Navigate iPad & Switch Apps with Shortcuts and an External Keyboard

Oct 1, 2012 - 16 Comments

iPad keyboard navigation commands

Did you know you can navigate around the iPad using only a keyboard, without touching the screen at all? It’s part of iOS Accessibility options called VoiceOver, and using keyboard navigation makes the iPad feel a lot more like a traditional computer, even sharing some of the keyboard shortcuts that Macs have to do things like the ever useful Command+Tab app switcher.

This is a very underused and little-known feature of iOS, and it can really improve and speed up workflow on the iPad for those who use external keyboards with the device.

First, Enable VoiceOver Keyboard Navigation on iPad

To use keyboard navigation, you’ll need a keyboard connected to the iPad either through Bluetooth or another external keyboard attached through the power port. Next, you’ll need to turn VoiceOver on by doing the following:

  • Open “Settings”, tap “General”, go to “Accessibility”, and flip “VoiceOver” to ON

With VoiceOver enabled you will gain access to the keyboard navigation feature, but because the VoiceOver feature is intended as an accessibility function there’s also a speaking aspect that comes with VoiceOver being turned on.

If you want to silence the speaking of screen items on iPad when VoiceOver is enabled, just hit Control+Option+S to silence the speech aspect of VoiceOver. Now for the commands.

iPad Navigation Keyboard Commands with VoiceOver

Basic keyboard navigation shortcuts on iPad with VoiceOver enabled are as follows:

  • Control+Option+H – Home button
  • Control+Option+H+H – Show multitask bar
  • Control+Option+i – Item chooser
  • Escape – Back button
  • Right Arrow – next item
  • Left Arrow – previous item
  • Up + Down Arrows simultaneously – tap selected item
  • Option + Down Arrow – scroll down
  • Option + Up Arrow – scroll up
  • Option + Left or Right Arrow – scroll left or right
  • Control+Option+S – turn VoiceOver speech on or off

These keyboard shortcuts can be used from anywhere. You’ll notice many of them are shared between Mac OS X and iOS, making them familiar and quite easy to use for Mac users who are using the iPad.

iPad App Switcher Keyboard Commands

Arguably the most useful set of commands are related to app switching:

  • Command+Shift+Tab – switch to the previous app
  • Command+Tab – switch back to the original app
  • Left+Right Arrow, then Option + Left or Option+Right – navigate through Dock

These shortcuts speed up multitasking in iOS so much that they should be considered mandatory knowledge for anyone trying to do serious work on the iPad with an external keyboard. Memorize and master these and you’re sure to be more productive.

Whether you have a keyboard dock, case, or just a bluetooth keyboard, check these out, they can completely change the way you use an iPad.

Thanks to Eric for pointing us to the great basis of these tips at TaoOfMac. Topmost iPad image from Flickr.


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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in iPad, Tips & Tricks


» Comments RSS Feed

  1. RA XA says:

    Hey Paul,
    Thanks for sharing your great tips, very useful for
    any cases, I‘ll try to do it later!
    Friendly greetings from 🇹🇭

  2. Brenda says:

    I’m new to Bluetooth keyboards am wondering how to navigate around within apps on iPhone 6 plus – I.e., what key combo is same as double tapping to select?

  3. gemma says:

    i hyave an ipad air with a keyboard case. but nothing i do with the command or option button works its so frustrating can anyone help

  4. Georges Kfouri says:

    How can i use the tab option to navigate through text filed example if I am using whatsapp or such like, and I want to type a text and send it for example.

  5. Dave G says:

    The problem with going to voice over mode is that everything now needs a double click. How do you avoid that?

  6. XanthiX says:

    The feature seems to be intended for visually impaired people. The experience using this feature with background music turned on is really terrible.

  7. James Harrison says:

    Didn’t work for me. . . Setting up VoiceOver just stops me getting back to this page to see which commands now work. Frustrating.

  8. Melanie says:

    Thankyou so much! This is so much more convenient for me.

  9. Joe says:

    for the logitech keyboard this does not work smoothly. the cmd combination keys don’t work as intended – that’s my experience

  10. Billy G says:

    What’s an iPad?

    Some sort of feminine hygene product?

    • Billy G' Mom says:

      Billy, don’t mention the brand again..
      I’ve told u…that is my monthly feminine product.
      Don’t let other people know about it.
      I will feel shy..

  11. Phil says:

    What are the windows keyboard keys please? as a normal KB does not have the CMD and option keys :(

  12. Ramit says:

    Can anyone confirm if this works with the iPhone too?

    • YYC-Steve says:

      Hey Ramit,

      I just tried this out on my iPhone 5 tonight and yes these features do work! Its actually really cool. There is a bit of a learning curve and a tonne of shortcuts to learn but once you get going with it its great. I couldn’t however get the command-tab feature mentioned above to work so I am thinking that its iPad specific or I am missing something. I tried on both an Apple Wireless Keyboard and a Logitech bluetooth keyboard and both worked. Great tip! Thanks OSX Daily!!!

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