Around the time that Apple first unveiled the iPhone, company cofounder and CEO called the human finger “the best pointing device in the world.” While he was specifically railing against styli at the time, there’s no doubt that touch-based controls have become the industry standard in the tech industry.
It’s been nearly a decade since then, and that statement is probably truer than ever. The iPhone really kick started a revolution in smartphone user experience.
Just try to find a smartphone that doesn’t use touch-based controls in 2019!
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In its latest iOS 13 and iPadOS software updates, Apple has taken that to a new level. Your hand digits have a new level of power in the latest OS updates. And it’s worth spending some time getting to know what they can do.
Finger control on iOS 13 and iPadOS
There has always been clever and intuitive gesture-based controls baked into Apple’s smartphones and tablets. Just think about “pinch-to-zoom.”
But Apple has made finger-based gestures even more powerful in iOS 13. Here’s how.
Easy text editing & selection
One of the most significant ways Apple has changed gesture-based controls has to do with text.
For many users, working with text on a smartphone or tablet just isn’t as easy as working on a Mac or PC. In iOS 13, Apple had added a slew of new text-focused gestures that should make it easier. Here’s just a sampling.
- Moving the cursor: The iOS text cursor should, theoretically, be an extension of your fingers. In iOS 13 and iPadOS, it feels more like that than any previous operating system. That’s because you can now tap it and drag it wherever you want.
- Scrolling more intuitively: Related to the cursor placement is the new ability to tap and hold on a scroll in an app or webpage. Like the cursor, this action lets you move the scroll bar anywhere within that page or app.
- Selecting text: Text selection was always a pain on iOS. It’s not anymore. Just double tap to select a word and slide your finger across text to select it. Alternatively, triple-tap to select an entire sentence. Quadruple-tap to select an entire paragraph. You can also “select all” on a page by double-tapping at the beginning and dragging two fingers down the page.
- Selecting files and messages: A similar move to the click-and-drag gesture on macOS. This one works in Files or Mail. Just use two fingers to tap and hold on the screen, and then drag those two fingers across the files or messages you’d like to select.
The power of three fingers on iOS
And, for the first time on iOS, Apple has actually implemented controls that take advantage of a three-finger gesture.
- Copy: Want to quickly copy some text? Just “pinch in” with three fingers to quickly get a Copy icon to appear.
- Cut: Cutting text is pretty much the same, except you make the pinch gesture twice. The text should disappear and be transferred to your device’s clipboard.
- Paste: Pasting is just as intuitive, and you can probably already guess how to do it. Just pinch outward with three fingers. The Paste button will appear, allowing you too quickly paste text.
- Undo: Past iPhones have always had a “shake to undo” option. But in iOS 13 and iPadOS, there’s a new undo option that takes advantage of touch gestures. Just swipe right-to-left on an iPhone’s or iPad’s display to undo an action. In some apps, you’ll see a new menu bar pop up with undo and redo options.
- Redo: Didn’t mean to undo an action? You can swipe from left-to-right to redo said action. Again, this may also bring up a menu bar in some apps.
The future of gestures
Apple has room to grow in the gesture field. Just look at the trackpad on MacBook devices. There are plenty of gesture shortcuts and controls baked into macOS, and some of them even rely on four- or five-finger gestures.
While Apple has to take care to not overcomplicate iOS and iPadOS, it could implement other types of gesture-based controls that could allow users to quickly access certain system functions or features.
Furthermore, Apple also appears to be experimenting in this space. Your fingers could still be used to navigate and operate iOS, but you may not even have to touch the display to do so. Back in April 2018, a source familiar with Apple’s plans told Bloomberg that the company is working on “touchless gestures.”
Essentially, a way for an iPhone to detect finger motions or gestures without the user ever needing to actually physically interact with the screen.
While that iPhone may be a ways off — or may never happen at all — it’s safe to say that Apple is going to continue to try to innovate in this space.
Mike is a freelance journalist from San Diego, California.
While he primarily covers Apple and consumer technology, he has past experience writing about public safety, local government, and education for a variety of publications.
He’s worn quite a few hats in the journalism field, including writer, editor, and news designer.