Up close with iOS 5: New gestures

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New multitouch gestures have been in the frame for iOS since early this year, when they first showed up in the iOS 4.3 beta. That feature may have disappeared from the final version of that release, but four- and five-finger gesture didn’t drop off Apple’s to-do list entirely. Instead, they’re making their debut with iOS 5.—at least for iPad 2 owners

What’s the same?

Gestures in iOS 5 should come as less of a shock to the system as the ones Apple introduced to Mac OS X Lion this summer. All of the single- and two-finger gestures previously supported in iOS carry over to the latest update, so you won’t have to unlearn any of your favorite moves.

Tapping is still the most common move for navigating the device. The tap, hold, and drag for highlighting text, copying and pasting, or deleting and moving apps remains, and users will continue to swipe and flick to move through app pages and scroll through text. A two-finger pinch gesture zooms in and out of the screen (a double tap works to zoom in as well). Moving two or more fingers in a circular gesture is still the tried-and-true way of rotating a screen and other elements.

More fingers, more tasks

Four- or five-finger vertical swipe

With iOS 5, your iPad 2 will gain several new multitouch gestures for working with apps and the multitasking bar. These gestures require more fingers—and therefore, more space—than your typical iOS pinching, swiping, and tapping gestures; as a result, these gestures are available only on the iPad. The good news, however, is that anyone already familiar with the iOS gesture–based interface should have no problem learning and using the latest additions to the growing list of available taps, swipes, flicks, and pinches.

If you’re tired of pressing the Home button repeatedly to pull up the multitasking bar, you may like these three new gestures, all of which require four to five fingers to execute. With them, you can switch between apps and return to the home screen much quicker.

Four- or Five-Finger Vertical Swipe Like a double-press on the Home button, a four- or five-finger upward swipe will pull up the multitasking bar along the bottom of the screen. To return it, swipe downward to hide the bar (or single-tap anywhere above it).

Four- or five-finger horizontal swipe

Four- or Five-Finger Horizontal Swipe With a four- or five-finger horizontal swipe, you can quickly move between your most recently used apps. For example, if you’re in Safari and want to switch to another open app, you can perform a four- or five-finger horizontal swipe left or right to move from one app to another; it’s similar to the one-finger swipe you use to move between home screens. You can swipe only between apps that have recently been used; to see those (and which order they’ve been used in), pull up the multitasking bar by double-pressing the Home button or by performing the four- or five-finger vertical swipe mentioned earlier.

As you swipe, the app you’re in will follow your fingers and move off the screen in the direction you are swiping. As it slides off, the next app will begin to crawl in from the other side of the screen until you swipe far enough for it to snap to center. You can swipe quickly to jump through apps almost immediately, or drag slower to fully appreciate the animation.

Four- or five-finger pinch

Four- or Five-Finger Pinch When you’re in an app and want to quickly return to the home screen, you can use a four- or five-finger pinch gesture. (This accomplishes the same thing as clicking the Home button.) Start with four or five fingers outward, and then pinch them together. Depending on the speed of your pinch, you can either slowly shrink the app until it disappears into the home screen, or do a quick pinch so that the app disappears at the same speed as it would if you clicked the Home button normally. This gesture has no reversal option; to reopen a recently closed app, you’ll have to pull up the multitasking bar.

Gestures in AssistiveTouch If you have trouble with (or aren’t capable of performing) these or other gestures, you can use the new AssistiveTouch feature in iOS 5. With AssistiveTouch, you’ll be able to access a menu overlay to trigger any of iOS’s multi-finger gestures by performing a one-finger tap. You can also create, save, and play back custom gestures.

[Alexandra Chang is a staff editor for Macworld.]

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At a Glance
  • We've not yet met the iOS update that we wouldn't recommend, and iOS 5 is certainly the most far-reaching and feature-rich upgrade to date. That said, it's not without its bugs and strange behaviors. But it's clearly paving ground for a lot of key functionality in the future, and even a lack of polish shouldn't keep you from upgrading.


    • Finally makes iOS devices viable without computer
    • Notification system is vastly improved
    • Massive update plugs many feature holes


    • Reminders app missing logical features
    • Lack of dictation on older hardware disappointing
    • Twitter integration buggy in places
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