In developer betas of iOS 4.3, Apple introduced new four- and five-finger multitasking gestures for the iPad. Those gestures didn't make it to the public release of iOS 4.3 for some reason, which was unfortunate because a lot of beta testers found them extremely useful. Fortunately, these new gestures have made the cut for iOS 5 -- at least for the iPad 2. Owners of the original iPad are still out of luck, it seems.
The gestures aren't active by default, but going into the General section of the Settings app will give you a simple On/Off choice. Apple even gives a handy mini-primer of what the gestures do:
Use four or five fingers to:
- Pinch to the Home Screen
- Swipe up to reveal multitasking bar
- Swipe left or right between apps
For those of you who have been using the new Multi-Touch gestures in OS X Lion on the Mac, these gestures will feel very familiar. The "pinch to Home Screen" gesture on the iPad is the same as the "activate Launchpad" gesture in Lion. Swiping up on the iPad brings up its multitasking bar the same way swiping up activates Mission Control on the Mac, and swiping left to right is exactly the same on the iPad as switching between Desktops and full-screen apps in OS X Lion.
All of these gestures are very comfortable and easy to activate, and they make switching between apps on the iPad a much quicker and less cumbersome process. It also means you'll be much less dependent on the iPad's single front-facing physical button, which can feel a bit overworked sometimes. However, it's worth noting that the new multitasking gestures do break compatibility for apps which themselves utilize four/five-finger gestures; GarageBand immediately comes to mind, and there are likely a few others. Fortunately, activating and deactivating the new gestures is a simple matter of toggling the appropriate switch in the Settings app.
Our sister site Engadget did a video overview of these new gestures several months back. Although this video describes features new to iOS 4.3, the gestures are exactly the same in iOS 5.