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New double tap gesture is much bigger than the Apple Watch

Published Sep 15th, 2023 11:58AM EDT
Apple Watch double tap icon appears at the top of the Series 9 screen.
Image: Apple Inc.

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The Apple Watch experience got a huge upgrade this year thanks to the watchOS 10 update that’s rolling out on Monday. Moreover, the Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 bring a new S9 chip that should offer a much better on-device Siri experience. On top of that, the S9 System-in-Package (SiP) can recognize gestures. Apple added a new double tap gesture that works across apps and the operating system.

The feature will change how you use the Apple Watch, especially if you buy one of the two new models. Although Apple announced the double tap gesture for the new 2023 Apple Watch models, it also works on older models. Here’s how to get double tap going on your Apple Watch.

That said, I think the double tap gesture is much bigger than the Apple Watch. It’s a new way of interacting with Apple’s smart devices that relies on tracking and detecting the movement of the user. In fact, the double tap gesture on the Apple Watch will get people accustomed to using similar gestures with the upcoming Vision Pro.

Apple’s Jeff Williams introduced double tap during the Apple Watch Series 9 announcement earlier this week. The gesture will also work on the Ultra 2, as the two devices share the same S9 SiP. Here’s how double tap works:

This new gesture is enabled by the powerful neural engine in Series 9, which processes data from the accelerometer, gyroscope, and optical heart sensor in a completely new way. It uses a machine learning algorithm to detect the unique signature of tiny movements and changes in blood flow when your hand and fingers perform a Double Tap.

Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra support the new double tap gesture.
Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra support the new double tap gesture. Image source: Apple Inc.

Double tap will control the primary button in an app, so you’ll be able to use it to control any app on the screen. Apple offered various examples in its demos, like silencing an alarm, answering a call and ending it, and playing or pausing music. The ones I liked best were launching the Smart Stack from the current watch face and taking photos remotely on an iPhone.

But the moment I saw double tap in action, I couldn’t help but think about the Vision Pro. Apple’s spatial computer also tracks your hands, but it does it with the help of cameras. To control the Vision Pro, you’ll use a combination of eye movements and hand gestures.

You select items on the screen with your eyes. But you then pinch (or single tap) with your fingers to click/touch an app icon or visual element. You can also pinch and hold to scroll.

Using double tap on the Apple Watch will train you to rely on hand gestures to control apps on an Apple device. Whenever you move to the Vision Pro, you’ll already know how to use it.

A person interacting with the Vision Pro via hand gestures.
A person interacting with the Vision Pro via hand gestures. Image source: Apple Inc.

Also, it’s interesting that Apple is making the Apple Watch gesture a double tap, specifically. For starters, the Apple Watch might misinterpret a single tap or pinch of the fingers. But that’s also the Vision Pro’s main gesture. These need to be different. And there’s no risk of the Vision Pro misinterpreting a pinch, as you’d already be using your eyes to select UI elements.

Furthermore, the more distant future might bring us Apple’s true iPhone replacement. That’s a version of the Vision Pro that looks just like regular eyeglasses. And we’ll probably control that device by gazing at virtual buttons augmenting our reality and using hand gestures.

That’s all speculation, of course. But you can try double tap on the Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 starting next week. Both of them are available for preorder right now.

You can also set up a bunch of gestures on your current Apple Watch if you have compatible hardware and software. Meanwhile, the Vision Pro launches early next year in the US, at which point you’ll get to test its eye and hand gestures, assuming you’ll be buying the pricey new spatial computer.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.