iOS 16 three-finger gesture bug affects some apps and games

Update: This bug has now been fixed in the iOS 16.1 beta channel. Some game developers warn players not updating to iOS 16 due to a bug with the system’s three-finger gestures, affecting gameplay. The problem is that the three-tap system gesture to reveal the undo/cut/copy/paste menu, and the three-finger swipe gestures to undo and redo, are a bit overzealous in iOS 16, activating in contexts where they should not.

Most normal apps will work fine, as they only rely on single-finger touch interactions. But games and apps that require the user to perform multi-finger gestures — such as rhythm games or music-making virtual instrument apps — are impacted because system gestures inadvertently trigger, steal touches or generally interfere with intended app experiences.

If this sounds familiar to you, a very similar problem appeared during the launch of iOS 13, when the three-finger menu was first added. Apple quickly changed it so that three-finger gestures wouldn’t activate in situations where the user was unlikely to want those actions, such as in a full-screen game or when a text field wasn’t not targeted.

These mitigations seem to have been lost in iOS 16. You can easily compare the behavior of iOS 15 and buggy iOS 16 yourself. The problem also shows up in system apps, it usually doesn’t interfere with what you’re doing, so it can be ignored.

For example, open the Camera app and pinch the viewfinder with three fingers to zoom in and out. On iOS 16, you’ll likely trigger the system menu to show or undo/redo clipboard action alerts. On iOS 15, no system menu would appear because the three-finger gestures would not activate at all. The same behavior can be replicated in Safari, Settings, and most other Apple apps.

This happens sometimes – but not always – in GarageBand when playing chords on the virtual keyboard. Almost every third-party full-screen game we tested demonstrates the bug. It just depends on whether the gameplay requires three-finger interactions, whether it’s Actually problematic for this game. This explains why most developers telling users not to update are rhythm game publishers; these inherently require quick sequences of taps to use and any lag or hitch in touch responsiveness means the player could fail the level.

Presumably, the over-eagerness of gesture detection can be fixed by applying the same strategies that were in effect in iOS 15, which now seems to have accidentally regressed. For what it’s worth, Apple has yet to officially acknowledge the issue, and the issue is reproducible on iOS 16 and iOS 16.1.

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