I am pleased to find out I am not the only one frustrated by the behaviour of the back button in Photos or bewildered by where it will take me in Music. There’s a growing list of apps, developed directly by Apple, that would benefit from having proper navigation but have opted for an erratic and lazy back button:
The more common apps that have long featured back and forward buttons do not function in these peculiar ways. Web browsers do not; Finder doesn’t; neither does System Preferences. And, as I was writing this article, I was worried that it would be made obsolete by the forthcoming release of MacOS Big Sur, but everything is pretty much identical as of the latest beta. If the back buttons in the apps listed at the top of this post do not conform to the system standard in any way, the obvious question is something like: “why do these apps have a back button at all?”
In every instance, it seems to be a catch-all attempt to solve complex UI design problems. In Catalyst apps, it kind of works like the iOS system back button. In the App Store and in Music, it is a way to display web-based pages without having to implement a hierarchical navigation structure. In Photos, I suppose it is a way to reduce the amount of toolbars and buttons onscreen compared to iPhoto, and to make it conform closer to its iOS counterpart.