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IOS 14’s backspace function provides interaction shortcuts

Many people think of the accessibility options on iPhone, iPad and Mac as existing for people with a kind of disability, and that is not untrue. However, features that make things easier for people with disabilities often end up benefiting others as well. For example, curb cuts make it possible for people in wheelchairs to cross from the street to the sidewalk, but they are also welcomed by cyclists, parents with children in prams, anyone who needs help from a cane or walker, delivery people and more. Closer to home in the Apple world, I recently wrote about how much better the availability-focused voice control dictation is than what is generally available (see “How iOS and macOS dictation can learn from voice control dictation,”

; August 31, 2020).

With iOS 14, Apple has introduced another accessibility feature that can be useful for everyone: Back Tap. With it, a double or triple tap on the back of a sufficiently recent iPhone can trigger one of a series of actions, including custom shortcuts. Apple has really only given us two new, customizable virtual buttons on the iPhone.

Unfortunately, Back Tap is not available in iPadOS 14, and even in iOS 14, the hardware requirements require an iPhone 8 or later (I have seen some conflicting reports on which models are supported, but I can confirm that it is not present on iPhone 7) .

Activate back pressure

Turning on Back Tap is easy. Navigate to Settings> Accessibility> Touch> Back Press (it’s at the bottom of the touch settings). Once you are there, you can set an action to be performed with a double tap or a triple tap.

Back Tap settings on iPhone

Back Tap actions fall into four basic categories: System, accessibility, scrolling, and shortcuts, all of which are shown below:

Back Tap actions on iPhone

  • System: The system choices seem to be the most useful for everyday users, although most only mimic simple gestures on the home screen or button presses. The most interesting are Mute and Screenshot because they require more interaction than the rest.
  • Availability: For anyone who needs these accessibility options, they will be easily accessible via Back Tap Welcome. In my opinion, the most convincing for the general public is the magnifying glass, speech screen and voice control. I have set the triple click option to turn on voice control, which makes it easy for me to access the dictation features faster and more fluently than via Siri.
  • Rolling movements: These two options simulate scrolling of a vertical page or screen. If you read a lot on very long web pages, I could see that these were useful. Alas, they do not work for page turning in Libby, and I suspect that most other book reading apps are similar. It would be easier to double-tap the back of the iPhone with a finger already there than to put a finger in front of the text and swipe to flip pages.
  • Shortcuts: This is where Back Tap shines, at least for those who can find or build the necessary shortcuts. Everything you can create in shortcuts, you can invoke with a double or triple tap. I’m currently experimenting with assigning the double-click option to a simple Google shortcut that lets me dictate a Google search and get the results in Safari.
    Search Google Shortcut for use with Back Tap

(As a page, I have traditionally used the main Google app to search since I like the combination of very accurate voice search and a whole page of results. In contrast, Siri’s recognition is not as good and gives only three answers, and it overly talkative The Google Assistant app gives only one answer and insists on speaking to me, which I find intrusive.The problem with the Google app is that some web pages, especially recipes, have so many ads that they are unreadable, so I prefer to read them in Safari. The downside of my new approach is that Google’s voice recognition is better than Siri.)

It’s all there is to pushing back, but even so, it’s a welcome feature that many people will never find deep in the accessibility settings alone. So spread the word – social discovery is rage these days – and tell us how to use it in the comments.

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