After spending some time trying out the Google Pixel 7 Pro, I happened to stumble upon a feature previously restricted to the best iPhones: the Back Tap (or Quick Tap in Pixel-ese) gesture. As much as I love the Pixel 7 Pro’s major new features — whether we’re talking about the camera’s macro mode, Photo Unblur or Guided Frame — it’s Quick Tap that pleases me the most.
In the case of Google, Quick Tap lets you activate a feature or open an app. For example, I like to use the same double-tap on my iPhone (a feature that’s been around since iOS 14) to pull down the notification shade, which prevents the need to swipe down from the top of the screen when I need to see my incoming alerts. iPhones go one step further by letting you set the triple tap gesture as well, which I use to pull down the Control Center menu.
If that wasn’t exciting enough, as I was writing this story, it was announced that you can now do it on Samsung phones too thanks to the Good Lock app. With the newly added RegiStar module, you can set up double and triple tap gestures on your Samsung phone, just like on the iPhone, giving you another way to use different features or open apps.
Google, Samsung, Apple, and other phone makers often “borrow” features from one version of the operating system to add to their own, so seeing the Back Tap Spread is no surprise. But I’m so glad it’s becoming more popular, as physical gestures are an underappreciated part of a smartphone’s usability.
Gestures are the best
It probably goes back to the first phone I’ve ever reviewed, the HTC U12 Plus, and its focus on Edge Sense features, but I love the presence of physical gesture shortcuts on smartphones. Navigating to some places within the phone software can mean traveling a long way below the menu of menus and buttons, but the physical gesture overrides all of that with a tap, a tap, or a tap.
There have been a lot of weird and wonderful attempts at gestures over the years. Google has been no stranger to this in the past, offering things like the now-deceased Google offering Squeeze to activate the Google Assistant on the Pixel 4 series and earlier models, or the ability to swipe down on rear fingerprint scanners to pull down the notification shade. Samsung has some interesting ideas too, like bumping phones to send files, swiping the fingerprint reader to open notifications or Samsung Wallet.
Plus, we have things like Huawei’s tap to take a screenshot, Apple’s iPhone shake or Motorola’s flashlight gestures which, while not to my taste, also show subtlety.
But while many of these were or are interesting novelties, some physical gestures have become ubiquitous. Think about how things like double-tapping your screen to wake the phone (LG tried it for the first time) or pressing/pressing the power and volume buttons aren’t seen as gestures anymore.
This is the level that I think the back taps are worth getting to. It basically doesn’t matter how you hold your phone, you will probably be able to hold your finger to press the secret code on the back panel to activate your shortcut.
Back-click potential doubles when considering users with mobility difficulties. Google and Samsung lose points because the ranges of tap-back functions available aren’t as comprehensive as what Apple offers, but making it easier to operate the phone with non-touch means is still net fine.
A smartphone feature doesn’t always require advanced AI or a more powerful chipset. It could be as simple as introducing a new way to interact with existing features, which is exactly what Back Tap and Quick Tap with their phone’s built-in gyroscope and accelerometer can provide, as well as software to power them. With iPhone users already screened, Google now needs to provide Back Tap support globally in Android, so that any smartphone user anywhere can take advantage of it. This has already given it a try in Android 11 beta (via TechRadar), so fingers crossed that we’ll get it in Android 14 next year.