iOS Basics: Navigate on your iPhone or iPad

Although Apple has designed the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad to be simple to learn, sometimes you may want a primer on the basics. Here’s a breakdown of the major multitouch gestures, navigation, Home screen tips and tricks, and multitasking features you’ll need to master your iOS device.

Gestures and Techniques

If you’ve never before owned a multitouch device from Apple, you may be unfamiliar with crazy phrases like pinch-to-zoom and the difference between flick and swipe. Have no fear: While some of these gestures may have odd names, they’re easy enough to pick up.

Tap: As clicking is to a desktop computer, so is tapping to an iOS device. Tapping is the most common and basic gesture.  You can tap to open apps, bring up controls, make choices from menus, and more.

Double-tap: Tap an object twice in succession to effect a double-tap. Double-taps are primarily used for zooming in or out on text.

Tap, hold, and drag: For some functions, such as highlighting text, copying and pasting, or deleting and moving apps, you’ll need to tap and hold down on the screen. When you do this on a piece of text, it will highlight in blue, and editing handles—vertical lines with blue dots—will appear on either side of the highlighted area. You can tap, hold, and, while holding down, drag your finger to increase or decrease the selection. Dragging also comes into play for moving objects in apps, drawing, and swiping and flicking.

Drag your finger across the screen, up, down, left, or right, to swipe.

Flick and swipe: Swiping is one of your primary navigational tools: You use a left or right swipe to move through app pages on your Home screen or images in the Photos app; you use an up or down swipe to read text in Safari, iBooks, Newsstand, or elsewhere. It’s one of the easiest gestures to learn. A flick is just like a swipe, only faster: Your device supports inertial scrolling, which means that the faster or slower you move your finger, the faster or slower content will move. If you want to get to the bottom of a page quickly, just flick your finger upward in a fast motion.

One note of caution: All flicking and swiping on your device is inverse, meaning that when you move your finger down (in other words, swipe down), you’re actually moving whatever is on the screen upward. This makes perfect sense in the real world, but coming from a computer, where scrolling down on a trackpad or mouse actually scrolls the window down, it can be a bit disorienting at first. Why make the clarification? In this book, we refer several times to “swiping right” to bring up a left-hand navigational bar—which can be confusing to parse, if you don’t know about inverse gestures.

To zoom in or out, you’ll use the pinch gesture (also referred to as pinch-to-zoom).

Pinch: To zoom in or to open something, place your thumb and index finger, pinched together, on screen and spread them apart. To zoom out, do the reverse: Start with your thumb and index finger outwards, and then pinch them together.

Rotate: You can even rotate some elements with two or more fingers. Just place two fingers on the screen and make a circular gesture, clockwise or counterclockwise.

More fingers, more tasks

Since iOS 5, the Apple iPad 2  and newer models have gained several new multitouch gestures for working with apps and the multitasking bar. These gestures require more fingers—and therefore, more space—than your typical iOS pinching, swiping, and tapping gestures; as a result, these gestures are available only on the iPad. The good news, however, is that anyone already familiar with the iOS gesture–based interface should have no problem learning and using the latest additions to the growing list of available taps, swipes, flicks, and pinches.

If you’re tired of pressing the Home button repeatedly to pull up the multitasking bar, you may like these three new gestures, all of which require four to five fingers to execute. With them, you can switch between apps and return to the home screen much quicker.

Four- or Five-Finger Vertical Swipe Like a double-press on the Home button, a four- or five-finger upward swipe will pull up the multitasking bar along the bottom of the screen. To return it, swipe downward to hide the bar (or single-tap anywhere above it).

Four- or Five-Finger Horizontal Swipe With a four- or five-finger horizontal swipe, you can quickly move between your most recently used apps. For example, if you’re in Safari and want to switch to another open app, you can perform a four- or five-finger horizontal swipe left or right to move from one app to another; it’s similar to the one-finger swipe you use to move between home screens. You can swipe only between apps that have recently been used; to see those (and which order they’ve been used in), pull up the multitasking bar by double-pressing the Home button or by performing the four- or five-finger vertical swipe mentioned earlier.

As you swipe, the app you’re in will follow your fingers and move off the screen in the direction you are swiping. As it slides off, the next app will begin to crawl in from the other side of the screen until you swipe far enough for it to snap to center. You can swipe quickly to jump through apps almost immediately, or drag slower to fully appreciate the animation.

Four- or Five-Finger Pinch When you’re in an app and want to quickly return to the home screen, you can use a four- or five-finger pinch gesture. (This accomplishes the same thing as clicking the Home button.) Start with four or five fingers outward, and then pinch them together. Depending on the speed of your pinch, you can either slowly shrink the app until it disappears into the home screen, or do a quick pinch so that the app disappears at the same speed as it would if you clicked the Home button normally. This gesture has no reversal option; to reopen a recently closed app, you’ll have to pull up the multitasking bar.

Navigation Basics

Now that you’ve taken your first step into the iOS world with multitouch gestures, it’s time to learn how to navigate your device. We’ll go over where your apps are stored, how to organize them, search for them, and delete them.

The Home screen: When you first turn on your device, you’re brought to the Home screen. Here, you’ll see an assortment of icons grouped into rows, and several more icons grouped in the silver Dock along the bottom of the screen. The Home screen is where your apps live, and where you can launch them. Because only 16 apps will fit on one Home screen (20 on the iPad or iPhone 5), you can have multiple app pages or screens for organizing your apps (up to 11). Above the Dock, you’ll see a series of dots, with one highlighted in white; these dots signify the number of app pages you have. Swipe left or right to go from page to page.

