How To Use Gestures Instead of Buttons for Home, Notifications, and More

Last modified
Sunday, September 27, 2020
Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

Intro

When iPhone X was released, it introduced a few swipe gestures to replace the Home Button. In iOS 12, Apple brought similar gestures to iPad, even the models that still have a home button. It seems like this new way of doing things is here to stay, so I wanted to try to demystify it. The below applies to all iOS and iPadOS devices I know of, running version 12 or newer.

The Concept

The basic idea is this: you take one finger, place it on the very top or bottom of the screen, and slide it toward the other end. If you're on the top, you slide down; if you're on the bottom, you slide up. You have to start from the area very close to the top or bottom edge; too far from that and iOS will assume you're just touching the screen like normal, not trying to perform one of these new commands. You'll know if you've started in the right place by the special sound iOS will make. This same sound, at higher pitches, is used to indicate what will happen during your swipe.

The first instance of the sound--heard when your finger lands on the right place--is the lowest-pitched of the three iOS will produce. If you start this gesture accidentally, or decide partway through that you don't want to complete it, just slide your finger some way left or right. You can also leave your finger in one place for a moment. This cancels the action and returns you to normal, with VoiceOver speaking what's under your finger.

If you're using an iPhone that supports haptic feedback (all modern ones do), you'll also get haptics. When you put your finger in the right place and hear the first sound, you'll get a gentle tap. As you slide your finger to the first position, you'll feel a stronger tap. When you land in the second position, this strong tap is repeated.

The Specific Commands

Let's start with the bottom of the screen. It may be easiest to find the bottom edge of the whole unit and slide up from there, as knowing where the touch-sensitive portion of the glass begins can be a bit tricky. Once you hear the first sound, keep moving your finger up. A little way along, you should hear a second sound, pitched a little higher than the initial one. If you lift your finger now, your device will go to the Home Screen. If you instead keep moving your finger toward the top of the screen, you will hear the third sound, pitched highest of the three. Lifting your finger now will bring up the App Switcher. Remember to move relatively straight up, as going too far to one side will cancel. It is also important to move your finger somewhat quickly.

Moving down from the top of the screen is similar. Find the starting point by touching the top of the screen, on or above the status bar, until you hear the lowest of the three sounds. Slide your finger down. At the second sound, you can lift your finger to open the Control Center. At the third and final sound, lifting up will open the Notification Center.

How do you remember which is which? After all, Control Center has been a swipe up, not down, since its introduction. One suggestion is to think that, since the Home button goes home and activates the App Switcher, swiping up from where the button is (or where it used to be) will perform those same tasks. As to their order, "home" has less letters than "app switcher", so is shorter. Thus, a shorter swipe is needed to activate it.

The centers are a bit easier. Once you get it in your head that both of them are now swipes down, not up, just think alphabetically (apologies to our readers who don't use English as their first language.) "Control" comes before "notification" in the English alphabet, so the Control Center is the first one you'll activate. The word length trick will also work here, as "notification" is the longer word and is also the one that needs a longer movement to open.

There's one more trick with these gestures. You can slide a finger up from the bottom of the screen, then, after you hear the first tone, slide the finger back the way it came. If you think of a similar motion to a two-finger scrub, but done with one finger and moving vertically, that may help. A comment on this guide suggested thinking of a fast swipe up, then back down, like swiping vertically to use the rotor just after moving your finger up a bit. Whatever trick you use, the gesture itself is very easy--much easier than I'm making it sound.

On iPad, this gesture will open the Dock, from where you can open a new app, open an app in Slide Over or Split View, and more. On iPhone, this gesture activates Readability, bringing the upper half of the screen down to make it easier to reach with one hand.

Alternatives

If you have a device with a home button, you can still use that as you always have. The usual three-finger gestures from the status bar will also still work, regardless of whether you have a home button.

Commands from external keyboards and braille displays also work as they always have. As of iOS 13, you can also customize these commands if you want to.

The last option is to customize the gestures VoiceOver uses. As with custom keyboard/braille commands, you'll need iOS 13 or newer. You can assign gestures to open the Control or Notification Center, go home, open the App Switcher, and more. Just pick come commands that aren't in use, or that you don't mind losing, and change them to do whatever you want. For instance, my own setup is a two-finger swipe up to go home, and a four-finger swipe up or down for the Control or Notification Center.

Disclaimer

The article on this page has generously been submitted by a member of the AppleVis community. As AppleVis is a community-powered website, we make no guarantee, either express or implied, of the accuracy or completeness of the information.

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Comments

Submitted by Jeff on Friday, September 14, 2018

The title of this guide mentions the iPad. Will these gestures also work on the iPhone, especially the phones without Home buttons?

Submitted by Michael Hansen on Friday, September 14, 2018

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

Hi Jeff,

Surprisingly, these gestures are specific to the iPad and iPhone X and later.

Submitted by Will on Saturday, September 15, 2018

hello to all, does this mean that as all ipads at present have a home button that is haptic or physical, can we not use this anymore, and will have rely solely on gestures? is there a podcast demonstrating these features specific to the ipad? thanks. Will. for

Submitted by Paul Martin on Monday, September 17, 2018

When I got this iPad proa couple years back, one of the big selling points for me was the ability to have 2 programs showing up on the screen at once. It was quite handy to have weather and messages showing on the iPad at the same time so I could easily see what the weather was for a few different locations while sharing this info with someone in Messages as a more recent example. It was therefor quite a deal breaker during the first beta or 2 of iOS12 when there was no real easy way to accomplish this since the same 2 finger swipe up from bottom no longer works.
In short, the way to bring up the dock that you see in iOS 11 with the 2 finger swipe up from the bottom of the screen is to flick down on the final tone the indicates the switcher can be activated upon lifting the finger, much like going to a heading or link on a webpage. Further, there are some new taps: Tapping 4 fingers on the right side of the screen will take you to the next app or area on the screen, while the left will take you to the previous.

Submitted by eclectica on Monday, September 17, 2018

As someone who finds VoiceOver sounds annoying and who has silenced them, I am wondering: Is it possible to use these gestures when VO sounds are muted? I would appreciate feedback from anyone who has tried it.

Submitted by Louise R on Monday, September 17, 2018

Can anyone confirm if gestures to access the dock to do split view has changed? I have updated my ipad and don't seem to be able to get this to work. Before you got to the dock by swiping with 2 fingers from the bottom of the screen.

Submitted by Ryan Dour on Tuesday, September 18, 2018

…………To bring up the Dock as you did using the previous two finger gesture, simply slide your finger up from the bottom, then reverse direction and slide your finger off the bottom of the screen. You'll hear the Dock pop up with a womp sound. Repeat the same motion to dismiss the Dock. it can be done very quickly if you think of it as a rotor flick up and then down without letting your finger leave the surface at the bottom edge.

Submitted by jrjolley (not verified) on Tuesday, September 18, 2018

In reply to by Ryan Dour

Everything else in iOS 12 has been great, I use multitasking like that all of the time. Thank you a thousand times.

Submitted by mehgcap on Friday, September 21, 2018

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

Thanks to all of you who pointed out the new Dock gesture. We completely missed that in testing. I've updated this guide with a section on this command.

Submitted by tunmi13 on Thursday, November 1, 2018

Thanks for this guide. I recently updated my iPad Mini 2nd generation to iOS 12.1 and these gestures work even though I have a home button.