Feature Friday: The Back Button

So iOS9 has a back button. I’ve not seen it in action but I read about it when iOS9 was announced. And now iOS9 is out.

This is one of the things that Android has had and iOS has not. I’m not sure why Apple held out so long.

I’m going to try out the new iOS at some point in the near future. I’ll probably buy a 6S in a few weeks after it hits the stores.

I’ll be very happy to have a back button in iOS. It’s muscle memory to want to back.

I’d like to hear from those of you who have upgraded to iOS9 about the back button. Is it as big of a deal as I think it is?


Comments (Archived):

  1. jason wright

    3D Force Touch seems even more of a deal than a back button.you could open a used phone shop at your rate of conspicuous consumption.I tweaked my Moto E yesterday with the new Google Android Launcher. Gives it a more contemporary look and feel. Bigger icons and lots of white space. I await the new Nexus handsets on 29th Sept., and the Android Blackberry

    1. fredwilson

      I hand them down to all sorts of people and its my job to use all of this tech

      1. jason wright

        do a charity rafflecome on, it’s your obsession 🙂

        1. LE

          Oh sure. Fred already wears himself down with all of the help and things that he does for people and organizations. Ditto for Joanne. But that’s not enough. He has to charity raffle his phones instead of giving them to his kids or “all sorts of people”. Would you also expect him to raffle off his used Tesla’s or vacation homes as well?

          1. jason wright

            the Fred Fone might sell at a premium, especially a Motomaker edition with his moniker printed on the back cover. might finds its way to the Museum of Venture Capital one day.he loves it. it’s what gets him out of bed in the morning. don’t set limits.

          2. LE

            An interesting idea would be for you to test that out by actually offering one for sale without Fred even approving of the idea. Set it up “subject to confirmation by the owner and with the owner’s sole approval which is not guaranteed in any way but hopefully will happen”. See what you can get the auction run up to. Then make Fred an offer he might not refuse. If it works you have an idea that can be replicated. Celeb cell phone auctions. (Dot com of course..)

          3. jason wright

            Fred the celeb? i can go for that. at least he does something worthy of the status, unlike the legion of plastic celebs famous for being…celebs.how about an ebay listing to test the market?

          4. LE

            I got an invite to this Oracle event featuring Elton John and Beck. [1] True story not being into music I had no idea who Beck was! I am serious. I had to google him. My wife (who knows a bit about music) will probably laugh at me). I don’t even know how stupid it is to not know that fact. Just like my wife doesn’t know how stupid it is to not know who Larry Ellison is.My point is celeb is relative to who you are talking about, the age of the person that one is trying to impress, and the group that you move in and your interests, education, background, brainwashing, etc, for lack of a better way to put it. When I was growing up I remember my Mom mentioning “Myrna Loy”. Who the fuck is she? (Google her). So on an airplane my mom would have freaked if she was in the cabin next to Myrna Loy. My ex wife was sitting next to a Scotus on a flight and that I thought that was pretty cool. That would have been a nice story for a bunch of people. Fred is a celeb within tech. Paul Graham is a celeb within tech. To people outside of tech you’d have to explain and unfortunately you can’t explain a brand it has to be brainwashed into you over time.Ok I dare you. Go do the ebay listing.[1] https://www.oracle.com/open

          5. jason wright

            to dare is to do. i wonder which phone he might be ready to offer up? i lose track of his collection.;Nexus 6iphone 6Edge+….?

          6. LE

            He could buy phones every 6 months just for this purpose. The idea scales. Same way car dealers resell “demonstrators”.

      2. ShanaC


  2. rizzler

    The back button is in the top left on iOS. The back button on Android is on the bottom. The positioning is just easier to reach (IMHO) on Android.The back button on iOS is also really for moving back to an app that launched the current app so the behaviour is different as well (it doesn’t go back to the previous screen with-in an app).p.s. Small type-o in the post “I’ll probably by a 6S” to “I’ll probably buy a 6S”

    1. fredwilson

      Thanks for the typo

    2. Bruce Warila

      funny how the brain works.. scanning the comments, I had to read your sentence six times to see the difference between ‘by’ and ‘buy’.. I thought you were kidding.

  3. Lee Dale

    The back button is highly contextual. It was nice when I was in an app that pushed me to Settings and I could quickly tap back to the app, but that’s about the whole of it—it’s only for returning to another app you’ve been taken from. In app, you remain reliant on swiping from off the left of the screen, or using whatever navigation is available in-app—there’s no always available back button.