The Dock: The silver translucent bar along the bottom of your Home screen is called the Dock. If you’ve tried swiping between app pages, you’ll notice the icons in the Dock don’t change. That’s because the Dock is for apps you most frequently use; instead of having to swipe from page to page to find an app, you can drop it directly into the Dock for easy access. You can store up to four apps in the Dock.

Search in Spotlight: You can search for every email message, webpage, and app on your device, or search through Google or Wikipedia, by swiping down on your Home screen until you reach Spotlight. To search, just type your query in the text box at the top.

Open and close an app: Want to launch an app? To open it, all you have to do is tap its icon. Once it’s open, you can return to the Home screen at any time by pressing the Home button.

Rearrange and delete apps: To rearrange the order of your icons, tap and hold any icon on the Home screen. After a few seconds, all your app icons, including the one you’re holding, will start to wiggle, and a small black X will pop up in each icon’s top left corner. Once they do this, you can rearrange any apps on the Home screen, or even drag them into or out of the Dock. If you’ve installed a third-party app you don’t want anymore, you can tap the X to delete it (you cannot delete the apps that came preinstalled on your device). When you’re finished, press the Home button, and your icons will stop wiggling and stay in their new location. You can also rearrange your icons and Home screen pages through iTunes when you connect your device to your computer.

Note that you’re not able to delete the built-in apps that come with your iOS device. These include Camera, Photos, YouTube, Clock, and Weather, among others. You’ll be able to tell which apps you can’t delete—they don’t sport the black X. You are able to move around these built-in apps to your liking, however.

Use folders: Having a bunch of apps scattered on your Home screen is OK if you don’t have too many, but when you start amassing a collection, you can use app folders. A folder is a group of apps, represented by a single icon, on your Home screen. Each folder sports miniature icons representing the apps inside, along with an overall name. When you tap a folder, the Dock fades and slides down, making room for a view of the folder’s contents. Within, you’ll find the name and icon for each app. Tap any app to launch it, or tap anywhere outside the folder to return to the Home screen.

To create a folder, start by tapping and holding any app icon to enter edit mode; after the icons begin to wiggle, drag an app on top of another app. When you release the app, you’ll create a folder, which will open and display both apps. By default the folder is named based on the App Store category for one of the first two apps in the folder. If you want to customize this name, just tap inside the field (while still in edit mode) and enter something new. When you’re done, press the Home button to exit edit mode.

To add another app to the folder, reenter edit mode and drag the desired app onto the folder icon. Repeat until you’ve added all the apps you want (up to 12 per folder on the iPhone or iPod touch; 20 on the iPad), and then press the Home button to exit edit mode.

To edit the folder itself, its name, contents, or the layout of the apps inside, you can either enter edit mode and then tap the folder, or, while the folder is open, tap and hold any icon inside. You can then tap the folder’s name to change it, drag apps within the folder to rearrange them, drag an app out of the folder to return it to the Home screen, or tap an app’s Delete button to completely delete it from your device. Unlike apps, folders don’t have a Delete button; to delete a folder, you must remove all the apps from it.

Manage folders from iTunes: iTunes has long allowed users to manage installed apps when syncing, and you can edit your folders too, using your mouse and keyboard. When your device is connected to your computer, the Apps tab in iTunes lets you choose which apps to sync, as well as decide how to organize these apps. Drag an app onto another app and, after a slight delay, a folder is created—just as if you’d performed the same action on your device. You get the same editable folder name, and you can rearrange icons within the folder. Since you’re using a computer, you don’t need to click and hold to enter the jiggling-icon edit mode; you can click and drag anytime. Similarly, to edit an existing folder, just double-click it.

Multitask on your iOS device

Opening and closing an app is easy: Tap the app to open it, and then press the Home button to close it. But when you exit, you’re not actually shutting down the app: You’re freezing it in place, or sending it to run in the background. This means you can have multiple active apps running at any one time, and you can even switch between active apps without returning to the Home screen.

Frozen apps versus background apps: Sometimes you need an app to keep doing something when it’s not in the foreground. For that reason, Apple allows apps to perform tasks in the background using several tools. One of these tools is the push-notification system; another allows music apps to keep playing while the user switches to another app; yet another allows tasks, such as photo uploads, to continue running in the background even if you switch out of the program performing the upload. If your third-party app doesn’t incorporate one of these background features, it will “freeze”, which is to say it will remember whatever you were just doing when you re-open it, but will not process any data in the background.

The multitasking bar: You can quickly switch between apps by bringing up the multitasking bar. To do so, quickly double-press the Home button; a bar below the Dock will rise up from the bottom of the screen, showing off the apps most recently run. To switch to a different app, tap its icon.  To end the app, flick it upwards off the screen.

Multitasking shortcuts: The multitasking shortcut popup has a couple of other neat controls for your device. If you swipe up from the bottom of the screen, you’ll bring up a secondary set of controls. You can control the music currently playing on your device (it defaults to the Music app, but you can also control music from third-party apps), change your device’s brightness, volume, Airplane mode, wi-fi, Bluetooth, lock orientation, flashlight, timer, calculator and camera.  Swiping down from the top of the screen brings up a consolidated calendar with weather and stock information.