Learn to Navigate the iPad Like a Pro With These Gestures

Be more productive with common iPad gestures and find hidden gestures

Illustration of 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, tap app icons to launch them and swipe to scroll through pages and menus. But the iPad has other lesser-known gestures that include a hidden control panel, a virtual trackpad, and the ability to display multiple apps on the screen. When these gestures are combined with the ability to tell Siri to set up reminders, meetings, and the other things Siri can do, the iPad can do much more.

Instructions in this article apply to devices running iOS 12 or later.

Swipe Up and Down to Scroll

The most basic iPad gesture is swiping with a 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. Scroll up a list by swiping down, place your finger at the top of the screen and move it toward the bottom of the screen.

The speed at which you swipe determines how quickly a page scrolls. If you are on Facebook and slowly move your finger from the bottom of the screen to the top of the display, the page follows your finger. If you swipe quickly and lift your finger immediately, the page flies by faster. This is a fast way to reach the end of a list or web page.

Swipe Side-to-Side to Move Next and Move Previous

If objects are displayed horizontally, 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 the photos on the iPad. When viewing a photo full screen, swipe from the right side of the iPad display to the left side to move to the next photo. Similarly, swipe from the left to the right to view a previous photo.

This also works in apps such as 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 move like a carousel and reveal more content. Other apps and websites display information in the same way, and most use the swipe for navigation.

Pinch to Zoom

To zoom in on web pages, photos, and other screens on the iPad, put your thumb and index finger together, place your fingers in the center of the screen, then move your fingers apart. To zoom out, pinch your fingers together on the display.

This gesture also works with three fingers.

Tap to Move to Top

If you scroll down a web page and want to go back to the top, you don't need to scroll up. Instead, tap the top of the iPad screen, which shows the time, battery level, and other information.

Move to top

Tapping this top menu takes you back to the top of the web page. This also works 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 finds apps and information both inside and outside your iPad. While on the Home screen, swipe down from anywhere on the display to reveal this feature.

Spotlight Search on iPad

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

Swipe from the Top Edge for Notifications

Swiping down from any part of the display while on the home screen opens Spotlight Search. However, if you swipe from the top edge of the display, the iPad shows notifications for text messages, reminders, calendar events, and apps.

Notification Center on iPad

You can also display these notifications on the lock screen, so you don't need to enter your passcode to see what you've planned for the day.

Swipe from the Top Corner for the Control Center

The Control Center is a useful hidden feature of the iPad. It controls your music, including adjusting the volume or skipping a song. It also turns on features such as Bluetooth, AirDrop, and screen brightness.

Opening the control panel on iPad

To open the Control Panel, swipe up from the bottom of the screen. This is the exact opposite of how notifications are displayed. Once you begin swiping up from the bottom, the control panel starts to appear.

Swipe From Left Edge to Move Back

Another handy swipe-from-the-edge gesture is to swipe from the left edge of the display to the middle of the display to activate a Move Back command.

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

Use Two Fingers on the Keyboard for the Virtual Trackpad

You can activate the Virtual Trackpad any time the on-screen keyboard is active. Put two fingers on the keyboard at the same time, and without lifting the fingers from the display, move the fingers around the screen. A cursor appears in the text that moves with your fingers, allowing you to place the cursor exactly where you want it.

iPad trackpad

Swipe From the Right Edge to Multitask

This gesture works with open apps. Open the iPad Dock by swiping up from the bottom of the screen, then tap and hold the app you want to add. After a second, a copy of the icon appears. Drag this icon on top of the open app to turn on Slide-Over multitasking, which allows an app to run in a column along the side of the iPad screen.

Three apps open at once on an iPad

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

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

Drag and Drop for Slide View

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, drop it on the right side of the screen. A black area appears to show you that you can use the feature. When you let go, the two apps run side-by-side at the same time.

Slide View on iPad

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

Four Finger Side Swipe to Navigate Apps

Place four fingers on the iPad display and swipe left or right to navigate through the active apps. Swipe left to go to a previous app, or swipe right to go 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

Place four fingers on the screen and swipe 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.

Multitasking in iOS 12

To close apps using this screen, move an app 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 turn on the Gestures toggle switch.

Pinch In for the Home Screen

Pinch in with four or five fingers to see windows appear on the side of the screen. If you continue pinching in, you'll go back to the Home screen.

More iPad Lessons

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