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

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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 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!

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.

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