For users of Android devices, the idea of a back button isn’t new. It’s the button you press on an Android smartphone or tablet to bring you back to the previous page (within an app), or to the last app you used. iOS 9’s take on the back button is a little more straightforward, though.
Instead of being an always-present software button, the back button only appears after you’ve tapped on a notification or a widget within the Notification Center. For example, if I’m browsing in Safari and I tap on an iMessage banner, the back button will appear in the top-left corner of the screen so that I can go back to Safari when I’m done responding to a message.
The integration of the back button is great in a couple of ways:
- It’s a new feature that adds shortcuts for advanced iPad users, but it doesn’t take up any space when it isn’t needed. It also does not replace any existing shortcuts, so it won’t confuse users who aren’t computer-savvy.
- The back button disappears after a period of ~2 minutes, so if I decide to chat for a while, the UI will adapt to what I’ve chosen to do.
- The back button helps to preserve a sense of place in iOS. It can be easy to lose myself in all of the icons on my homescreen after I leave an app, but a back button is a literal reminder of what I might want to return to.
I think this change in iOS 9 is going to be one of the best and most underrated new features this Fall. It isn’t as sexy as split-screen multitasking or rumoured Force Touch shortcuts, but the back button has made iOS a lot faster and more pleasant to use.