Gestures – Mobile devices and touchscreens

On a desktop computer or a laptop many functions/activities are carried out using a mouse or a touchpad. With the introduction of smartphone, tablets and computers with touchscreens, it’s not always possible or practical to use a mouse or touchscreen (though most of these devices do support touchpads and mice through a Bluetooth connection).

The art of using your fingers to carry out actions on a device is called gestures.

Below I describe some of the more common gestures – The good thing about gestures, is that the work the same across devices. That means a gesture that works on an Android device will work in the same way on an Apple device.

The downside of gestures is that for many, there is a knack in how you carry out the gesture and so practice is important.

Listed below are some of the more common gestures.


Tap, Click, or Touch 

A light touch with your finger. Use this for pressing buttons, selecting things, and tapping keyboard keys. 

Double Touch or Double Tap 

You could also call it “double-click.” This is similar to the double-clicking you do with a computer mouse. Rapidly touch the screen, lift your finger, and touch again. Double-taps are often used to zoom in on maps or select items. 

Long Click, Long Press, or Long Touch 

The “long click” is a gesture often used on Android mobile devices, although not as often as the simple (short) tap or click. Long pressing is touching an item and pressing for a few seconds without sliding your finger.

Long presses on application icons in the system tray allow you to move them to the desktop, the long press is used to launch a contextual menu when the app supports it. 

Variation: Long press drag. This is a long press that allows you to move objects that would ordinarily be harder to move, such as to rearrange icons on your Home screen. 

Drag, Swipe, or Fling 

You can slide your fingers along the screen to type or drag items from one screen location to another. You can also swipe between Home screens. The difference between a drag and a fling is generally in style. Drags are controlled, slow motions, where you’re aiming to do something on the screen, while swipes and flings are just general flicking around the screen – such as the motion you’d use to turn a page in a book. 

Scrolls are really just swipes or flings that you do with an up and down motion rather than side-to-side. Swipes are also used to move to the next part of the desktop

Drag from the top or bottom edge of the screen into the middle of the screen to open menus in many programs. Pull downward (drag or fling) from within the top area of the screen to somewhere in the middle of the screen, in order to refresh the contents in apps like Mail. 

Tap, hold and drag over other icons (creating folders)

One last thing about moving icons. If you drag one over a different icon and pause there, a folder will be created that will now contain both apps. This is useful if you want to group them together – putting all your music apps in one place, for example.

Pinch Open and Pinch Closed 

Using two fingers, you can either move them closer together in a pinching motion or spread them further apart in a spreading motion. This is a pretty universal way to adjust the size of something within apps, such as a photograph inside a web page. 

Twirl and Tilt 

Using two fingers, you can twirl your fingers to spin selected objects in some programs, and a two-fingered drag often tilts 3-D objects within apps, such as Google Maps. 



The gesture you’ll use most is the simple tap. As the name suggests, this is just gently prodding the screen for a second or so with your finger. Tapping is how you’ll select options, open apps, and generally tell the iPhone what you want.


In most apps, double tapping (two taps in quick succession, similar to double-clicking on a mouse) will do nothing at all. But it can be a very useful feature when done to the Home button itself as it triggers the Reachability mode, which makes it easier to use the device one-handed.

To see how this works, gently tap (not press) the Home button twice in a row and you should see the top half of the display slide down to the middle of the screen.

You can now tap the options in the upper part that would have been too hard to reach before. Doing this again returns the display to normal, or you can just slide up the arrow at the top instead.

Tap and hold (or long-press)

If you leave your finger on the screen when you tap, then after a couple of seconds you’ll see all the app icons begin to jiggle. This can be a bit disconcerting when it first happens, but it’s perfectly fine.

You’ll also see that each icon now has a little X in the top-left corner. If you want to delete one, then tap the X. Don’t worry if you accidentally tap the wrong one and delete it, they can all be downloaded again from the App Store and you shouldn’t lose any data.

To stop the jiggling, tap the Home button.

Tap, hold and drag (moving app icons)

The other thing you can do while the icon’s jiggle is tap and hold one, then drag it to another part of the screen. If you want it to go on the next page, then drag it to the edge of the screen and wait until it flips over. When you’re happy where it is, lift your finger off the screen and the icon should stay put.

Apple does use the annoying software quirk of making all the apps shuffle around and line up, so if you try to place the icon at the bottom of an empty screen it will invariably jump back up to the top. 

Tap, hold and drag over other icons (creating folders)

One last thing about moving icons. If you drag one over a different icon and pause there, a folder will be created that will now contain both apps. This is useful if you want to group them together – putting all your music apps in one place, for example.

If you’re happy to do this then release the icon and it will drop into the folder. Otherwise, just move the icon somewhere else and the folder will disappear.


Navigating through the iPhone pages will involve a lot of swiping. This is simply moving your finger along the screen either left, right, up or down, depending on which direction you want to go.