Touch in Android

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last updated: 2016-10

Much like iOS, Android creates an object that holds data about the user’s physical interaction with the screen – an Android.View.MotionEvent object. This object holds data such as what action is performed, where the touch took place, how much pressure was applied, etc. A MotionEvent object breaks down the movement into to the following values:

  • An action code that describes the type of motion, such as the initial touch, the touch moving across the screen, or the touch ending.
  • A set of axis values that describe the position of the MotionEvent and other movement properties such as where the touch is taking place, when the touch took place, and how much pressure was used. The axis values may be different depending on the device, so the previous list does not describe all axis values.

The MotionEvent object will be passed to an appropriate method in an application. There are three ways for a Xamarin.Android application to respond to a touch event:

  • Assign an event handler to View.Touch - The Android.Views.View class has an EventHandler<View.TouchEventArgs> which applications can assign a handler to. This is typical .NET behavior.
  • Implementing View.IOnTouchListener - Instances of this interface may be assigned to a view object using the View. SetOnListener method.This is functionally equivalent to assigning an event handler to the View.Touch event. If there is some common or shared logic that many different views may need when they are touched, it will be more efficient to create a class and implement this method than to assign each view its own event handler.
  • Override View.OnTouchEvent - All views in Android subclass Android.Views.View . When a View is touched, Android will call the OnTouchEvent and pass it a MotionEvent object as a parameter.
Note: Not all Android devices support touch screens. Adding the following tag to your manifest file causes Google Play to only display your app to those devices that are touch enabled: <uses-configuration android:reqTouchScreen="finger" /> .


A gesture is a hand-drawn shape on the touch screen. A gesture can have one or more strokes to it, each stroke consisting of a sequence of points created by a different point of contact with the screen. Android can support many different types of gestures, from a simple fling across the screen to complex gestures that involve multi-touch.

Android provides the Android.Gestures namespace specifically for managing and responding to gestures. At the heart of all gestures is a special class called Android.Gestures.GestureDetector. As the name implies, this class will listen for gestures and events based on MotionEvents supplied by the operating system.

To implement a gesture detector, an Activity must instantiate a GestureDetector class and provide an instance of IOnGestureListener, as illustrated by the following code snippet:

GestureOverlayView.IOnGestureListener myListener = new MyGestureListener();
_gestureDetector = new GestureDetector(this, myListener);

An Activity must also implement the OnTouchEvent and pass the MotionEvent to the gesture detector. The following code snippet shows an example of this:

public override bool OnTouchEvent(MotionEvent e)
    // This method is in an Activity
    return _gestureDetector.OnTouchEvent(e);

When an instance of GestureDetector identifies a gesture of interest, it will notify the activity or application either by raising an event or through a callback provided by GestureDetector.IOnGestureListener. This interface provides six methods for the various gestures:

  • OnDown - Called when a tap occurs but is not released.
  • OnFling - Called when a fling occurs and provides data on the start and end touch that triggered the event.
  • OnLongPress - Called when a long press occurs.
  • OnScroll - Called when a scroll event occurs.
  • OnShowPress - Called after an OnDown has occurred and a move or up event has not been performed.
  • OnSingleTapUp - Called when a single tap occurs.

In many cases applications may only be interested in a subset of gestures. In this case, applications should extend the class GestureDetector.SimpleOnGestureListener and override the methods that correspond to the events that that they are interested in.

Custom Gestures

Gestures are a great way for users to interact with an application. The APIs we have seen so far would suffice for simple gestures, but might prove a bit onerous for more complicated gestures. To help with more complicated gestures, Android provides another set of API’s in the Android.Gestures namespace that will ease some of the burden associated with custom gestures.

Creating Custom Gestures

Since Android 1.6, the Android SDK comes with an application pre-installed on the emulator called Gestures Builder. This application allows a developer to create pre-defined gestures that can be embedded in an application. The following screen shot shows an example of Gestures Builder:

An improved version of this application called Gesture Tool can be found Google Play. Gesture Tool is very much like Gestures Builder except that it allows you to test gestures after they have been created. This next screenshot shows Gestures Builder:

Gesture Tool is a bit more useful for creating custom gestures as it allows the gestures to be tested as they are being created and is easily available through Google Play.

Gesture Tool allows you create a gesture by drawing on the screen and assigning a name. After the gestures are created they are saved in a binary file on the SD card of your device. This file needs to be retrieved from the device, and then packaged with an application in the folder /Resources/raw. This file can be retrieved from the emulator using the Android Debug Bridge. The following example shows copying the file from a Galaxy Nexus to the Resource directory of an application:

$ adb pull /storage/sdcard0/gestures <projectdirectory>/Resources/raw

Once you have retrieved the file it must be packaged with your application inside the directory /Resources/raw. The easiest way to use this gesture file is to load the file into a GestureLibrary, as shown in the following snippet:

GestureLibary myGestures = GestureLibraries.FromRawResources(this, Resource.Raw.gestures);
if (!myGestures.Load())
    // The library didn't load, so close the activity.

Using Custom Gestures

To recognize custom gestures in an Activity, it must have an Android.Gesture.GestureOverlay object added to its layout. The following code snippet shows how to programmatically add a GestureOverlayView to an Activity:

GestureOverlayView gestureOverlayView = new GestureOverlayView(this);

The following XML snippet shows how to add a GestureOverlayView declaratively:

android:layout_width="match_parent "
android:layout_height="match_parent" />

The GestureOverlayView has several events that will be raised during the process of drawing a gesture. The most interesting event is GesturePeformed. This event is raised when the user has completed drawing their gesture.

When this event is raised, the Activity asks a GestureLibrary to try and match the gesture that the user with one of the gestures created by Gesture Tool. GestureLibrary will return a list of Prediction objects.

Each Prediction object holds a score and name of one of the gestures in the GestureLibrary. The higher the score, the more likely the gesture named in the Prediction matches the gesture drawn by the user. Generally speaking, scores lower than 1.0 are considered poor matches.

The following code shows an example of matching a gesture:

private void GestureOverlayViewOnGesturePerformed(object sender, GestureOverlayView.GesturePerformedEventArgs gesturePerformedEventArgs)
    // In this example _gestureLibrary was instantiated in OnCreate
    IEnumerable<Prediction> predictions = from p in _gestureLibrary.Recognize(gesturePerformedEventArgs.Gesture)
    orderby p.Score descending
    where p.Score > 1.0
    select p;
    Prediction prediction = predictions.FirstOrDefault();

    if (prediction == null)
        Log.Debug(GetType().FullName, "Nothing matched the user's gesture.");

    Toast.MakeText(this, prediction.Name, ToastLength.Short).Show();

With this done, you should have an understanding of how to use touch and gestures in a Xamarin.Android application. Let us now move on to a walkthrough and see all of the concepts in a working sample application.

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