    1. Dan Moore

      Do you suppose that is because apps haven’t updated to take advantage, or is it because the back button is limited to OS level interactions?

  4. Eric Satz

    Probably the single greatest reason i never moved to ios, the back button just makes sense and is hugely convenient. With the exception of my phone, my other devices are all apple.

  5. Humberto

    its ugly and as far as i understood it works only to get back to a previous app.

  6. andyswan

    The keyboard showing you if you’re about to type a capitalized or lower case letter is a much bigger deal.If you think about it, it’s just weird how long it took Apple to do that.

    1. JamesHRH

      Especially given the auto-cap features.

    2. Aaron Klein

      Agreed on the keyboard. The back button is actually annoying to me, because it covers up signal strength and I can’t figure out why something isn’t loading.

    3. Lucas Dailey

      Everytime (until now) that I used iOS it blew my mind that something so clearly more intuitive was continually left out.Apple, like everyone, suffers from biases and institutional inertia.

    4. kirklove

      Oddly, put me in the other camp. Find the switching jarring. Could have been fixed by an improved Caps highlight. Realize I’m the super minority there.

      1. andyswan

        At least you recognize you’re wrong.

        1. kirklove

          HAwhoops… I meanha 😉

          1. andyswan

            That’s a lot of wrong people!

      2. Dave Hyndman

        Me too. I find it jarring and have turned it off.

        1. kirklove

          Same. Turned on pop up preview too, just used to it. I also turn off predictive text. Again, find the “movement” distracting there.

    5. William Mougayar

      I DoN’T unDERStand eiTHer, weIRd.- Sent from my iPhone

    6. LE

      If you think about it, it’s just weird how long it took Apple to do that.There are several reasons why companies withhold features. Sure one could be incompetence or not feeling the feature is necessary, but another is planned obsolescence [1] or maybe better just giving people a reason to upgrade. The other thing is it’s easier to ship and get less features correct as you for sure have to carefully manage feature creep [2].It also keeps the complaints down. A feature not added is a feature that can’t break and that people can’t complain about. [3] There was a time you know that power windows in cars broke (as did almost everything else). If they broke the dealer had to fix them during the short warranty period. I was raised in the “don’t play with the electric windows they will break”.[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wi…[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wi…[3] Better to be thought a fool, then to open up your mouth and remove all doubt.

      1. Twain Twain

        @fredwilson:disqus – the shape of things that will be a-shipping from Apple & Google et al in the next couple of releases.After all, Apple acquired the Israeli team behind Kinect.

  7. Brad Lindenberg

    Yes it’s great – I opened this post from an email now I can go back to my email in one click! Also it would use less battery as you don’t need to scroll through open apps to find the one you had opened last etc. good feature.

  8. Nir Z. Pengas

    The back button on IOS9, unfortunately, is indeed contextual and pretty lame IMO. I think Apple are better off implementing something more native like a swipe over the home button

  9. Jamie Friedrech

    Minor typo :)Buy*

  10. Rui Alexandre

    It’s uber fast. Kinda small’ish, but it’s there.

  11. William Mougayar

    A few days ago, I dropped my Xiaomi in water and it was immersed for 3 seconds. I picked it up, prayed a little, wiped it, shook it, took the sim card out & dried it. Everything worked fine, except the Back button.So I lived without a Back button on an Android for a few days (the back button came back 2 days after), but I learned that for 80% of the Apps and screens, they either have a back button or you can swipe out or swipe sideways to go back & it was frankly more elegant than a Back button.So, before missing your Back button, or asking why you don’t have it, try swiping.

    1. JimHirshfield

      “…in water…” translation: you dropped it in the toilet?

      1. William Mougayar

        Sink. It fell out of my shirt pocket as I was reaching out.

        1. JimHirshfield

          I avoid the shirt pocket at all costs – phones are just too big for those pockets.

          1. jason wright

            bad for the ticker too

        2. jason wright

          always buy shirts with pockets with buttoned flaps

  12. LIAD

    stupid positioning, right at top of screen, plus the bigger the phone the more inaccessible. androids much more sensible.currently in quandary whether to upgrade to oneplus two, or revert to iOS and get a 6s+ (after a first and very happy year on android).haven’t handled either model, but neither blows me away. so basing things purely on the OS, I’m prob sticking team Google.

