Backspace Key Navigation Goes Poof on Chrome OS

Google wants to get rid of the “backspace” key- for navigation.

Okay, for most people, you probably didn’t even know you can use the backspace key to go back. It’s true. You can definitely do it. Although it’s lesser known, it works.

Try it out right now. Just press the backspace key and you should be taken back to wherever you came from- Google, Facebook, Twitter, or wherever else you found this article.

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(Note: it won’t work if you opened this article in a new tab. Or your Chrome OS has already been updated with the update that I’m talking about in this article.)

Who uses backspace key navigation on Chrome?

The update removes the backspace key for less errors in forms.
The update removes the backspace key for fewer errors in forms.

Use backspace as a navigation button is something I’ve grown accustomed to, from my Windows-browsing habits. On a Windows PC, whenever I want to go back, I can either click the tiny back button on the top left of my browser window, or I just hit backspace.

Hitting backspace is so much easier, given that my fingers are already on the keyboard from using “CTRL + F” to find what I’m looking for on the page from a Google search.

Now, when I use my Chromebook, I still find myself using the backspace key occasionally from my Windows habits. However, since the Chromebook has touchpad gestures, it makes it a lot easier to navigate. That’s not the only benefit of Chromebooks vs Windows laptops, though.

Pro tip: just swipe right with 2 fingers to go back on your touchpad with a Chromebook.

Using the gestures on a Chromebook is a lot easier than hitting backspace, and even easier than clicking the back button.

Google releases an experimental version of backspace-free Chrome OS

Chrome OS update aims to help users with removing backspace key.
Chrome OS update aims to help users with removing backspace key.

However, now Chrome is testing a version that removes this backspace functionality from the Chrome OS’s shortcut library. Although the vast majority of Chromebook users don’t use the backspace key to navigate, there is a small portion that does- a very small portion.

For the 0.04% that do use backspace navigation, you may be slightly upset.

The reason why Chrome is removing the backspace navigation?

Online forms.

According to news and stats that come from a Chromium code reviews source, only 0.04% of page views on the Chrome browser come from using backspace navigation, and 0.005% (there’s an extra decimal) of those views come from following a form interaction.

Why remove backspace key navigation on Chrome?

It means that a small portion of people who browse on Chrome use backspace navigation. An even smaller portion was found to use backspace navigation when filling out an online form.

This means people who were signing up for an account, filling out billing information, applying for a job application, or whatever else involving forms were found to accidentally hit the backspace key during these forms and ended up going back a page in their browser.

And I’m sure you know how this feels.

You’re filling out your form, you hit back by accident, you quickly click forward, and all your information you filled out is gone. You need to type it in again. Or just say “forget  it.”

The stats estimate that the 0.005% of views on Chrome interaction involving backspace navigation were unintentional.

Therefore, removing backspace navigation should help out that percentage of people, and save many others from being accidentally “backspaced.”

Of course, some users are hard-coded into using backspace navigation. For those people, I suggest using “Command + Left Arrow” or “Alt + Left Arrow.”

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Is it that bad to remove backspace key navigation on Chrome?

Sure, it’s an extra button, but if you’re using Chrome on a PC, it’s probably the only thing you can do if to go back if you must use your keyboard for navigation. There are third-party apps available on the Chrome web store that offer keyboard and mouse functionality. You can assign keys to be shortcuts if you want to get around this Chrome update, assuming it matters to you that much.

If you’re on a Chromebook, you can simply swipe right with 2 fingers to go back. There’s no reason to use backspace to go back on a Chromebook, unless you’re typing and your hands are on the keyboard instead of the trackpad. If this is the case, you’ll have to move your hands slightly lower, but hey, it’s the cost of saving you from having to fill in that form again. You can also just hit “Alt + Left” as well to go back if you’re on a Chromebook.

If you really want to keep your backspace navigation, check out the Chrome BackStop app on the Chrome web store.

Keep your backspace key navigation if you want- but you don’t really need it on Chrome

Keep the backspace key with apps from the Chrome web store.
Keep the backspace key with apps from the Chrome web store.

So there you have it. I think this is a good idea, and this is coming from a Windows user who has grown accustomed to using backspace navigation for everything. It’s worth it from the annoyance of filling in forms. If you don’t want the change, you can learn to use the additional keyboard shortcuts for backspace navigation on Chrome. If you really, really don’t want the change, you can use an app from the Chrome web store. I would encourage you to get used to it though, because the whole point of using backspace navigation is convenience, right? What if I told you the other methods suggested (such as swiping right) are built for convenience? All it requires is to relearn some habits. I did the same, and it’s really no problem. Let’s drop those Windows habits and learn some Chrome habits.

Knowing Chrome, they’re innovating and remaking the OS for the common user. For some reason, when Windows releases an update, I always ask myself “what did this update do?” However, when Chrome releases an update, I always notice some kind of change- whether small designs like material design, or big changes like bringing Google Play on Chromebook. Google knows what their users want. And they deliver it all right.

(The changelog is also easy to find, which for some people like me always like to check out.)

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Either way, these small tweaks are much welcomed. Things like this show that Google knows their users very, very well- whether that’s a good or bad thing.

About Andy Z.

Andy is a casual-hardcore Chrome OS fan and contributes to the site regularly. He likes computers, tech, sports cars, videogames, and of course, Chromebooks. Thinker. Introvert. Geek. You can find him on Twitter (@platytech), or send him an email (check the "Contact Us" page).

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