Touch Gestures in Mobile Apps

Wednesday, 27 September, 2017

Maybe not completely aware of it, but on a daily basis, we use a dozen types of gestures to interact with touchscreen devices.
For many people, gestures are natural, intuitive and around us since always. But, when did they first appeared? Why is this phenomenon so widespread? What’s the logic behind it?
Here, we’ll try to summarise the whole story about touch gestures.


Gestures Are The New Clicks

Ten years ago, when Apple presented the first iPhone, people went crazy for touchscreen-centred interaction. There was not only tapping on interface anymore but pinching, spreading and swiping. It was a huge hit. Touch gestures become ubiquitous.
And it was an indicator where the future of the way people interact with smartphones will go.

In the beginning, there were only a few basic movements. But, with adding combinations like double touching, long pressing, long press dragging etc., the era of gestures started blossoming. New forms continually appeared. But, the focus remained on natural behaviour and intuitive workflows.

Today, in-app gestures are so intuitive to us that we don’t even notice performing them. Did you ever hear parents talking how their children know to use a smartphone, even if they never hold it before?
We may not know every single of gesture by name, but we all spend a minimal amount of time figuring out and adopting them.

It’s springtime of touch gestures.

What Kind of Touch Gestures Are There?

Gestures come in all shapes and sizes. There are several common gestures, which are listed in the graphic below.
We could say that these gestures are already conventional because mobile device users are accustomed to them. They are most used across the platforms, so they become intuitive to the people who have any experience using gestural controls.

While designing touch gestures for your app, you need to think about how users hold their phones. Each gesture needs to be within reach of user’s thumb because most of the users hold the phone with one hand and use the thumb to navigate. So, if most actions perform with a thumb movement, that’s the space where all functionalities within the app need to be concentrated.

Designing touch gestures is not easy to venture at all. There are a lot to think of, many things to incorporate in one whole to make everything working flawless and be visually attractive.

Common touch gestures

Common gestures across the apps. (Source)

Gestures Unites us All?

Interesting study that has been made by Luke Wroblewski finds a lot of similarities in the way people expect mobile interface should work.

40 participants from nine countries had to carry out every-day mobile actions through gestures. The results were very similar, regardless of participants culture or touchscreen device experience. For example, most of them dragged something out from the screen to delete it.
A standard set of controls were: tap, double-tap, drag, flick, pinch, spread, press, press and tap, press and drag and rotate.

It means that people expect certain actions on different devices to work the same. That kind of intuitive interaction is powerful when it comes to UX.

Gestures unites users

Gestures unites users.

3D Gestures

Like everything else, gestures continued to evolve. With iPhone 6s, Apple presented 3D gestures. iPhone got a pressure-sensitive screen, so new gestures – Peek and Pop came with it.

Here, the gesture function depends on how hard user pushes the phone screen. The device will sense the amount of pressure on the screen, and that will be equivalent for touch gestures like pinching or tapping.

If you push with a medium strength, you perform a Peek, and if you push harder, you perform a Pop. Peek is the step that enables to preview some content from an app without actually opening it. Pop is used to initiate a direct shortcut within an app.

Developers are free to implement these gestures anywhere, but usage so far is in previewing and opening Mail messages, web links in Safari, opening locations in Maps etc.

What’s coming next, we are thrilled to see!

Why Touch Gestures Over The Buttons?

Save Time

Gestures save user’s time by reducing the number of steps necessary to perform a particular action. Before, on the phone with the keypad, it took too long to do what you wanted to do. The whole process included search, click, and surf through the list of possibilities. But, on the touch screens, because of smart gestures, the case is not the same. Everything is simple and one-touch away.

Save Space

Clarity is necessary to make your app aesthetically pleasing. To accomplish that, implementing gestures is the only logical way. When navigating by using touch gestures, there is no mess, unnecessary icons and numerical buttons on the screen. It’s all clean and simple, and there is more space for valuable content. The content-focused app lets the user do what’s most important without any distractions.

Bring Delight

Once discovered and learned, a gesture will be a delight to use. Gestural controls provide tactile experience, which is really enjoyable. Gestures make interaction with content more intuitive and fun; it makes us believe that we are interacting with something tangible. Successful interaction can give users a sense of accomplishment. We become more immersed in this experience and more pleased by it.

Treat your users with delightful mobile app

Give your users something that will delight them.

