5 ways to quickly switch apps on iPad with iOS 11

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iOS 11 iPad Pro
The iPad is insanely flexible in iOS 11.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

In iOS 11, there are four ways to switch apps on the iPad. Five, if you count the old-school way: hitting the home button to return to the home screen, and tapping an icon to launch a different app. Some of these methods have been around a while, and have changed drastically in iOS 11. Others are brand new, and exclusive to the iPad. Today, we’re going to look at them all.

Switch apps in iOS 11 using gestures

This one has been around for a while, and is still super-useful. On the iPad, you can switch to the previous app by swiping right on the screen with four or five fingers. This drags the current app off to the right, while the previous app you used will slide in from the left. Think of it as grabbing the screen with a fist and dragging it. This works for both single apps, and for app “spaces,” when you’re using two apps in Split View.

Once you’ve done this initial switch, you can go back to the initial app by swiping your fingers to the left. In this manner, you can easily switch between two or more apps, swiping left and right to quickly move between them. And amazingly, this gesture works in the middle of a drag-and-drop operation, so you can grab something using drag-and-drop, then switch apps with this gesture before dropping the item. How’s that for multitouch mastery? Not enough? Here’s another tip, then: The swipe gesture even works when you have an app floating above the screen in Slide Over view. In this case, the app underneath will switch, leaving the Slide Over app where it is.

To use this trick, you’ll need to switch it on. Go to Settings>General>Multitasking & Dock, and switch on Gestures. That’s it.

Bonus tip. You can do something similar on the iPhone, by using 3D touch to drag the current screen across. This only requires one finger, but you have to press to get it to work. Once you’re done, though, it’s hard to give it up. The iPhone version has been disabled in iOS 11, but will return in iOS 11.1.

Switch apps with iOS 11’s Control Center

control center brightness ios 11
Control Center isn’t just for controlling things any more.
Photo: Cult of Mac

This is kind of a gesture-based switcher, in that you have to use a one-finger drag to enter the Control Center. To do this, you swipe up from the bottom of the screen until the Dock appears. Then you keep going. You will now be in the new hybrid Control Center, which now incorporates the old multitasking view. You can also double-tap the home button to arrive in the same view. Here you will see a grid of all the apps you have used. The most recent ones are right there, and swiping right will let you browse back in time to apps you last launched days ago. To launch one, just tap it.

It’s important to remember that all those thumbnails of old apps are just that: pictures. They are not running versions of those apps, and are not consuming any resources. You often see people idly entering the multitasking view and clearing these old thumbnails (with a swipe up — this is also the way to force-quit a running app in iOS 11), in order to improve their battery life or some other voodoo.

Homeopathic nonsense

This is pointless. Only the most recent apps are kept running in any way, ready to be quickly resumed. If iOS is getting short on resources, then it automatically kills background processes. Doing so yourself is a placebo, a waste of time, and means you can’t find older apps in this view. Some Apple Store employees even recommend it, which is a little like going to the doctor and being recommended homeopathic “medicine.”

Another thing to know about this new Control Center multitasking view is that apps which are paired together in Split Screen stay that way. You can see this for yourself just by looking at the thumbnails. This is a great feature, because you can keep some apps permanently paired in split view. Two weather apps, for example, or your Mail app and a notes app.

The Dock: iOS 11’s brand-new app switcher

drag drop iOS 11 dock
The new Dock is essential to iOS 11’s drag-and-drop, but there’s a lot more packed there.
Photo: Cult of Mac

This is brand new in iOS 11, and once you get used to it, one of the iPad’s best new features. To access the iPad’s Dock, just swipe up from the bottom of the screen. On iOS 10 and prior, the Dock was only available from the home screen, and only held a fixed number of apps (or folders). Now, you can use it anywhere. The new Dock does a lot, but for app-switching, you need to know just two things. One, that you can invoke it and then hit an app icon to switch. And second, the rightmost section is automatic, and Siri will decide what shows up there.

This could be a recent app, or an app suggestion based on something else. If you plug in headphones, your favorite podcast app may appear, for instance. And if you have a compatible app open on another device, you iPhone or Mac, for example, it will show up here, in Handoff mode.

You can switch this last feature off if you’d like more space for your own apps. Try it out for a while, though, because it really is almost psychic in its suggestions. To switch it off, head back to Settings>General>Multitasking & Dock, and toggle Show Suggested and Recent Apps to off.

Switch apps using the keyboard

The app switcher single-handedly turns the iPad into a Mac replacement.
The app switcher single-handedly turns the iPad into a Mac replacement.

The iPad uses the same Command-Tab app switcher as the Mac. That is, hitting the tab key together with the Command key on a connected keyboard will bring up the app-switcher strip across the center of the screen. It look a lot like the Dock, but it is in fact an icon-based list of your most recently-used apps, in order of most recent use. Keep the Command key held down while you tap Tab, and you will cycle through the list. Let go to launch the app. You can also hit the tilde key to reverse the switcher’s direction, or even use the left and right arrow keys once the app switcher is up on screen (you still need to keep the Command key held down). You can even touch one of the icons to launch the app.

Those are the four app switchers on iOS 11. There are other ways to launch apps (Spotlight, for instance, or Siri), but those aren’t really switchers. Now, between the Dock, the new Command Center, and the old gesture and keyboard shortcuts, you can switch between apps any way you like, depending on what suits you at that moment. If you never really tried any of these, then pick one and use it for a few days until it becomes automatic, and then try another one. The neat thing is that they are interactive, but never get in each other’s way, so you can experiment to see what you like best.