Home History of Apple Technology The History of No ‘Back To’ Button on iPhones

The History of No ‘Back To’ Button on iPhones

by AndiSatr

One of the most controversial design elements of the iPhone is its lack of a back button. Something that’s standard on most Android devices. 

The idea is that a button to go back to the previous screen allows users to easily navigate their device, but Apple disagreed and the story behind that decision dates back to 2007, when the original iPhone was under development then CEO Steve Jobs actually wanted to include a back button. believing it was necessary for navigation. 

but Imran Chaudri, a human interface designer who spent 19 years at Apple, argued against it. saying that it came down to a trust issue. A home button that served a single purpose returning users to the home screen, would give them confidence in navigating the device, introduce a back button, and things will become more unreliable and complicated. 

For example, the back button on Android devices often performs different actions depending on the context or the app, pressing the back button could return you to a previous menu page or it could take you to the previous app you were using, or it could quit the app completely and take you to the home screen. Chaudri believed the back button’s unpredictability would cause confusion for the user. 

And he favored a software solution instead, with every app having a back shortcut at the top left of the screen. Every time a user tapped it they would return to the previous menu. 

To switch apps, The user would press the home button twice to launch the app switcher, and to exit the app completely users would press the home button once. That way, every action the user took had a predictable outcome, which allowed them to trust their device and quickly build confidence using it. Now that mindset may sound obvious today, especially with the transition to swipe navigation with the iPhone X,  but the way Jobs thought about the issue was quite logical at the time, since the iPod was the most popular mobile device in the world and featured not one, not two, but 5 buttons for navigation, including a back button labeled “menu” luckily Jobs was able to recognize the reliability of Chaudri approach that went on to redefine the entire smartphone industry.

This article is inspired by a video in Apple Explained YouTube channel.

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