Using the touchscreen


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Using the touchscreen

A couple using their touchscreen device to chat with their family

What's coming up

The main way you control a tablet is by using the screen itself. You don't need a mouse or a physical keyboard.

If you want to point at something on the screen or type something, you just tap the screen with your finger. There's more you can do too, like scrolling, swiping and typing.

In this activity, we're going to talk about the basics of using a touchscreen.

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What is a touchscreen?

A touchscreen is a special kind of screen that responds to touch. Instead of having a mouse or keyboard, you just tap on the screen to select, open, move and interact with items on the screen.

A touchscreen uses the electrical signals in your body to detect your touch. This mean that you can't wear gloves while using a touchscreen.

You don't need to press hard for a touchscreen to work; a light touch is all that's needed.

A tablet displaying the home screen with apps and icons
A touchscreen being operated using a single tap

How to tap

There are a number of common finger movements you can use on a touchscreen.

The tap is the most common. Tapping on the screen with any finger can open an application, photo or website.

A touchscreen being operated using a swipe

How to swipe

Another common touchscreen finger movement is the swipe.

To turn a page, you might swipe with one finger across the screen in the direction to want to turn the page. You can think of it like turning the page in a book.

The swipe can also be used to browse through a gallery of photos or images.

Watch the video on the next slide to see swiping in action.

How to swipe

This video recording has no sound track. It displays a touchscreen being operated by a swipe gesture with one finger to move between screens, first to the left and then to the right. The video is 15 seconds in duration.

A touchscreen being operated using a scroll gesture

How to scroll

Just like on a laptop and desktop, sometimes a document or web page doesn't fit on the screen. This is where you can use a finger to scroll the page up or down.

To scroll a page, place your finger on the screen and slide it up and down to scroll.

Watch the video on the next slide to see how the scroll movement works.

How to scroll

This video recording has no sound track. It shows someone scrolling a web page on their touchscreen by sliding their finger up and down the screen. The video is 20 seconds in duration.

Typing on a tablet

You may be wondering, with no keyboard on a tablet, how do you type?

Whenever you need to type something on a tablet, a keyboard will appear on the screen. The onscreen keyboard works the same as a physical keyboard, and lets you fill in forms, send emails, type search terms into a web browser, and more.

To type on the onscreen keyboard, tap the letters and numbers you want to enter.

A touchscreen with an onscreen keyboard displayed

Typing numbers and symbols

To type number keys and symbols, press the symbols button. On an Apple iPad, it's the ?123 button. On other tablets, the button may show symbols like @!&.

Tap either button and the tablet will show a new keyboard, with symbols and numbers.

To go back to the letters keyboard, tap the ABC key.

The symbols button highlighted on an onscreen keyboard
The shift keys highlighted on an onscreen keyboard

Typing capital letters

If you need to type capital letters, tap the Shift or Caps Lock key, just like on a physical keyboard. You only have to tap the Shift key once, however - there's no need to hold it down.

Starting an app

Now you know the basic touchscreen finger controls, you can start an app.

To start an app, find the icon for that app on the tablet's screen, then tap on it. The app should open, ready for you to use.

A finger selecting an icon to tap on a touchscreen
A tablet displaying the home screen

The Home screen

When you're finished with an app, you can start something else on your tablet by going back to the Home screen.

The Home screen on a tablet is the main screen, or first screen you see when you turn it on. You can go back to the Home screen at any time by tapping on the Home button.

The Home button

On most tablets, the Home button is located just below the screen.

A tablet showing the location of the home button
A different type of tablet where the home button is located on the screen itself

On some tablets, however, the home button is on the screen itself.

There is a short video clip to watch on the next page that shows you how to find your way back to your home screen using the home button.


Well done, you've completed the activity on Using a touchscreen.

You've learnt a lot in this activity. You should now know:

  • how a touchscreen works
  • how to tap, swipe, scroll and type on a tablet
  • where the Home button is.

You can learn more advanced touchscreen controls in our Get to know your device topic. In the meantime, have a look at how tablets and laptops compare in the next activity, Tablets vs laptops.

A close up of a finger on a touchscreen