How to Launch Actions in iOS 14 With a Tap on the Back

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

There are no sensors on the back of your iPhone for your finger to fiddle with — unlike, say, a Google Pixel, which does have a fingerprint sensor on the back — but a new feature debuting in iOS 14 allows you to tap the back of your iPhone to launch different iOS actions all the same. This “digital burping” gesture seems like magic, because you’d need a crystal ball (or this article) to even know the feature is there.

You’ll need to have iOS 14 to play with Back Taps right now. There’s no word on whether Apple is planning to include the feature in other versions of iOS before, or even after, iOS 14 launches to the public this fall. If you’re curious, install the iOS 14 developer beta now or wait for next month’s public beta to give Back Taps a shot; I think it’s worth it either way.

Once you’ve done that, pull up the Settings app and tap on Accessibility — where you’ll find some of the most interesting and unmentioned iOS features. Tap on Touch, and then scroll to the very bottom of the screen to find the buried “Back Tap” option. Tap it and you’ll be able to assign various actions to a double- or triple-tap to the back of your phone.

Screenshot: David Murphy

“But wait,” you say. “I use a case to protect my iPhone when it goes flying out of my hands from time to time!” That shouldn’t be a problem — Back Tap should still work, provided you aren’t using a super-thicc case that could probably help your phone survive a fall from atop a small building.

While you can’t double- or triple-tap to launch apps — if only — you can perform a variety of standard system actions. The list includes:

Screenshot: David Murphy

The list continues on from there, including “scroll down” and “scroll up” gestures and a variety of accessibility functions — Zoom, VoiceOver, Magnifier, etc.

I found it useful to assign the App Switcher to one of the tap gestures; since I take a lot of them, I assigned the screenshot action to the other. Now, for everyday use, I don’t have to move my thumb around to swipe up and launch the App Switcher; provided I’m holding the phone with all my fingers, I can maintain my grip and just give a gentle tap-tap on its rear.

About that: You don’t need to thwack thwack your iPhone for the taps to register. Two or three regular taps at a reasonably rapid succession should be enough. You’ll probably have to play around with Back Tap a few times to really get a sense for the lightest possible touch that can activate your action, but you’ll get the hang of it.

While I wish you could do more with Back Taps — such as activating the flashlight or launching a routine — the feature is still useful enough that everyone should give it a go. You don’t get that many opportunities to customise how you interact with your iPhone beyond Apple’s default gestures, after all.