Pet Peeve: How to break the back button experience in Windows Phone 7

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been downloading a number of the new Windows Phone 7 applications and one of the things that has come to annoy me is when developers think that they can outsmart the user. Microsoft has gone to great pains to include a dedicated hardware back button on all Windows Phone 7 devices. It has a very clear function which is to return the user to the previous experience. Within an application this typical means going back to the previous page or closing a modal style dialog/prompt. At the beginning of an application this means allowing the application to close, revealing the previous application (or the Start) the user was in.

Of course, there always have to be the one or two super-smart developers out there that thing that the user might accidentally hit the back button. We don’t want the user to leave our application, in fact the more time we can get them to spend in the application the better, so let’s include a prompt confirming that the user does indeed want to exit the application. WRONG, FAIL, GO BACK, DON’T DO THIS.

As a user if I press the back button I want to go back. If I didn’t mean to leave the application I’ll launch the application again. If the application is any good this shouldn’t be an lengthy process, so even if the user accidentally pressed the back button, they will acknowledge that they made a mistake and so there is no foul. Getting in the way of what the user has explicitly instructed (ie by pressing the back button) the application to do is bad.

There is one exception to this rule: if there is unsaved data, you may want to prompt the user to either save, discard or cancel the operation. To be honest, even this should be avoided – there is no harm in temporarily saving what they were working on and having it available the next time they run the application.