Touchscreen basic controls


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Basic controls

a close up of a hand tapping on a touchscreen

What's coming up?

Unlike most computers, smart devices (such as smartphones and tablets) can be controlled by touching their glass-like screens (known as touchscreens). Different touches, or gestures, tell the smart device to do different things.

In this activity, we look at three of the main gestures to use on a smart device: tapping, swiping and scrolling.

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The tap gesture works on a touchscreen device in the same way a mouse click works on a desktop or laptop computer. You use the tap gesture to undertake a range of tasks including opening a program, typing and selecting buttons when browsing the internet.

a finger pressing on a touchscreen
a finger tapping an address field on a smart device online form

How to tap

To tap, lightly place the tip of your index finger onto the screen and raise it again, quickly. The touch only needs to be for a fraction of a second for the screen to respond and you don't need to press down hard.

Tapping can be used for typing text and numbers, and to select buttons or open programs. It is one of the most common gestures used on smart devices.

On the next panel is a short demonstration of tapping on a touchscreen. Click Continue below and then click the play button to watch the video.

How to tap on a touchscreen - video demonstration


If a web page, document or object is too tall to fit on a screen, you can move the page up or down to reveal more. This is known as scrolling.

To scroll, gently place a fingertip on the screen and slowly drag it up or down while keeping contact with the screen. You will see the page moving in the same direction as your finger. Release your finger to stop scrolling.

On the next panel is a short demonstration of scrolling on a touchscreen. Click Continue below and then click anywhere on the video to start watching.

a finger scrolling on a touchscreen by sliding down the screen in a continuous movement

How to scroll on a touchscreen - video demonstration

Scrolling practise

If you are using your tablet or smartphone to view this activity, try using this technique to scroll up to see the previous text and then scroll back down again to this section of the page. You can scroll as many times as you wish.

a finger swiping across a smart screen from right to left


Just as you can scroll up and down to view a webpage or document, you can also move content from left to right or vice versa. This is known as swiping.

To swipe, gently place one finger on the screen and drag it to the left or right, then release your finger. The content on the page will move in the same direction as your finger. This is a useful gesture for moving through different photos in a gallery or pages of apps on a smart device.

On the next panel is a short demonstration of swiping on a touchscreen. Click Continue below and then click anywhere on the video to start watching.

How to swipe on a touchscreen - video demonstration

a touchscreen device showing the keyboard that automatically appears when you need to type

Typing on a touchscreen

As you will have noticed, your touchscreen device doesn’t have a keyboard attached to it. It does however have a pop-up keyboard, known as the on-screen keyboard, that appears automatically when you tap into a text field. A text field is any space on the screen that is designed for you to enter text, such as the address bar in a web browser or an email.

Typing upper-case letters

Just like on a computer keyboard, you can type upper-case and lower-case letters on a smart device. To type in upper-case, tap the Shift arrow key before tapping on the letter. Once you tap the Shift arrow key, you’ll notice that the letters on the keyboard will change to upper-case.

You can tap the Shift arrow key at any time to change between upper- and lower-case letters.

a close up of the Shift arrow key on an on-screen keyboard that is usually marked with an up arrow
a touchscreen keyboard showing the special .?123 key that allows you to type numbers and symbols

Typing numbers and symbols

You may notice that your on-screen keyboard doesn’t display numbers, punctuation marks or other symbols that you’d find on a normal keyboard. This is because the limited amount of space available on a smart device screen means that only so many keys can be displayed in one go. The good news is they are available, but you need to tap a special key to reveal them.

To display numbers and other symbols, tap the 123 or .?123 key, usually located in the bottom right- or bottom left-hand corner of the keyboard, and then type as normal. Tap on the ABC key to return to the letters.

Auto-correct and word suggestions

Many smart devices will automatically replace a word as you are typing if it is typed incorrectly. For example, accidentally typing teh might be replaced by the without you having to fix it yourself. This is known as auto-correct and can be very helpful.

However, it can also be annoying if, for example, you are typing sombody's name, and it assumes it is a mistake! The good news is smart devices learn from you as you type, and remember new words for next time.

Your device may also predict words as you type and offer suggestions just above the keyboard. You can tap on a suggested word and it will be dropped into your sentence, ready for you to continue typing.

a touchscreen device highlighting how the keyboard shows suggested words it thinks you might be typing

Watch some typing in action

Let’s have a look at how you enter text on your touchscreen.

On the next slide is a demonstration of someone typing text using a touchscreen device. Select the Continue button below to begin and then follow the instructions to watch the demonstration.

Watch text entry

This is a video exercise that allows learners to watch how text entry works on a tablet or another device with a touchscreen.

This exercise has no sound track.

The video starts by showing how to make a keyboard appear on the screen of a tablet or smartphone and then continues with how to type text and make the keyboard disappear, or hide the keyboard, when you have finished typing .

This exercise is used to encourage confidence using the internet by watching a simple exercise in a simulated environment.

Well done!

You’ve completed the Touchscreen basic controls activity.

You've learned how to tap, scroll, swipe and enter text.

With these simple controls, you could start using a touchscreen today.

In the next activity, More advanced controls, you'll find out about some other ways you can control your touchscreen device.

a dad and daughter using a touchscreen together