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How to Use iPad Gestures and Context Menus

written by: •edited by: M.S. Smith•updated: 6/13/2011

Getting to grips with touch screen devices can be difficult, but the iPad features an easy to use group of gestures for opening apps and menus. The is even a way to right-click, assuming the app in question has suitable context menus!

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    Touchscreen Computing, Fingers and Gestures

    The Apple iPad has revolutionised computing, carving out a brand new niche and at the same time delivering a revision to the iOS interface made popular in the iPhone and iPod Touch.

    With fingers doing all of the work on a multi-touch display, the iPad features an easy user interface that allows any user to quickly get to grips with its various gestures and taps. While other devices have since sprung up that follow these trends, the iPad was the first and makes the long-standing, expensive range of Windows tablets look like ancient monoliths.

    Comparing these two types of devices really hammers home how revolutionary the iPad is, and shows just how much better a finger-based user interface can be over one that relies on a stylus, as you will see now as we take a look at the various gestures that are commonly used when interacting with an Apple iPad.

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    Standard iPad Gestures

    The Apple iPad 2 Interaction with any model of iPad requires the use of one or two fingers, and this allows you to launch applications, switch to another screen, open and close menus, and generally do everything that you might expect a mouse to do on a desktop computer.

    As Steve Jobs observed when launching the iPhone:

    “We are all born with the ultimate pointing device—our fingers"

    It is now possible to play games, write documents, enjoy video and TV and create and edit images and music with our fingers thanks to a selection of finger gestures.

    For instance, to unlock the iPad screen, just as with an iPhone, you would use your finger to slide the unlock tool. Similarly, launching an app from the Home screen is performed with a single tap, while a finger or thumb can be used to press the hardware Home button.

    Another popular function on all iOS devices is zooming, something that can be typically performed when viewing photos and web pages, and this can be performed in two different ways.

    The first is to double tap the area you wish to see in more detail, causing a zoom into the area you tapped. However, the second method of pinching your forefinger and thumb on the iPad screen is much more popular, not to mention more accurate.

    Image credit:

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    The Right-Click Action on the iPad

    So as you can see, there are various ways of using your fingers on Apple’s popular tablet. But how do you right click on iPad?

    The truth is that there isn't a to do this. Before we go any further, however, let’s take a look at the benefits of right-clicking on a Windows PC or Mac.

    In fact, let’s stop right there: there has been little use of the right-click function on Apple Mac computers for years until recently, thanks to the combination of the command key with the standard left-click – or in the case of most Apple computers over the years, the standard click.

    You see, right-click is a function that has only arrived on Macs over the past ten years. Before that, Apple computers shipped with a mouse with a single button. Right-clicking, therefore, is largely alien to the Apple way of life, and while it is incorporated into the modern OS, it is still supplemented by the command key/left-click combination.

    The result of either kind of right click, however, is a context menu, and this is the same in Windows and Mac OS X. A context menu is one that delivers a set of menu options directly related to the item you right-clicked. A typical action is right-clicking an image in a web page in order to choose the option to save it to your computer.

    Selecting a similar option on an iPad is initially difficult, as there is no right-click function. However, this doesn’t mean that there is no context menu, only that there is a different way to access it.

    One fact worth considering is that context menus are only provided where appropriate. Therefore if you attempt to try the following gesture in an iPad app that doesn’t support or require any contextual instructions to be made available, then you will receive no response from the device.

    The best example app in which to try the equivalent right-click gesture is in the iPad browser, and it really is quite simple – simply tap and hold to display the context menu and make your choice from the list of options!

    Alternatively, of course, you could choose to jailbreak your iPad and install a physical mouse...

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    Author's own experience.


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