How does the user learn about various gesture in the interfaces?

  1. Does the ipad or android device have inbuilt gestural instructions when someone buys a new device?
  2. Does it demonstrate the gestures involved when somebody buys or downloads an app?
  3. Does the app provides an intro of various gestures it takes care of?

I am asking this because it appears that the user goes into a stream of trial and error to understand an app or use the app, by trying various ways to move across the screens - sometimes succeed, fail or get frustrated.

Any research, evidence or observations?

4 Answers 4


The basic gestures, such as flicking, pinching, and tapping, are mentioned in user guides that are included in the box. For example, see PDF manuals for Apple iPad, HP TouchPad, and Barnes & Noble NOOK (search for "pinch" to find the section on gestures).

If an application uses gestures in an unusual manner, developers provide an intro about the application-specific gestures. Phoster (on the right) isn't a great example since the gestures are standard but that's the way a user would be introduced to such a new interaction.

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Gesture-based interfaces, such as those on smartphones and tablets, gained a lot of criticism for the disadvantages of gestures as an interaction system. One of the main points against gesture interfaces is the problem of discovery - since these gestural interactions are supposed to be "natural" and "intuitive", there is usually no affordance (hint for possible action) on screen for possible actions.

For example, on the desktop, you could hover over links and buttons, and something would happen (the cursor could change into a finger). This means that users should learn and memorize gestures, or stumble upon them accidentally (the trial and error you referred to). Don Norman writes about this problem and other in his article Gestural Interfaces: A Step Backwards In Usability.

Now, to your questions:

  1. Yes - The iPhone user guide (pdf) does teach the user the basic gestures (assuming that people even reads these things through). So does the iPad (pdf) and other smartphones and tablets. But knowing the basic gestures doesn't mean that users would know when to use them, which leads to the next question.
  2. Usually not - Each app developer decides how to use those interactions. They can also introduce the new gestures if they deem necessary. The buying and downloading process is usually not the place to teach the user about these gestures (although app developers could post instructions and screenshots of how their apps work on the app's store page).
  3. Sometimes - You are asking about invitations - the process of inviting the user to start using the app. Some apps take the user through a tutorial ("tour") upon opening the app for the first time. Nike app tour Others show contextual tooltips when they're appropriate. My Shopping List app tips.

If you're interested in this, you could read more about it in this UX Booth post and browse through examples in this Flickr photostreem.

  • "Invitation" isn't the common term. It's more commonly called "first time user experience". Also, the examples you pulled from the article are quite irrelevant to the question.
    – dnbrv
    Mar 9, 2012 at 18:20

Interesting question and took me back to 2008 when I had first encountered the iPhone and got my first iPod Touch which was based on the multi-touch screen and platform of iPhone.

The beauty of touch screen devices is that it invites discovery right away. I never read the manual, I do not even know if a manual came or it comes even now. But within a few hours I was up-to speed.

Also with Internet the experience is dissected and made aware in tons of blogs and articles. Take for example, Apple Watch, a whole new way of interacting and a lot has already been covered without even owning one.

As and when I do end up having one, I doubt I would be lost as to how this thing works.

Many apps/sites do have a user-boarding experience to make user familiar with gestures and the interface. But there are limited library of gestures and thankfully the gesture experience is same on all OS. So a swipe gesture on say iOS is also on Android and other platforms. How the gesture is manifested is another story.

For example, in iOS Email, Swipe from Right-Left leads to more options, whereas in Android Gmail, it leads to delete/archive.

From my experience, its best to stick with gestures which already know. Being different for the sake of it will not translate in a better user experience for the end user.



Does the ipad or android device teach or have inbuilt various gestural interfaces when someone buys a new device?

iPad: no. BlackBerry Playbook: yes. It has a video tutorial. Not sure about android tablets.

Does it demonstrate the gestures involved when somebody buys or downloads an app?

No. That's up to the app.

Does the app provides an intro of various Gestures it takes care of?

Some do. Some don't. For those that do, a common approach is the first time a screen is shown, a transparent overlay appears with some illustrative arrows and instructions.


Note that touch devices are direct manipulation. As such, one can argue that they are, by default, more intuitive by default. A fun way to test that is to hand the device to children. Most children pick up how to use an iPad or iPhone quickly (and, to our chagrin, seem to be nonplussed that we now live in an era where we can touch screens and they do things!)

Furthermore, the direct interaction allows for more exploration/discovery as well.

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