How to navigate your Apple Watch with hand gestures using AssistiveTouch

In a pinch, summon Siri with a pinch.
person in winter gear sporting an apple watch

Another upside to AssistiveTouch—never having to take your gloves off to check your messages. Lloyd Dirks / Unsplash

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Making gadgets accessible to everyone is one of the most important challenges the tech industry faces today. Apple, for one, has done well by enabling hand gestures on the two latest Apple Watch series, allowing users to navigate their apps and gadgets just by pinching and clenching their fists.

If you’re more of a visual learner, pair this article with Australian tech vlogger @Ellyawesometech’s viral TikTok video about this feature (formally called AssistiveTouch) that has amassed more than 14 million views at the time of writing. 

Whatever your reason for using Assistive Touch, you can easily set up hand gestures to navigate your Apple Watch apps, summon Siri, or even activate ApplePay.

How to set up AssistiveTouch on your Apple Watch

To get hand gestures up and running on your wrist-bound device, you need to have the right Apple Watch. This feature is currently available only on Series 6, 7, and SE wearables running the latest version of WatchOS 8, so if you have an older model you’ll need to upgrade before you can clench to pay. Also, keep in mind that you’ll need to update your iPhone to iOS 15 to get the newest WatchOS on your wrist. 

[Related: Apple Watch Series 7: Here’s what’s new]

If you’ve got what it takes, the path to hand gesturing your way around your gadget is easy. On your iPhone, go to the Watch app, then tap Accessibility, enter the AssistiveTouch menu, and turn on the toggle switch next to AssistiveTouch. Once you do that, go to the Hand Gestures menu to set up an Activation gesture—this is the signal you’ll give your Apple Watch to activate AssistiveTouch. You can choose between Double pinching, Double clenching, or None. Choose that last option if you want the feature to stay on, otherwise pick a gesture if you are, say, watching your favorite sports team struggle through the season and you don’t want your watch to jump to life every time you clench your fists. 

How to customize AssistiveTouch on your Apple Watch

Your Apple Watch’s AssistiveTouch feature will respond to four gestures: pinching, double-pinching, clenching, and double-clenching. If you’re not sure how to perform these gestures, Apple Tips (the app with the yellow icon with a light bulb) can teach you to perfect them. To access it, just tap the Learn more link at the top of this menu. 

By default, pinching will let you go forward or select the next item on a menu; double-pinching will take you back or select the previous item on a menu; clenching will equal tapping, and double-clenching will take you all the way back to the Action Menu, which lets you navigate the watch more easily. You can learn these gestures and their actions, but if they don’t suit you, you can customize what pinching and clenching actually do. For this personalized control, tap on each gesture and select an option from the list. You’ll see navigation features and the ability to set up quick access to the notification center, the dock, or even summon Siri. 

[Related: How to get Alexa, Siri, and Google to understand you better]

If you get bored of this feature, you can quickly turn it off directly from your Apple Watch. Just go to the AssistiveTouch menu and turn off the toggle switch at the top. 

AssistiveTouch can come in real handy when you’ve got a coffee in each hand and need to easily activate Apple Pay. And that, friend, is quite a flex.