I tried Apple Watch Series 9 Double Tap and was blown away

Apple Watch Series 9 Double Tap
(Image credit: Future)

Gesture-controlled technology, especially the kind that means you don’t have to touch a button or screen, is almost always a gimmick or so poorly developed that it barely qualifies as a feature. That’s not the case with the Apple Watch Series 9 double tap.

Apple unveiled the smartwatch air gesture feature during its big September Wonderlust event, along with its new iPhone 15 family, Apple Watch Series 9, and Apple Watch Ultra 2. While there were a lot of interesting and even exciting new updates like a titanium body for the iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max, USB-C ports across all the phones, the Dynamic Island being extended to the standard iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus, and a seriously powerful new A17 Pro mobile chip in the Pro iPhones, few things intrigued like the new watch's double-tap gesture.

Apple Watch Series 9

(Image credit: Future / Lance Ulanoff)

The concept is simple. You put on either the new Apple Watch Series 9 or Apple Watch Ultra 2, both featuring new S9 processor, raise your hand, and the double tap you thumb to your index finger to enable an activity on the watch.

That’s it. Simple stuff, but sitting there in the Steve Jobs Theater this week, listening to Apple execs explain it... I had my doubts. Years ago, I remember wearing a special and rather bulky wireless wrist strap. I can't remember the name but it was able to transmit a whole bunch of hand-based gestures to my computer. It was uncomfortable and worked inconsistently at best. 

Fast forward to this past spring, though, when Apple let me try the new Vision Pro mixed reality headset which features, you guessed it, the exact same gesture as the Apple Watch Series 9 double tap. That and a few other air-hand gestures worked quite well on the pricey, complex, and still unreleased Vision Pro.

Still, the Apple Watch Series 9 doesn’t have all the sensors (especially vision sensors that can watch your hands) as the Vision Pro. So, when I walked into Apple’s demo space – just opposite the theater – I made a beeline over to the Apple Watch Series 9 table first. Once there, an Apple rep showed me the Apple Watch Series 9 on her wrist. Then she dropped her hand to her waist, raised it, and did the double tap with her thumb and index finger. The watch responded instantaneously.

“Wow!” I said without meaning to. She looked at me and asked if I wanted to try it. I nodded yes and she pulled out an Apple Watch Series 9 from her pocket. It, unlike the watches that were sitting out for display at the demo area, was fully updated and ready to show off its double-tap capabilities.

Double Tap test drive

Apple Watch Series 9 double tap

(Image credit: Future)

She helped me put the Apple Watch Series 9 on my left wrist (my Series 8 was on my right). I went to double tap, but she told me to drop my hand first. The feature works a bit like "Siri Raise" where you lift your hand swiftly and say “Hey, Siri” to access the digital assistant. It’s a nice way of avoiding having to press a button on the watch.

I did as I was told, raised my wrist and then double-tapped my thumb and index finger. Instantly, I felt a haptic tap from the watch and saw the Apple Watch screen change. If I kept tapping, I could walk through alerts.

I dropped my hand again and she proceeded to call me on the Watch. I felt the vibration, raised my hand, and double-tapped; that was all it took to pick up the call. When I was done, I double-tapped to hang up.

Seriously, it was all that easy and worked just as you'd hope. Clearly, Apple has put some serious effort into sensors and detection of the minute changes that take place in your wrist when you make that gesture. How else could it work so well and without the need for calibration?

If Apple can do this for a thumb-index finger double tap, what other hand gestures might the Apple Watch Series 9 be able to read in the future? A thumbs up? A fist? A wave? You can see where I’m going with this. Imagine being able to use real-world gestures to send emojis via your Apple Watch Series 9. Now that would be fun.

Look, Double Tap is not the only reason you might buy an Apple Watch Series 9, but I am convinced that it’ll be a feature you’ll talk about, long after you’ve bought Apple’s newest smartwatch.

You can see more of my test drive below.

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Lance Ulanoff
Editor At Large

A 38-year industry veteran and award-winning journalist, Lance has covered technology since PCs were the size of suitcases and “on line” meant “waiting.” He’s a former Lifewire Editor-in-Chief, Mashable Editor-in-Chief, and, before that, Editor in Chief of PCMag.com and Senior Vice President of Content for Ziff Davis, Inc. He also wrote a popular, weekly tech column for Medium called The Upgrade.

Lance Ulanoff makes frequent appearances on national, international, and local news programs including Live with Kelly and Ryan, the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNBC, CNN, and the BBC.