iOS 14’s Back Tap Feature Provides Interaction Shortcuts

Originally published at: iOS 14’s Back Tap Feature Provides Interaction Shortcuts - TidBITS

Deep in the Accessibility settings of iOS 14 is a new feature called Back Tap that lets you assign a variety of system and accessibility actions—and anything you build in the Shortcuts app—to a double or triple tap on the back of your iPhone.

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I feel like this is one of those hidden gems. The one feature I’ve been waiting for when I first heard about it. I set a double tap as a screen shot and the triple as the shake to undo.

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Oh Adam, thanks for this.

Double - a shortcut to launch the Camera (and could be any camera app so Halide in my case…)
Triple - Mute

Two items I find I need in a hurry.

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My favorite feature of iOS 14. I have double-tap set to reachability. Reachability is ironically a very hard gesture to do when you are using the phone one-handed on a Face ID phone (a swipe down from the home bar at the bottom, where the swipe isn’t very far and swiping even a small amount to the right or left makes the phone think that you are trying to swipe to get to another running app.)

Triple-tap for me is to open control panel. Again - on my Face ID phone being used one-one handed with my left hand, the control panel swipe gesture from the upper right of the notch is impossible to do.

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Is there a way to set up Back Tap to instantly mute any sounds coming from my iPhone?

Let’s say I’m playing a video tutorial and immersed, and someone needs my attention. Or music, and I’m surfing the web (does anyone surf anymore?). I’d love to be able to tap and have all sounds stop.

But it looks impossible.

Is it?

Dan

Sure, as I mentioned in the article, there’s a Mute option in the System actions.

Hi, Adam,

But I selected mute and then started a youtube video. I double-tapped my iPhone, a drop down told me silent mode was on, but the audio kept playing, loud and clear.

I’m using an iPhone X if that helps.

I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.

Dan

You’re not doing anything wrong! I misinterpreted what Mute meant. I assumed what you did, that it would lower the volume to 0%. However, what it actually does is toggle the ringer volume between on and silent mode. Fixing the article now…

The solution to your problem is therefore Shortcuts. I whipped up a one-action Mute Audio shortcut that simply sets the volume to 0%. Download and install this, and then select it in the Shortcuts section.

https://www.icloud.com/shortcuts/ec71972e7d5d49729d054c33c0d1bb02

Are we mixing up muting yourself (on a phone call, microphone) and muting the phone (speaker)? For the latter we have a hardware switch already.

Yes, I was mixing that up—I just assumed I knew what Mute meant and didn’t test it. Too many of those System items are just hardware switches already, which renders them less interesting to remap via Back Tap.

Hi, Adam,

It works—thank you!

What would be so wonderful if another double tap could restore the volume as it was. But that, I think, is asking too much. :slight_smile:

Dan

So despite all the hype about the new SE being a modern iPhone in a smaller form factor, it’s not compatible with this feature, hm?

Too bad. I was hoping it would be.

Not necessarily. Does Shortcuts support if statements? If so, it would be simple to implement just setting it to the opposite of what is currently set. That way a double tap would mute, and another double tap would unmute.

The hardware “mute” switch is really a “turn off ringer” switch. Yes, it causes many apps to also mute themselves, but I’ve found several (including some full-screen ads) that completely ignore it and play sound no matter what it is set to.

I find that it is necessary to to drop the volume to zero in order to silence it in all occasions. Very annoying and (at least for me) undermines the point of even having that switch.

Personally, I’d prefer it if I could reconfigure it to be a rotation-lock switch, like you can do on an iPad.

Yeah, that’s a pet peeve of mine.

I understand the logic behind having the alarm clock go off regardless of mute switch setting. But if my switch is set to mute, why in the hell would an app or webpage assume I want loud audio playing along with their ad? I wonder if Apple could better enforce respecting mute switch setting in the App Store approval process, or in the case of browsing, try to assist through changes made to the software.

This is one of the things I’ve liked about Android (at least older versions - I haven’t done much with it recently). It had several different volume control slides in its settings app - ringer, alerts, alarms, games, music, etc.

Apps (normally) select the correct category when opening up the sound device and get the current setting for that category. The side-mounted volume buttons change the volume for the category that the foreground app is using.

Apple doesn’t do this - they only have two settings: ringer/alarm/alert and everything else. They have a separate pair of settings for each output device (built-in speaker, Bluetooth, headphone jack, etc.) but there’s no way to directly set these - you can only set them while that output device is active.

I realize it is not very Apple-like to have a preference panel with a dozen different volume-level sliders, but it’s something that would be really nice to have at times.

I know that at least one of the betas supported back-tap on the SE 2020; I don’t have one myself so I can’t check, but I’m surprised it isn’t supported in the final release (if it really isn’t.) It’s essentially an iPhone 8 in form (which supports back-tap) with the processor of an iPhone 11 (which also supports back-tap).

You both owe me 20 minutes. :slight_smile:

I got curious, figured out how to do IF statements pretty quickly, and then spent the rest of the time trying to learn how Shortcuts handles variables and persistent storage. I eventually got it via the clipboard. I also figured that you might not really just want Mute, since if you were listening to a podcast or audio book, you’d lose your place. So the shortcut now tries both to set the volume to 0% and pause Now Playing, and on the second invocation, sets the volume back to what it was and plays the audio. Feel free to delete either the volume setting or the play/pause statements if those aren’t what you want.

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I was extremely disappointed to find the BackTap only works on phones without cases!

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Works fine on my XSmax in a Nomad case.
James