Master Windows 8.1’s Hidden Touch Controls

eHow Tech Blog

Windows hidden features

Windows 8.1 hides much of its interface behind various swipes. This frees up space for full-screen content, but you’ll need to learn the swipes to really appreciate Windows on a tablet or touch-enabled laptop.

These tips apply only to the new touch interface on Windows 8.1 — not the desktop. Many of Windows 8.1’s best desktop features are hidden, too.

App Switcher

You don’t have to head back to the Start screen to switch apps. While using an app, swipe in from the left side of your screen. You’ll see a preview of the most recent app you were using — drop it on the middle of your screen to switch to that app. Keep swiping from the left to continue flipping between recent apps.

To access an app switcher, swipe in from the left and then move your finger back to the edge of the screen. Thumbnail previews of your recent apps will appear on the left side of your screen. Tap an app to switch to it.


Snap is one of the reasons why Windows 8.1 is actually a great tablet OS. You can have two or more apps side-by-side and use them at the same time — the maximum number of side-by-side apps depends on your display resolution.

To snap the current app, swipe down from the top of the screen until the current app becomes a thumbnail. Drop the thumbnail at the left or right side of your screen to snap it to either side.

After that, head back to the Start screen and open another app, or drag another thumbnailed app from the app switcher to the empty part of your screen. The apps will appear side-by-side — touch and drag the slider to control how much screen space is used for each app. When you open a new app, Windows will allow you to choose which side of your screen it will open on.


The charms are crucial for using apps. They don’t just contain system functions — if you want to print or change an app’s settings, you’ll find those options here. You’ll also be able to view the time, battery status and Wi-Fi strength when you open the charms.

To open the charms, swipe in from the right side of your screen. The Search charm allows you to search your computer or the web. The Share charm allows you to share content from the current app — for example, sharing the current web page with Facebook or Twitter. The Start charm returns you to your Start screen. The Devices charm allows you to print, configure multiple displays or use other devices. The Settings charm allows you to access both the current app’s settings and system-wide settings.

Windows charms bar

App Commands and Semantic Zoom

Most apps hide their controls. For example, when using Internet Explorer, you’ll just see a full web page. To view an app’s controls — known as app commands — swipe in from the top or bottom edges of your screen. The app’s hidden buttons will appear on your screen. For example, in Internet Explorer, you’ll see the navigation bar and any open tabs.

Many apps — and the Start screen itself — use a semantic zoom feature. To use this feature, place two fingers on the screen and pinch them together. The screen will zoom out and show you an overview of the information. For example, on the Start screen, you’ll be able to see all your tiles and arrange the groups.

Windows 8.1’s touch interface is surprisingly fluid once you learn the hidden tricks. These weren’t explained in the original version of Windows 8, leading to widespread confusion. Windows 8.1 added the Help + Tips app, which you can always open to get a refresher course.

Photo credits: Microsoft, Demand Media

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