    1. William Mougayar

      Good decision. Being underwhelmed by the first iPhone6 was the reason for my switching to Android almost exactly 1 year ago. I feel more freedom with Android.

    2. Lucas Dailey

      FWIW I’m in love with my Nexus 6, and at $350 now it’s hard to beat. Really happy with Project Fi too (as is my wallet).

  13. JimHirshfield

    This is not the iOS9 feature I expected you to cover today. Hardly comes close to the impact ad blocking will have on the economics of the web.

    1. Russell

      AVC feature request 🙂

    2. Sandy

      Could you (or anyone) talk more about the ad blocking? It applies to all of Safari?

      1. ShanaC

        Flash blocking or ad blocking?

        1. Sandy

          Hey Shana! Ad blocking for Safari, just read about it. You can choose a free ad blocker app, which quickens load times and saves battery usage. Websites monetizing only by ads are concerned, and apparently it’s a valid concern, since these apps work so well.

  14. Chimpwithcans

    My personal fave on android is the square shaped button which lets me run through the apps which are currently active – i can close down the ones i want and free up memory – a big help. Back button v useful too of course.

  15. Matt Zagaja

    Downloaded iOS 9 and it works great on my 5s. To be honest I am probably going to skip the 6s now. The 6s may be “better” and have more features but I think the magnitude of hardware innovation in the phone space seems to be slowing, and the new pricing models without the subsidies are no longer favorable to consumers. I’ll live with it on the 3 year upgrade cycle the way I live with my computer. The 5s will be the “Windows XP” of iPhones. (Also not completely sold on the larger screen.)

    1. LE

      (Also not completely sold on the larger screen.)Highly recommend that you get a 6. The extra screen space is great. You don’t know what you are missing. I have a 6 and plan to get the 6s just for the better camera. Just going to wait until they flush out bug level 1. No comparison to the 5 in everyday use. Also retina display is great I’d buy it probably just for that.Lastly, even if you have a plan you have to keep in mind that used iphones have value. They are easily sold and are practically commodities. So your cost for a new phone is the delta between what you can get (check ebay) for your 5 and what a 6s will cost you.

  16. Guesty McGuesterson

    I want a wireless plan for people carrying both an android and an iphone. Not sure which plan is best for that scenario.

    1. JimHirshfield

      The Radiation Reduction Plan is my recommendation.

    2. ShanaC

      Treat it like a family plan?

  17. Justin Fyles

    It’s a great navigational feature for the (especially former-Android) user. From an app developer perspective, it’s even more of a big deal. No need to worry as much about bouncing your users to Settings if they deny a permission, and no need to use crazy Google callback URLs and switching just to get a back button on Maps.One complaint is it covers up the network connectivity section of the status bar (pictured below). Since you are likely loading new content when it’s there, if it’s slow to load you have to go to your home screen to investigate why.

  18. kenberger

    And still no LED notification light. Another thing where I’m not sure why Apple has held out for so long.That feature might technically be the one i’ve used the most on today’s Androids, and most handsets I can name since even the early ones (Nokia, Windows Mobile, Blackberry, Handspring/Treo, Palm Pilot, etc.)

    1. William Mougayar

      that used to be the killer feature on the old blackberries. that red led showing a new email arrived was the ultimate crack habit trigger. but now, there’s a new email or notification constantly, so why bother with the LED? just grab your smartphone every 5 mins like everybody else 😉

      1. Jess Bachman

        I run all sorts of notification lights on my Android. white for email, blue for text, purple for missed calls etc. I really only pick up the phone to check if its a text or call. I don’t really like checking my phone every 5 minutes.

        1. kenberger

          Yessss. I mentally want much more push and much less pull until I have time to pull.The multiple color support is an awesome addition that appeared a few years ago.

        2. jason wright

          interesting. does this rainbow of notifications work for any android phone with an LED? what handset do you have for this to work?

          1. kenberger

            Yes, and most Androids do have an LED these days, including the Galaxy (eg: S6, Note) series. Some are true multi-color, some just support red, green, blue, which tends to be enough to produce other colors such as purple.Notably, the Nexus line (Google flagship phone) does NOT. It, like the Moto phone just mentioned, has tried to push active display instead. Although there actually is a hidden LED on the Nexus 6 that can work if the phone is rooted.Here’s a useful app to customize notification colors:http://www.techlicious.com/

          2. jason wright

            Thanks Ken.

