Learn to Navigate the iPad Like a Pro With These Gestures

A multitouch gesture on a touch screen
Wikimedia Commons

The iPad is easy to use, in part because many of the gestures used to navigate it are intuitive. It's easy to get started on the iPad, tapping app icons to launch them and swiping to scroll through various pages and menus. But the iPad has other gestures, as well.

As the iPad has shifted toward productivity, it has picked up a number of useful gestures that not everyone knows. These include a hidden control panel, a virtual trackpad, and the ability to bring up multiple apps on the screen. And when you combine these gestures with the ability to tell Siri to set up reminders, meetings, and the other things Siri can do for you, the iPad can do much more than play games.

These instructions apply to devices running iOS 12 or later.

Swipe Up/Down to Scroll

The most basic iPad gesture is swiping your finger to scroll through pages or lists. Scroll down a list by placing the tip of your finger at the bottom of the screen and moving it towards the top of the display to swipe up. You can scroll up a list by swiping down, placing your finger at the top of the screen and moving it toward the bottom of the screen.

The speed at which you swipe also plays a role in how quickly a page will scroll. If you are on Facebook and slowly move your finger from the bottom of the screen to the top of the display, the page will follow your finger. If you swipe quickly and lift your finger immediately, the page will fly by much faster. This is a fast way to reach the end of a list or web page. 

Swipe Side-to-Side to Move Next / Move Previous

If objects are displayed horizontally, you can sometimes swipe from one side of the screen to the other side to navigate. One place you'll use this is the Photos app, which displays all of the photos on your iPad. When you are viewing a photo full screen, you can swipe from the right side of the iPad display to the left side to move to the next photo. Similarly, you can swipe from the left to the right to move to a previous photo.

This also works in apps like Netflix. The "Popular on Netflix" list shows movie and TV show posters across the screen. If you swipe from right to left on the posters, they will move like a carousel, revealing more content. Many other apps and websites display information in the same way, and most will use the swipe for navigation.

Pinch to Zoom

This is another basic gesture that you will use all the time. On web pages, most photos, and many other screens on the iPad, you can zoom in by putting your thumb and index finger together, putting them in the center of the screen, and then moving your fingers apart. You can zoom back out by pinching your fingers together on the display.

This gesture also works with three fingers.

Tap to Move to Top

Move to top

If you've scrolled down a web page and want to get back to the top, you don't need to scroll back up. Instead, you can tap the top of the iPad screen, which shows the time, battery level, and other information. Tapping this top menu will take you back to the top of the web page. This will also work in other apps, such as moving back to the top of an entry in Notes or getting to the top of your Contacts list.

Swipe Down for Spotlight Search

Spotlight Search on iPad

Spotlight Search lets you find apps and information both inside and outside your iPad. While you're on the Home screen, swipe down from anywhere on the display to reveal this feature.

Spotlight Search is a great way to search for just about anything on your iPad. You can search for apps, music, contacts or even search the web.

Swipe from the Top Edge for Notifications

Notification Center on iPad

Swiping down from almost any part of the display while on the home screen will bring up Spotlight Search, but if you swipe from the very top edge of the display, the iPad will show your notifications. This is where you can see text messages, reminders, events on your calendar or notifications from apps.

You can also bring up these notifications while you are on the lock screen, so you don't need to type in your passcode to see what you have planned for the day.

Swipe from the Top Corner for the Control Center

Opening the control panel on iPad

The Control Center is probably one of the most useful "hidden" features of the iPad. It lets you control your music, including adjusting the volume or skipping a song. It also lets you quickly turn on features like Bluetooth or AirDrop. You can also adjust the brightness of your screen from the Control Center.

You can get to the Control Panel by swiping up from the very bottom edge of the screen. This is the exact opposite of how you activate the notifications center. Once you begin swiping up from the bottom edge, you will see the control panel start to appear.

Swipe From Left Edge to Move Back

Another handy swipe-from-the-edge gesture is the ability to swipe from the left edge of the display toward the middle of the display to activate a "move back" command.

In the Safari web browser, this will take you to the last visited web page. In Mail, it will take you from an individual email message back to the list of your messages. This gesture doesn't work in all apps, but many that have a list that leads to individual items will have this gesture.

Use Two Fingers on the Keyboard for the Virtual Trackpad

iPad trackpad

You can activate the Virtual Trackpad any time the on-screen keyboard is active. Put two fingers down on the keyboard at the same time, and without lifting the fingers from the display, move the fingers around the screen. A cursor will appear in your text and will move with your fingers, allowing you to place the cursor exactly where you want it. This replaces the old way of moving the cursor by pressing your finger inside the text you are attempting to edit. 

Swipe From the Right Edge to Multitask

Three apps open at once on an iPad

This gesture works when you already have an app open. Open your iPad's Dock by swiping up from the bottom of the screen, and then tap and hold on the app you want to add. After a second, a copy of the icon will come up. Drag it on top of the app you have open to turn on Slide-Over multitasking, which allows an app to run in a column along the side of the iPad.

Not all apps work in Slide-Over. But those that are compatible will get their own window on top of the main one. To get it out of the way momentarily, drag it off the screen to the right. Then, when you want it back, swipe over from the right side of the screen to keep multitasking.

This gesture will only work on the iPad Air or iPad Mini 2 or newer models.

Drag and Drop for Slide View

Slide View on iPad

You can also drag an app icon to use Slide View multitasking. The apps loaded will also need to support this feature. Instead of dropping the second app on top of the one that's open, you'll drop it on the right side of the screen. A black area will appear to show you that you can use the feature. When you let go, the two apps will run side-by-side at the same time.

Slide View is available on iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 4, iPad Pro, or newer.

Four Finger Side Swipe to Navigate Apps

Placing four fingers on the iPad display and then swiping left or right will navigate through the active apps. Swiping left will take you to a previous app, and moving them right will take you to the next app.

Moving to the previous app only works after you use the gesture to move from one app to the next. If the program you have open was launched from the home screen and you haven't used a multitasking gesture or the multitasking app bar to move to another app, you won't have a previous app to move to. But you can move to the next (last opened or activated) app.

Four Finger Swipe Up for App Switcher

Multitasking in iOS 12

Place four fingers on the screen and swipe them up to access the App Switcher. It shows a list of recently opened apps so that you can switch to or close them on demand. You can close apps using this screen by flipping them toward the top of the screen with a quick swipe up or swipe from side to side to navigate the carousel of apps. 

Another way to open the App Switcher is to pinch four or five fingers together on the display.

If four-finger gestures don't work, go to Settings > General > Multitasking & Dock and make sure the switch next to Gestures is on.

Pinch In for the Home Screen

Pinching in with four or five fingers has another purpose besides opening the App Switcher. You'll see windows start to appear on the side of the screen when you're using that feature. But if you continue pinching in, you'll go back to the Home screen.

More iPad Lessons

If you are just getting started with the iPad, it can be a little daunting. You can get a head start by going through our basic iPad lessons, which should take you from beginner to expert in no time.