If you take the most recent Apple iPhone, the iPhone 6s (or 6s Plus), and you compare it to an original iPhone that was released in 2007, you will see that not a whole lot has changed. The same iconic slab-style smartphone with a single, circular button centered below the screen has been used for 8 years now, and it doesn’t look like it will change anytime soon.
The idea behind the iPhone’s design was likely to keep things simple, while at the same time shifting towards something much more complex in terms of the software and how smartphones work in general. You don’t want to add too much to the hardware, or it can become too complex. The iPhone’s design is indeed simple, but I feel like Apple’s unwillingness to change to anything more complex has more to do with keeping things consistent and maintaining an "Apple knows all" image rather than feeling that this is truly the best design for a smartphone ever.
When you compare the iPhone to, say, an Android or a Windows Phone device, you’re likely to notice that Android and Windows Phone devices both have more than just one button, capacitive or otherwise, on the front of the device (or the back for LG devices). For these phones, it’s common to have a designated home, menu, and back button. While I think I can do without the menu button, what I have noticed is that the back button is an immensely useful tool that, quite frankly, the iPhone could benefit from adopting. And I think Apple knows that this is a small – yet important – feature to have.
With the release of iOS 9 just a couple of months ago, the “Back-To-App” feature was also introduced. This feature implements a sort of of back button within the software, which appears on the top left corner of your phone (where your signal would normally be located) when you switch apps via your notifications. The “button” will offer a shortcut to go back to whatever app you were just using.
I was kind of excited for the feature as a current iOS user, but with real-world use it’s not really all that great. The feature is alright, and it’s better than the complete lack of a back button in the iPhone, but it’s still not the best option out there.
First of all, let’s look at the location of the Back-to-App button: it’s in the top left corner of the phone. Right-handedness or left-handedness aside, putting any type of button in the upper part of any phone is a poor choice for location. Given that the iPhone is one of the last few remaining phones with a sub 5-inch display, a big draw of this device is that it’s optimal for one-handed use; putting any type of button that far up on the display, though, can negate the whole one-handed thing.
Not only that, but most of the options for “back” buttons for within iOS apps are placed in a similar location in the upper left hand corner. Also, the Back-To-App button only appears when you click on a notification from the notification center. If I switch apps via the task manager (double clicking the home button) the option isn’t there. It’s inconsistent.
Simply put, I strongly believe that iPhone users would greatly benefit from the addition of an actual back button in future iPhone models. Just a normal, functional back button that works all the time and is in a convenient location that makes sense. And if people are really concerned about what a back button on the front of the iPhone would do, then there’s always the possibility of using all of that unused real estate on the sides of the phone. Back-To-App just isn’t a good or convenient alternative to a real back button.