          3. Jess Bachman

            Nexus 5. Light Flow app.

          4. jason wright

            i tried Light Flow on my Moto E yesterday, but it doesn’t seem to work. The LED does nothing different.update: i think the Moto E only has a white LED. what a pity.

        3. William Mougayar

          I do too. But I forget what they each mean ;). And there’s blinking or solid, with or without vibrations, etc. It’s confusing.

      2. kenberger

        clearly you’re being a bit tongue in cheek, but even for power users like us, I don’t agree. I go to great lengths to set up all kinds of filters, turn off sound/buzz and LED warning on most apps (leaving just the onscreen notifications for some), leaving LED for important things, and vibrate for immediately potentially important things. Especially if it’s late at night, I just want to glance at the phone and know if I should turn it on.And then there’s the majority of people, who don’t get emails, texts etc so often (except for FB, which IS an app where most people can definitely assume that there’s always something waiting, so why bother with notifications).By the way: to me, the main purpose of a smartwatch is basically to perform this exact feature (tell me when to check the phone). But I don’t wear one at all right now.

        1. William Mougayar

          true on tongue’n cheekiness

    2. jason wright

      that’s the killer feature on my Moto E (!), a white LED light pulsing when i receive something. I can’t imagine having a phone without such a feature. I can’t believe the iphone doesn’t have it, or something that alerts in a similar way. i’m amazed.

      1. kenberger

        Glad you agree.I do know the reason: having such a light goes against Steve’s design aesthetic. Considered inelegant since perhaps “not needed”. I’m often puzzled by such thinking.

        1. jason wright

          that, as we say in England, was bonkers thinking from Jobs. i consider a notifcation LED (or similar functionality) to be absolutely essential. form over function only works in art.

    3. K_Berger

      I have the Moto X and the Active Display feature (or whatever it is called) is great. I have not missed having the LED and I was a big user of that feature on previous devices.

      1. kenberger

        same same only different: yup, the active display “sleep screens” do a similar job to what I’m talking about. I’m not insisting on LED necessarily, just something that grabs your attention when appropriate. Could instead be a smartwatch, as mentioned in another comment.

        1. jason wright

          are you two related in some way?i’m looking closely at the Moto X Play/ Style as my new phone, along with the upcoming Nexus choices, and even possibly an Android One series handset. My Moto E has run out of internal storage for apps.

  19. Richard B. McConkie

    Long overdue and sort of a no-brainer. Glad to have it.

  20. John Beales

    I think you’re going to be disappointed with the back button when you get around to trying it. It’s not ubiquitous & in kind of a hard spot to tap.When I switched from Android to iOS I really missed the back button, but less than a year later I’m used to navigating the OS the “iOS way” and it’s a bit weird that it exists. It’ll be handy to return to feedly after writing this comment, though.

  21. kevando

    I’ve had ios9 for a couple months and this feature is kinda nice. It only takes you back 1 app and it only exists when the app takes you from one app to the next. Nothing like the core feature in Android.

  22. iggyfanlo


  23. iggyfanlo

    Actually the real transformative change is around ad blocking extension for mobile Safari… that’s a game changer for speed and browsing experience … and more importantly, with the two battleships in the water of tech (Apple v Google), the first “non-warning” shot has been fired

    1. ShanaC

      That’s a big shot

  24. kirklove

    Didn’t even know it existed. Suspect a lot of users are in the same boat.Only been a few days with iOS 9 and it’s really throwing me. And I don’t even have a 3D (force) touch device. It just feels jammed, in a bad way. With each new iOS there are more features added without much if any pruning. It’s getting quite convoluted feeling.The other thing that rubs me the wrong way (perhaps I’m alone) is the push to get everything to happen on the notification screen. It’s become a hot mess that just overwhelms me. I much preferred the single purpose app, clean approach.One more thing… I watch my kids use the devices. Contextual menus, back buttons as text, different subtleties of touch force all confuse them. That’s not a good sign. If my kid can use it (which used to be the case) then they did it right IMO.

    1. LE

      That’s not a good sign. If my kid can use it (which used to be the case) then they did it right IMO.While in some cases that is a good test, your kids are pretty young so I am not sure Apple has failed because kids under 5 can’t use the device. Unless the bulk of their market falls into that age group. Which it doesn’t.As far as your issues though that’s a bit concerning. (Along those lines how much sleep do you get each night?)

