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Gestures are on of those things which is always mentioned in the promo material for modern smartphones. The problem is that few people really understand what they are.
The name, itself, is also misleading. Really, we’re not talking about gestures in the sense we know. There’s little in the way of hand waving or head nodding involved. Instead, what gestures means for smartphone users is usually about 2 things. How many fingers are on touching the screen , and in which direction they move. There is the occasional actual gesture, with the use of a waving hand, but such things aren’t that common.
So is there more to it? Well it depends on your phone and the operating system it runs on.
How Gestures Work
The way gestures work isn’t actually that complicated. Touch screen technology is already in smartphones, of course, so gestures was the next logical step. If you tap on a smartphone display, and if there is an icon under the tap area, the phone will do something. If you keep your finger stationary on the screen after tapping, the phone will do something else. And so, if you tap and move your finger (or fingers) you are making a gesture. The phone senses what has happened, checks what it needs to do, and does it.
Two-fingers is usually all it takes, but some devices will allow 3 or even 4 fingers on screen at once. This allows for a huge range of gestures. It’s actually questionable how useful being able to use more than 2 fingers is, we reckon. As with most things, you will probably use 3 or 4 gestures regularly, and forget about the rest.
Android, despite being a fantastic mobile OS, does have its drawbacks. Not with the OS itself, though, but with how the manufacturers present it. Android is designed so that a different skin can be layered on top of the default Google layout. This is fine, up to a point.
It can slow updates down, and it can also change the available gestures. For that reason, you should always check the user manual for your device. However, there are some gestures which are pretty much universal on Android devices.
The Easy Ones
Most of these you will probably know already. Yes, you’re using gestures without even realizing.
- The Double Tap – This is common when you want to zoom in on amp, or enlarge a photo on screen. It can also be used to select and multi-select items in a list.
- The Long Tap – If you long tap any icon on your home screen, you will get a range of options, depending on the app itself. These will be the option to remove the icon or even uninstall the app. You can also move the icons around the screen with this method. When using some apps, the long tap will allow you to do certain things. For example, in WhatsApp, long tap any message in a thread and you can reply, quoting the original message. This is very useful in group chats, where replies often need to quote the original, for context.
- The Finger Pinch/Squeeze – Different to the double tap, in that this gives you control over how far you zoom in or out. This was just about the first gesture to become popular.
- Scrolls, Drags and Swipes – Again, these are about as easy as it gets, and everybody knows them. Flicking the screen up or down will scroll the page, and side to side will usually switch to the next/previous screen. Dragging is a little different. Instead of a flick, a drag is a slow, deliberate movement. This gesture is usually app-dependent, so check out if your favorite app uses it.
The More Interesting Ones
Some of these are criminally underused. Once you know them, you’ll be glad you do.
- The Double Finger Swipe Down – Swipe a single finger down from the top of the screen and you get your recent notifications. Swipe again and you get your Quick Settings Panel. But did you know that swiping down with 2 fingers opens the Quick Settings right away? A very useful gesture.
- The Space Bar Trick – When text editing while writing an email or sending a text, if you keep the space bar pressed with one finger, you will see the cursor move symbol appear in the text. Just tap and drag the cursor with another finger. It beats tap-tap-tapping to try and get the cursor in the right spot.
- The Chrome Browser Tab Swap – If you’re anything like us, you’ll usually have more than one tab open in Chrome. Swapping between them means tapping the number, and then tapping the tab you want, hoping it’s the right one. Instead, swipe down with one finger from the address bar. All your open tabs will appear, and you can scroll between them. We love this one.
3rd Party apps are available for you to design your own gestures. Knock yourself out and have some fun. You’ll be glad you did.
iOS, of course, isn’t the free-for-all that Android is. You get the gestures that Apple give you. Fortunately, Apple have got gestures exactly right. Well they have on the X. Before that, they were pretty average, to be honest. Many of them mirrored the default Android swipes, and still do, but the iPhone didn’t do much else. On the X though…
- Swipe Up or Left/Right – Swiping up on the iPhone X takes you to the home screen. Swiping left or right cycles between open apps. All smartphones should work this way.
- Shaking any iPhone will undo the last thing you did, which is very useful indeed. It doesn’t work in all apps, but trying it can’t hurt.
- Swipe Down From The Middle Of The Screen – Swiping down from the center of the screen brings up a web search widget. Again, very useful and easier than starting Safari all the time.
- The Short Finger Trick – If you can’t reach the top of the phone to swipe the notifications down, don’t worry. On the iPhone X, swipe down from about 1 inch from the bottom of the screen. This brings the top of the screen down into easy reach.
Apple are still catching up with gestures, but the iPhone X shows that they’re getting it right.
Take the time to add a gesture or two to the ones you use routinely, and your life will get much easier.