Apple’s annual iPhone launch event saw new iPhone colors, a resigned shift to USB-C charging ports, and an assortment of other updated Apple tech specs, but accessibility advocates immediately latched on one announcement in particular: an Apple Watch double tap feature that allows users to activate controls with a simple pinching motion of their watch hand.
With the single-hand gesture, wearers can answer calls, play music, start timers, and perform other common tasks, and it’s been rolled out as an exclusive feature of Apple’s upcoming Series 9 watches. From the general response of those watching online, it’s set to become a handy feature for devoted Apple Watch users.
But, as many users and accessibility advocates pointed out online, Apple’s marketing of its “magical new double tap gesture” obscures the company’s long history as a leader in pro-accessibility tech. Because while double tap is a decidedly innovative, universal tool for all Apple Watch users, it bears a noteworthy similarity to one of Apple’s long-used accessibility features, a single-hand ‘double pinch’ gesture housed under Apple’s AssistiveTouch settings.
AssistiveTouch, first introduced to iPhones in 2011 and Apple Watches in 2021, allows Apple product users to utilize a customizable, floating screen button and selective hand gestures to operate various device menus, including navigating screens, using apps, and setting Quick Actions that support users with disabilities, those with barriers to mobility, or even product owners with broken screens.
“‘Double Pinch’ has been available as an accessibility feature on Apple Watch Series 4 and later since a long time,” user @marvinvonhagen posted on X. “Technically, this seems to be the exact same thing as ‘Double Tap’ which will be deeply integrated into the OS but only be available on Series 9 and later?”
Other chimed in with similar observations of Apple’s seemingly quiet rebranding and expansion of an accessibility tool, noting that the hand motion was also the new go-to gesture for Apple’s upcoming Vision Pro augmented reality headset.
The double tap feature’s similarity to existing assistive tools is an interesting indication of where Apple’s upcoming innovations may be incubating. And generalizing a commonly used accessibility tool like AssistiveTouch can be a good thing, enabling users with disabilities even quicker access to assistive features and normalizing nontraditional uses of technology that make them even more accessible.
But while single-handed Apple Watch use is old hat for some, the double tap feature is different from AssistiveTouch’s double pinch. The latest feature will act as an automatic, built-in version of AssistiveTouch’s numerous hand gesture settings and associated actions, for one. This ease and universality offers an Apple Watch user unfamiliar with Apple’s ecosystem of accessibility customizations the ability to make use of a single gesture for various purposes, and it might just be a step towards Big Tech’s adoption of more accessible universal design principles.
If you’re not interested in ponying up the money for a new Apple Watch Series 9 and already own an Apple Watch Series 4 or beyond, check out Apple’s guide to turning on AssistiveTouch.