Often, I find people struggle with the usage of press-and-hold gestures on mobile/web platforms. The mere thought of having a user press on a defined object and hold for an arbitrary amount of time before the product reacts seems overtly complicated and unobtrusive. My questions are:

  1. For what use cases do press-and-hold gestures best fit?
  2. Have there been published studies with regards to press-and-hold gesture intuition?
  3. Are there more viable alternatives to this system?
  • Great question! I think this needs more attention in the years to come! Aug 8 '12 at 19:51
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    On Sony hardware (e.g. a Walkman player), buttons that have a long-press function are labeled with a dot and a name for the normal function and a bar and a different name for the long-press function. Unsure how this would translate to a touchscreen UI, but it's been successfullly addressed elsewhere.
    – staticsan
    Aug 9 '12 at 2:13
  • Both of Apple's Home and Power buttons have long press functionality that relates to the normal press functionality. Power goes into shutdown mode and, by default, Home brings up Siri (who is like a smart Springboard, I guess :-). One of these is supposed to be a common occurrence, the other not so much. Jun 2 '16 at 22:30

The press-and-hold (or long press) gesture on a mobile devices mimic the secondary button press on a computer mouse. It is supposed to give you the same alternative options as the secondary mouse click on a computer (even on Apple devices). From a UX perspective this behavior is kind of odd, since there are no clues that the long press exist on an object, and the user is left to trying it out if they haven’t read the manual. Reading the manual to the just purchased smartphone is something that one would wish happen more often, but chances are that users learn from friends.

Still, downloaded apps seldom tell you that the long press exist, and this is bad. There should be some indicator that the object contain a long press option by a different visual cue for the user to rely on. This hasn’t happened yet, but I’m sure it’ll emerge soon since there will be more and more (real) user experience testing on mobile apps as they become more and more important in our daily life.

Too bad it isn’t here already.

  • 3
    Windows XP tablet edition (and follwowing windows versions) gave visual feedback about how long you've pressed and held; a little circle that starts as an arc and forms a full circle as the gesture reaches it's time limit
    – Ben Brocka
    Aug 8 '12 at 20:01
  • @BenBrocka Cool - I didn't know that. I'm just waiting to get my hand on Windows Surface and see how they indicate that there is a long press available. Aug 8 '12 at 20:04
  • Big part of the reason Desktop windows can do that is it's replacing a right click action...so it's almost always valid. Showing a long press indicator when 95% of the time you can't long press wouldn't make sense. You'd need a Just In Time indicator ideally
    – Ben Brocka
    Aug 8 '12 at 20:18
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    PC components don't indicate their ability to react on secondory mouse button click either.
    – Zon
    Jun 28 '18 at 14:15
  • Adding to Zon's comment: consequently, a significant amount of people aren't aware of secondary (or tertiary) mouse clicks, similar to people not being aware of long-presses. Also, the long-press exists outside of mobile platforms. Audio & video players have used long-presses for some functions with similar results to mobile platforms (i.e. users aren't aware of those functions).
    – outis
    Oct 5 '20 at 21:47

I think the point is that this gesture is unobtrusive. It doesn't take up UI real estate or complicate the interface. Because there is general problem with discoverability (if that's a word) as there is no visual cue, it's best served for less frequent actions. Once a user learns this, it's like learning the right click. They never forget it and use it when they don't know what else to do. Having this available as a designer is a huge bonus, but poses many challenges.

  1. I find tap+hold best for lesser used actions and they're typically followed by a confirmation box or context menu. Often these are secondary actions assigned to a touch area that already has a primary action. Think of looking at a list where you tap to select, or tap+hold to remove from the list. I think android users to be more familiar with this as the 'add bookmark to homepage' action often requires a tap+hold. On android when you are looking at a list of bookmarks, you can tap to launch that bookmark, or tap+hold to launch a context menu with options to delete, share or add to homescreen.
  2. In general, tap+hold and swipe are less intuitive to device newbies. Here's a gesture study by International Usability Partners. Obviously they don't advocate filling your app with tap+hold events. Even though this is from 2010, this might be considered out of date as the mobile world has changed a lot since then.
  3. Good question. I would need to know more about the context in which you might use such a thing and on what platform before speculating.
  • I just thought of an alternative for #3 after watching my wife get frustrated on the iPad. This gesture I would call the 'Tap Harder' gesture. I'm not sure if this is supported though:)
    – drawtheweb
    Aug 8 '12 at 20:17
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    Tap Harder is a well known gesture if you often use your phone with varying degrees of sweat/grease on your fingers :-) And it works...! :-) Aug 9 '12 at 6:17

Long-press is akin to a context menu and is predominantly used in Android. In iOS I have only seen Long Press in WhatsApp.

Its good as one gets more real estate on top of existing ones.

But yes it is not very intuitive and needs a bit of discovery. But I guess a little bit of discovery and learn-ability is inevitable.

Also Long-press is more heavy on one's motor(effort) skill than a tap or a swipe for example.

Would be keen to read any white paper/research done on this. If any exists.

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