Blog Post

How to use fancy gestures on the iPad (and why you should)

At the beginning of last year, Apple added iPad gesture controls in iOS 4.3 as a developer option. And with the debut of iOS 5 in October of last year, Apple(s aapl) made these multi-finger gestures official. Since then, however, I really haven’t seen the company promote this functionality the way it does for its laptop trackpads.

However, after two weeks with my new iPad, I’m suddenly taking advantage of these gesture functions like never before. In fact, I can think of only three instances that I even need to hit the home button anymore: Waking the device, grabbing a screen shot and getting out of the mode that lets you delete or move apps around.

Gone is the hardware button double-tap to switch back and forth between apps. No more pressing the button to return to the home screen either. After rediscovering these gestures and then making them part of my navigation workflow, I’m getting around the iOS environment far faster on my iPad. Here’s a summary of the multi-finger gestures currently available for iPad navigation; aside from the standard two-finger pinching and double-tap to zoom functions.

Five-finger pinch: Here you just “grab” the screen at any point to get back to the Home screen. It’s quick, fast and simple.

Four-finger swipe up: Want to see the multitasking bar, showing you the most recently used apps? This gesture replaces the double-tap of the Home button. You can pick a different app here or simply swipe four fingers back down to hide the multitasking bar.

Four-finger swipe left / right: Thanks to this gesture, I actually don’t use the multitasking bar much, if at all, anymore. By swiping four fingers left or right, the iPad quickly moves you through your running and most recently used apps. I strategically open my most used apps one after another, so I can quickly swipe between Mail, Safari, and the Kindle app for example.

A few extra hints and helpers

First, you have to make sure that gestures are turned on for your iPad. Look in Settings, General, Multitasking Gestures to set the slider to On if needed.

Second, you can actually remove an app from your multitasking bar with gestures, although you can’t remove an app from the Home screens without the Home button. To do this, use the four-finger swipe up to show the currently running and recently used apps.

Then tap and hold on any of these apps to get into editing mode. Tap the upper left badge — the red minus sign — on any app or apps you want to remove. When done, simply do a four-finger swipe down to hide the multitasking bar and the selected apps are gone!

[polldaddy poll=6101794]

Again, these gestures first appeared over a year ago and you could have enabled them by a little bit of tweaking effort and a $5 download. But they’re the real deal now and after embracing them these past two weeks, I find the iPad much simpler, intuitive and quicker to use all around.

Maybe I’m just slow to the multi-finger gesture game though. Let me know if you’re using them in this simple little poll as I’m wondering if these gestures are a type of hidden function that some iPad owners don’t know about.

42 Responses to “How to use fancy gestures on the iPad (and why you should)”

  1. I vote that we lock Jcl and winski in a secluded basement (with no outgoing communication allowed) and let them work out “what matters” and is “worthy.” Whether either or both get to rejoin civil society is entirely optional.

    I just got my iPad, had heard about the gestures before and googled my way to this piece. A nice, concise explanation. Thanks, Kevin.

  2. Bricks

    Thanks Kevin! I finally decided to go in for an iPad and I’m loving it. I had no idea about the four finger gesture swipe up to get to the multitasking bar until I came across your article.

  3. JayTee

    Another iPad user from day one. I was excited when I heard they were testing gesture controls on the iOS 4.3 beta. However I didn’t hear anything else about it and was completely unaware they were present on the iOS 5. Thanks!

  4. chrisler

    You can also use 5 fingers to open multitask bar(up) and swipe Left-right with 5 fingers to switch between opened apps.

    Also on photo albums. You can use 5 fingers to populate what’s inside

    And here’s the killer gesture.
    If you’re reading a long article etc. and already hit the bottom way too much and just want to scroll back up without scrolling, you can just single tap the top bar or status bar where your clock is showing to get back to he top of the page

  5. winski

    I use iPad as a tool NOT exercise machine for my hand. If I wanted an exercise for my fingers, I’d go to Sports Chalet and buy a set of hand springs…. Write about something that matters…

    • Gotcha. I guess tapping the Home button is a better way to build up muscles. ;) I’m joking of course, but is such vitriol really warranted when some of the community has actually learned something useful? Sheesh!

  6. The biggest gesture feature missing the two finger swipe to go back and forth on web pages for safari, this would be something most useful on the iPad, i hope to see added soon, as at least an option. I can’t figure out why its not already there?

  7. Greg Bagby

    I showed my teachers the same thing after they had their iPads for two weeks and they were amazed. Thanks for educating the hoi polloi

  8. Stefan Mølgaard

    Acctually you can remove an app without tapping the home botten :)

    Just delte the app then pull down notification center :) All done :)

  9. Akshay Shah

    You mentioned that 1 of the 3 reasons why you still use the home button is to get out of ‘wiggle mode’ after moving or deleting an app. You can actually get out of this mode by opening and closing Notification Center. You don’t even have to open it completely; just a little bit should do the trick.

    We’re giving away a copy of iPhoto for iOS at Hi-Tech Revolution!

  10. Long time ‘fanboy’, early adopter and stockholder, and I consider myself to be fairly savvy with all things Apple. No rock here, but I had no idea these gestures were available on the iPad. Thanks for the great tip.

  11. Christina Lundeberg

    Wow, I knew about the five-finger pinch but I didn’t know about the swipe-up. I just got the new iPad so I’m still working my way around. Keep the hints coming :)

  12. Yea, great tips, thanks…there is an app iPad secrets – tips and tricks that has a lot of other really good tips – 5 star rated, @jcl, your post was a complete waste of time, and proves u r a complete moron, just sayin’…

  13. Charlie Pinker

    The gestures are fantastic and essential to fluid iPad use.

    “When done, simply do a four-finger swipe down to hide the multitasking bar and the selected apps are gone!” – or just tap anywhere on the screen to hide the bar!

  14. These are in fact great, and for iPad 1 to iPad 3 upgraders they where a welcome addition.

    2 problems though: I find myself quitting the photo app when on full screen by doing the 5 finger pinch rather than the 2 finger one which now feels odd.

    If you have kids, these features have to be switched off otherwise the iPad keeps jumping out of their games. The notifications bar was annoying enough already, but these new gestures are just too confusing for little kids.

    • Julian

      Agree about the kids. I love the 4 & 5 finger gestures, but had to turn them off as my kids were always closing apps when getting a little carried away with the games!

  15. Steve guile

    I’ve been an IPad user from day 1, and I found this article to concise, informative, and helpful. Kudos and thanks. You’ve made my life a litte easier. Especially because the physical home button on my iPhone is getting sticky–probably shouldn’t use it at the cafe…

  16. Just one quick point, after using the four finger swipe up to reveal the multi tasking bar, to return to normal and hide the multitasking you don’t need to swipe back down using four fingers as stated in the article, a simple tap of any finger on the main part of the screen will close the multi tasking bar. Great article btw