Just as importantly, the old back button was a visually pleasing design. Its left side wasn’t just a standard, angular arrowhead — its angles were ever so slightly sloped, softening the shape just enough to suggest that going back would be smooth and instantaneous.
The effect was tremendously elegant, in a very subtle way, and it became a hallmark of iOS apps. No other operating system’s back buttons worked quite the same way, but even better most iOS developers who customized the look of this button would preserve its basic shape, size and function. They might have changed up the color, swapped in a new typeface, or even altered the dimensionality of the button so that it was flat or embossed, but they rarely strayed very far from the original. I always liked to look closely at third party developers’ renderings of this button, to see if they replicated those gentle curves on the arrowhead. In my mind, the very best designed iOS apps always captured that tiny but important detail.
I’ve been using the past tense here as if this back button has left us, passed on to that great big operating system in the sky, but of course it will be around at least until iOS 7 officially ships. I’m holding out a little bit of hope, though, that in the intervening months Apple re-evaluates both the old and new buttons, and realizes what a great thing it had in the former. Maybe they’ll give the old guy a last minute pardon, too, and bring him back from death row.