Multi-touch gestures make moving between iPad apps super fast and easy. With every version of iOS, Apple adds new gestures. But they’re not always easy to discover, and some of them are confusingly similar.
Fear not though, because by the time you’ve finished reading, you’ll be a multi-touch ninja. We’ll show you how to navigate your tablet with speed and grace.
First, Enable Multi-Touch Gestures
Before you can use some of these gestures, you’ll need to check that multi-touch is switched on. To find out, open the Settings app, tap on General, then Multitasking & Dock. If the Gestures switch is on, you’re good to go.
While you’re in the Settings app, you might want to go to General > Software Update to see what version of iOS you have. Some gestures discussed here only work in iOS 11, and others only in iOS 12.
1. Pull Up the Dock
Since iOS 11, it’s possible to pull up the Dock (the bottom row of app icons) without going back to the Home screen. The iPad’s Dock is a great way to multitask and switch apps.
To see the Dock no matter what you’re doing on your iPad, swipe up from the bottom of the screen with one finger. Your swipe must start beyond the edge of the screen. As soon as the dock appears, lift your finger off. Otherwise, you’ll either go back to the Home screen or bring up the task switcher (see below).
2. Go Home
Since the iPhone X came out, the Home button has become passé. All the cool kids are swiping to get to the Home screen, and iPad users don’t need to feel left out. In fact, the iPad supported gestures to get to the Home screen well before the iPhone X came around.
There are three gestures for going to the Home screen; the first one has been around for ages. Take four or five fingers of one hand, place them wide apart on the screen, then pull them together quickly as if you’re trying to grab your iPad.
The second gesture is also multi-touch. Take four fingers and place them anywhere in the bottom half of the screen. They need to be close to each other, so it’s best to use one hand. Swipe upwards quickly, and you will go back to the Home screen.
New to iOS 12, the third gesture works with one finger. Start by swiping up from beyond the bottom of the screen as if bringing up the Dock. Instead of stopping the swipe when the Dock appears, keep swiping upwards to go to the Home screen. If you try this gesture on a device running iOS 11 or earlier, you’ll see Control Center instead.
3. Bring Up the Task Switcher
The task switcher shows you all the apps and spaces you’ve used recently. It’s a great way to get back to something you were doing earlier. You can also use it to force-quit an app by flicking it upwards.
You have three different gestures for getting to the task switcher, and they’re similar to the ones for jumping to the Home screen. It can take a few tries to get to grips with the difference, but it all comes down to timing.
The first method is a multi-touch gesture. Use all five fingers of one hand and grab the screen, exactly as if you were trying to go to the Home screen. This time, as soon as the app you are in starts to shrink, stop. Wait for half a second, then let go of the screen.
Adding a tiny delay into the four-finger upward swipe also changes it from taking you to the Home screen to bringing up the task switcher. When the app you are in starts shrinking, stop moving your fingers, wait for a brief moment, then let go.
Finally, with the single-finger swipe from beyond the bottom of the screen (iOS 12 only), pause when you see the app switcher start to show, then let go. This last gesture is the trickiest to master. Even with the delay, if you swipe up too far, you’ll go back to the Home screen.
4. Switch to the Last Used App
If you want to go back to the last app you used, you can bypass the task switcher and Home screen altogether. Instead, swipe sideways to the right using at least four fingers. If you immediately swipe to the left with four or five fingers, you’ll go back to where you were.
The four-fingered sideways swipe isn’t limited to only the last used app. You can swipe continually to go back through all the apps you’ve opened in the order you last used them.
If you’re running iOS 12 or later, you can recreate this four-finger gesture with one finger. Swipe up from the bottom of the screen as if you are bringing up the dock, and as soon as the dock appears, swipe left or right.
5. Open the Control Center
Before iOS 12, you reached Control Center by swiping up from the bottom of the screen. From iOS 12 onwards, it has moved. As on the iPhone X, you can find it by swiping down with one finger from the top right-hand corner. The gesture must begin offscreen for it to work.
A new feature of Control Center in iOS 12 is that you can swipe it into view with one finger and keep that finger on the screen. Doing so lets you use a control with a different finger, then flip it back out of the way using the finger you started with.
Another timesaving Control Center trick is to long-press (press and hold) on the controls. On most items, this will pop up a menu with extra options (like 3D Touch on the iPhone). In the case of the brightness and volume sliders, long-pressing will super-size them to make it easier to fine-tune their settings.
6. Open the Notification Center
Swipe down with one finger from the top of the screen to see notifications. From iOS 12 onward, roughly 15% of the top-right is reserved for accessing Control Center. Swipe anywhere else along the top for your notifications.
7. See All Your Widgets
To see all your widgets, swipe to the right while you’re on the notification screen or lock screen.
8. Open the Camera
The fastest way to get to the built-in camera app, if you’re not already on the Home screen, is to swipe to the left on the notification screen or lock screen. If you’ve customized Control Center to show a camera icon, you can use that to get to the camera quickly too.
9. Trackpad Mode
The iPad’s software keyboard doesn’t include cursor keys, so moving the text insertion point when you’re typing can be a challenge. You can prod at the screen to try to move it where you want. But fingers aren’t precision pointing devices and the chances of getting it right every time are slim. It’s why the multitasking and text editing gestures are so good. That’s also why Apple included a trackpad mode on the stock keyboard.
There are two ways to use it. Either hold down two fingers anywhere on the keyboard or, if you’re running at least iOS 12, hold down one finger on the space bar.
Whichever method you use, the letters on the keys will fade away to show that the whole keyboard is now a trackpad. Slide your finger or fingers and the cursor will zip around the screen to follow. Once you’ve got it where you want it, lift your finger and the keyboard will go back to normal.
Essential iPad Gestures for Better Productivity
Getting the timing right on some of these gestures can take a few tries, but it’s well worth the effort. When you get used to them, you’ll find you only ever need to touch your Home button for TouchID. For everything else, keeping your fingers on the screen is faster.
To increase your touch screen productivity, be sure to learn how to master split screen on your iPad. If you have a Smart Keyboard for your iPad Pro, check out these useful Smart Keyboard tips, too. And if you have made the switch from iOS to iPadOS, get familiar with the basics of iPadOS.