Is Apple’s double tap feature really new?

Is Apple's double tap feature really new?

Apple’s “Magical” Double Tap Feature: A Step Towards Accessibility and Universal Design

Apple Watch Series 9

Apple’s annual iPhone launch event is always highly anticipated, with tech enthusiasts and Apple fans eagerly awaiting the latest innovations. This year’s event did not disappoint, featuring new iPhone colors, a shift to USB-C charging ports, and a range of updated tech specs. However, amidst all the excitement, one particular announcement caught the attention of accessibility advocates – the introduction of the Apple Watch double tap feature.

With this new feature, Apple Watch wearers can activate controls with a simple pinching motion of their watch hand. Answering calls, playing music, starting timers, and performing other common tasks becomes effortless with this single-hand gesture. Apple has positioned this feature as a highlight of its upcoming Series 9 watches, and from the response of those watching online, it seems destined to become a favorite among devoted Apple Watch users.

But as users and accessibility advocates pointed out online, Apple’s marketing of the “magical new double tap gesture” overlooks the company’s long history as a leader in pro-accessibility technology. While the double tap feature is undeniably innovative and beneficial for all Apple Watch users, it bears a striking resemblance to one of Apple’s long-standing accessibility features – the single-hand “double pinch” gesture found within the AssistiveTouch settings.

AssistiveTouch, first introduced to iPhones in 2011 and Apple Watches in 2021, enables users to utilize a customizable, floating screen button and selective hand gestures to operate various device menus. It empowers individuals with disabilities, those facing mobility challenges, and even those with broken screens to navigate screens, use apps, and set Quick Actions. The unexpected similarity between the “double pinch” gesture and the new “double tap” feature raises questions about Apple’s rebranding and expansion of an existing accessibility tool.

Many users noted that the “double pinch” gesture has been available as an accessibility feature on Apple Watch Series 4 and later models for quite some time. They observed that the new “double tap” feature seems to be the same gesture integrated more deeply into the operating system but limited to Series 9 and later models. Furthermore, there were hints that this hand motion might also become the primary gesture for Apple’s upcoming Vision Pro augmented reality headset.

The similarities between the double tap feature and existing assistive tools offer interesting insights into Apple’s forthcoming innovations. Generalizing a widely-used accessibility tool like AssistiveTouch can prove beneficial, providing users with disabilities quicker access to assistive features and normalizing nontraditional uses of technology that enhance accessibility.

However, it’s important to note that the double tap feature differs from AssistiveTouch’s double pinch. The latest addition acts as an automatic, built-in version of AssistiveTouch’s numerous hand gesture settings and associated actions. This ease and universality give Apple Watch users, particularly those unfamiliar with Apple’s ecosystem of accessibility customizations, the ability to perform various tasks with a single gesture. This could be seen as a step towards Big Tech’s adoption of more accessible and universal design principles.

If you’re not ready to invest in a new Apple Watch Series 9 and already own an Apple Watch Series 4 or later model, fear not! Apple’s guide to turning on AssistiveTouch can help you unlock the benefits of single-handed use and other accessibility features.

With the introduction of the double tap feature and its connection to AssistiveTouch, Apple once again demonstrates its commitment to enhancing accessibility in its products. These advancements not only make technology more inclusive but also pave the way for a future where universal design principles are at the forefront of innovation.