      1. kirklove

        Realize a 4 year old is not the target market. Point was – if a 4 year old can use it, then you’ve got pretty spectacular and intuitive UX and the majority will get it too and not be frustrated or confused or fail to realize it even exists.You also have to look at it from a development standpoint. More pieces = more things to go wrong or not work (and that will happen) which means more work and more user frustration.

        1. LE

          It would actually be interesting to test that theory I don’t doubt that it is partially correct. What I worry about (with kids) is that they don’t have any built in meaning to things that adults might understand and find intuitive. After all they were only hatched recently into the world. So they essentially what they know is “see icon, push button, remember what happens”. And the “remember” is quite strong.The other day I was with my step daughter (who is 10 and high functioning (aren’t they all?)) and I rattled off a list of 4 3 digit numbers that represented office suite numbers. Nothing special just in reply to something we were discussing. Later the next night as a test I asked her “what were the numbers that I told you”. There was no reason she should have remembered the numbers they weren’t that significant. And she rattled them off no problem. I would never be able to do that. My point is her memory at that age of development is way superior to an adults memory. So there are development difference in both directions. That is I guess part of my concern in designing on only one access.That said when I used to design (as I have said) direct marketing post cards I would show them to what I felt was the stupid person in the office for 10 seconds. If said idiot didn’t get the point of the marketing then I knew that I had to go back and redesign the post card, simply because nobody thinks when they see ads they just react. At least by my theory.

    2. B. Llewellyn Shepard

      “It’s getting quite convoluted feeling.” Exactly. Bloated, slower.

  25. Carson Miller

    It is helpful, but doesn’t work as seamlessly as Android. The “back button” is in the upper left corner of the screen, but it is actually just text (“back to Twitter”) that replaces your carrier name and signal strength. As a result, 1) it is hard to reach (especially on a 6 Plus) and 2) it is not nearly obvious enough that it will likely be the most useful feature of the OS.

  26. JLM

    .What the world really needs is a “back button” for life.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    1. Dan Moore

      Funny, I just listened to a podcast that positioned repentance as the closest thing to a real world back button: http://www.onbeing.org/prog

      1. JLM

        .The Catholics have a “get out of Hell free” card in confession. It is a winning app.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    2. Mario Cantin

      He he, I would only have been married once then.

  27. ErikSchwartz

    They also held out on the two button mouse for years and years.

    1. someone

      not to mention larger phone screens

  28. Sean Saulsbury

    As an all-along Apple user, the back button is taking some getting used to for me. Half the time I’ll open something from Facebook and then double-tap the home button to do the app switching to get back, then realize the back button is there and click back into Facebook to try the new back button, but because I’ve done that, the back button disappears!

  29. Glasgow Phillips

    Big fan, first comment : ) Sorry if this is too off topic, but IMO the really *reeeeally* big deal in iOS 9 (though maybe I’m biased as a content + publishing person) is the ad blocking capability in Safari and the availability of ad blocking apps in the App Store. The adblockapocalockalypse already in progress hit critical mass on September 16th — and I don’t think it comes with a “back” button. But it may ultimately be great for everyone, including creators and publishers. I think so and hope so.

    1. ShanaC

      Ad blocking is on ad techs mind already. It was bound to hit mobile eventually.

  30. Pandurang Yachwad

    I upgarded my iPhone to iOS9 couple of months back when they launched in beta for developers. Its was patchy as expected during initial days but much improved now particularly for battery and sudden crash. Here are some of my favorite features in iOS91. Improved Spotlight – Very helpful with proactive assistance2. NEWS – Particularly in spotlight3. Apple Pay without unlocking the phone 4. Back button – certainly helps to switch between immediate previous app5. Last but not least, location based proactive assistant – It does prompt me for Audible when I enter into the car. 🙂

  31. ShanaC

    This makes me miss android but admire apple’s business sense all the more.We’re talking about back buttons and not how sprint does really cheap iPhone lease deals that it doesn’t offer android phone makers.Oy

  32. OurielOhayon

    not a back button. there is a inserted back to app deep link, inserted top left of any app when you click from another

  33. Semil Shah

    “back” directionally to me feels like it’s an interaction to go from one page to the previous one, whereas in native apps, I don’t think of pages, I think of screens, and those screens are not pages because they’re dynamic.