will be seen in Apple’s future AR and VR glasses and headsets over the next few years. The fact that early implementations of such features are already so useful bodes well for that future.