The Unknown Gesture: Split Tap

VoiceOver iOS users are very familiar with the basic swipe and double tap gestures; most users are incredibly fast when swiping through apps on the Home screen, list of emails, and navigating through items on a page. Did you know that there is another gesture combination that is frequently unknown even to tech savvy VoiceOver users? The drag and split tap gestures produce the same reaction as swipe and double tap. Drag your finger around the screen - while listening to VoiceOver announcements - to find the desired app on the home screen, button, or item on the page. Split tap - drop a second finger on the screen - will open the app or activate the button.

The power of an iPad is knowing where you are on the screen. Think about your iPad or iPhone's Home page. What is in the top left corner? What apps are in your dock at the bottom of the page? Where is your Phone app on your iPhone?  On my iPad, the Calendar app is in the top left corner of my iPad and my dock contains my frequently used apps in this order: Pages, Mail, Settings, Dropbox, Files, Safari. If I want to open Safari, I could start at the top left corner and right swipe about 25 times to reach Safari. Or, I can simply start in the bottom right corner and drag my finger until I hear 'Safari' and then split tap.

Spatial concepts are often challenging for students who are visually impaired. Touch screen devices provide instant spatial feedback when users drag their finger around the screen. This spatial information provides opportunities for blind students to develop spatial concepts. Students who explore the screen by dragging and who consistently use drag and split tap begin to build mental models of the Home screen and of various apps. App developers strategically place the Back button in the top left corner and the Next button in the bottom right corner. Teach your student to start dragging in the corner - do not drag from the top left down to the corner. Have your student place his fingers on the two edges of the iPad in order to quickly find the corner of the screen.  Example: If looking for the Next button in the bottom right corner, place the thumb of the right hand on the physical bottom edge of the iPad and the middle finger on the right edge; this places the index finger on the screen in the bottom right corner. 

The video below demonstrates the drag and split tap gestures on the iPad's Home screen.


Students who drag and split tap build better mental models of the Home pages and of individual apps on their device. This ability to build mental maps and stronger spatial concepts carries over to orientation and mobility skills. As an Orientation and Mobility Specialist, I have seen a direct correspondence between spatial concepts on the iPad and spatial concepts for O&M purposes. When iPads first came out, students who used drag and split tap quickly increased their spatial skills which significantly and positively impacted their O&M skills. Students with strong spatial concepts developed mental maps of their environment and became travelers who could independently determine shortcut routes. Students who continued to navigate their device using swipes, tended to be rote route travelers - travelers without mental maps who required instruction to learn each specific route. Now, students with visual impairments are being introduced to iOS devices earlier (often in preschool or kindergarten); with systematic instruction, these students are exposed to hands-on spatial relationships and are developing strong mental mapping skills early on!

Added bonus: The double tap gesture can be challenging for many students and adults with visual impairments. The split tap gesture is physically easier to make! 

Drag and Split Tap Activities

  • Practicing dragging on the Home screen. Split tap and open a desired app.
    • Ask the student to drag across the first row (top of the screen); now drag across the last row (bottom of the screen).
    • Reinforce spatial concepts such as right/left or up/down, rows and columns, top/middle/bottom.
    • Ask the student to find the app in the bottom right corner. (Compare right swiping to find the last app and dragging to find the last app.)
      • Demonstrate how to use the edges of the iPad to find the corner.
      • Ask the student to find an app that is located in the center of the iPad's screen.
      • Ask the student to describe where specific apps are located. (Example: On my iPad, the Calendar app is the first app - in the top left corner.)

      The video below demonstrates the spatial concepts taught using the drag gesture on the iPad's Home screen.

  • I Hear Ewe App - This is a great app for young students to practice drag and split tap and to develop a mental map of where their favorite animal or vehicle is located in the grid. (See I Hear Ewe App post for details)

The new video demonstrates the drag and split tap gestures using the I Hear Ewe app.


  • Ballyland Sound Memory App - This is a fun memory matching app that can be used to teach the drag gesture and spatial concepts. Note: Select Drag in the app's settings. Split tap does not work in this app - you must double tap to select. See Ballyland Sound Memory Matching and Math Grids post for details.

The next video demonstrates drag gesture to teach spatial concepts and mental mapping using the Ballyland Sound Memory app.


  • Typing - Use the on-screen keyboard in Notes or Pages. Confirm in the rotor that the typing mode is set to Standard Typing. Drag your finger around the on-screen keyboard to find the desired letter. Split tap to 'type' the letter.

The next video demonstrates the drag and split tap gestures to type using the on-screen keyboard.

  • Use your favorite app and drag to find the Back button, Next button and other buttons (if appropriate).


Collage of Split Tap Gesture