Downsides of Gestural Controls

Although all benefits of incorporating touch gestures are clear, there are opinions that whole this concept is a step back in a matter of usability. Here are some downsides:

Learning Curve

Although touch gestures become natural to most of the mobile app users, there must be some adaptation time, where the user needs to learn which gesture means what. Some in-app gestures are more complex, so learning and adaptation period will last longer. Of course, not all users are the same. For example, millennials and older people will not overcome touch gestures with the same pace.

There is no Standard

Gestures aren’t standard across mobile apps yet, so they are not obvious for users. For example, in Gmail swiping unopened mail to the left means archiving it, while in Apple mail same gesture means deleting it.

Did I do it Right?

In most cases, gestures do not leave any record of their path. So, if the user makes some gesture, and doesn’t succeed to perform a requested action, he will not know what went wrong.

Give Your Users Clues

When designing mobile app and including touch gestures, keep in mind that your users first need to discover them to use them. While building a mobile app, give your users clues about the availability of gesture.

The best approach to creating intuitive touch-based interactions is through the process of progressive disclosure. Introduce your users to controls and gestures step by step. Start by showing only the most relevant options for interactions.

There are several visual interaction design techniques to make users know that some gesture even exists.

Tutorials and Walkthroughs

Incorporating tutorials in mobile app will show user everything he needs to know. But, it’s not the most subtle way to do that. People don’t want to read the long manual before using your app. Also, in this way, you are giving a lot of information at once. Users need to work upfront even before they actually try the app.

Instead of giving a lot of information at one place at same time, try to educate users in context, which means to introduce user with some gesture at the moment he needs it. This technique includes slight visual clues and subtle animations.

Plain Text Command

This way of introducing is based on text command which allows users to perform a gesture and describe the result of it in short description. The less text there is, it is more likely that users will read and follow it.


Animations will show a preview of how to interact with element when acting. It is the clearest possible way to explain users how to interact with the app. Animation conveys information about functioning, so there is no need for guessing what to do next.

As we already said, the biggest downside of any gesture is learning curve. If your mobile app relies on gestures, there will always be the possibility of confusion. But, you can prevent that by using simple methods of teaching users about your app. Ensuring that new users are successful in managing within your app is the thing that turns casual visitors into loyal users.

Always point your user to the right direction

Always point your user to the right direction.

What Gestures Mean For App Success

With gestures progress, there are many possibilities for apps regarding usability, UX and retention.

With adopting touch gestures, users start to be more attracted to your app, because they gain more functionality with an app, but with equal or even fewer inputs.

Simplicity and power are something people look in the mobile app. The more you adapt your mobile app to it, there is bigger chance that people will like it, so you will gain loyal users and succeed in this highly competitive industry. Smart and efficient touch gestures can help you reach that.

Generally, gestures could hold the key to success of your app. By implementing meaningful gestures, your app can be more suitable, less cluttered and highly delight for use. In terms of usability and UX, with proper touch gestures, your app can be raised to a next level.

Meaningful gestures will make your app successful

Make one step further by implementing touch gestures.


We live in the world where progress in every industry is unstoppable. Changes are constantly happening. In the mobile app world, what is in today, already tomorrow can be outdated.

Phones evolved into sophisticated computers powered by our fingers. So, touch gestures have a lot of potential to bring user experience at a high level.

Before, with clicks in mobile apps, developers and designers only needed to figure out where they want the action to appear on the screen. But, with gestures, there is a lot more to think about. They have to consider the type of physical activity, location of the action on the screen and whether users can intuitively find it.

Touch gestures are a great way to make the mobile app more attractive to users and more content-focused, original and fun. But, when designing it, predicting user behaviour can be challenging.

Touch gestures are hidden controls, so the problem can occur in discovering and memorising all those functionalities. To make a successful mobile app with meaningful gestures, start by identifying the current state of gestures in the mobile world. Provide feedback, explicit hints and guides so users could know how to conduct the gesture. Keep it simple, and benefits will come along.

Entertaining, but useful. Simple and familiar to use. In today’s competitive market, how well gestures are implemented into the user experience will significantly decide about the success of the mobile app.

Ana Lozančić

Ana is a content Marketing specialist and blogger. She graduated in Faculty of humanities and social sciences. She enjoys learning and applying knowledge about marketing and social media, covering latest trends and topics about software development subjects.

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