What is "Double Tap" on the Apple Watch 9? The gesture controls explained

Apple Watch Ultra 2 on a hand that has the index finger and thumb pressed together.
(Image credit: Apple)

During the iPhone 15 launch event, Apple also took time to show off the new Apple Watch 9, Apple Watch Ultra 2, and their impressive new Double Tap feature. But what is Double Tap and how does it work?

Double Tap is a new gesture control for the latest Apple Watches where you tap your thumb to your index finger twice in quick succession to control your watch without ever touching the screen. This allows the wearer to control their smartwatch without having both hands free – in the trailer we see a climber answering a call while still holding on to the rock face with one hand. Perhaps it will be more widely applicable to people who are carrying shopping in one hand…

It looks like a really neat feature – our US editor-in-chief Lance Ulanoff called it “awesome” when he tried it out, and that appears to be the general consensus. A few people online have shared thoughts saying that it’s a little clunky and requires you to be very purposeful with your taps.

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What can Double Tap do?

Double Tap can perform a whole host of actions while you’re using your Apple Watch, mostly based on context. When someone calls you, a Double Tap will answer the call, or you can use it to hang up once the conversation is over. Apple has also shown the feature being used to play and pause music, snooze alarms, and using it on your watch face will open Smart Stack where you can tap again to scroll through individual widgets.

It would be nice if it also worked a bit like the new Action Button on the iPhone 15 Pro, so you can customize what Double Tap does so that it suits your needs, though that's just us being hopeful right now.

Apple watch Ultra 2

Double Tap works on Apple Watch 9 (left) and Ultra 2 (center), but not the Apple Watch SE (right). (Image credit: Apple)

How does Double Tap work? 

According to Apple, Double Tap relies on sophisticated hardware and software – which is why it’s exclusive to the latest generation of Apple wearables. The Watches’ more powerful neural engine in the S9 chip processes data from the accelerometer, gyroscope, and optical heart sensor using a new “machine learning algorithm.”

This algorithm is reportedly trained to be able to tell the difference between the Double Tap of your index to your thumb and other hand gestures. In practice some users have reported being able to trick the Apple Watch 9 with similar motions – such as using a different finger and their thumb – and other times it didn’t work at all (via Cnet). 

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 is apparently better at only responding to the correct input, according to some, though we’ll need to conduct our own tests to know for sure. 

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Hamish Hector
Senior Staff Writer, News

Hamish is a Senior Staff Writer for TechRadar and you’ll see his name appearing on articles across nearly every topic on the site from smart home deals to speaker reviews to graphics card news and everything in between. He uses his broad range of knowledge to help explain the latest gadgets and if they’re a must-buy or a fad fueled by hype. Though his specialty is writing about everything going on in the world of virtual reality and augmented reality.