There’s a new feature called 3D Touch on the new iPhone 6s. What exactly is this? 3D Touch, or previously known as Force Touch, is the technology which allows the display to detect how much pressure is applied on it. It first debuted on MacBook and Apple Watch and it makes sense for Apple to carry the feature over to their main product. This technology simply means that the screen is pressure sensitive. By measuring the pressure your fingers applied to the glass, it can differentiate between a usual tap, a lighter press and a harder press. So there’s 3 levels of pressure which can be detected here.
First of all, you need to keep in mind that normal taps still works like they use to be. For normal or so-called traditional tap, there will be no physical feedback from the phone. For 3D Touch, there’s a Taptic engine to “tap” you (a more gentle vibration) to notify you that you have performed a 3D Touch.
Peek & Pop
So what’s the big deal here? Well, it allows Apple to introduce new ways of interaction in iOS. There are few parts of it. Peek & Pop is the new way to interact with applications. Peek is a light press and Pop is a hard press. In the email, you can press lightly on one of your mail to Peek it. Since you are just Peeking the mail, the mail is not truly “opened”. From here, if you lift your finger, you will go back to the list of emails. On the other hand, if you press harder on the glass, you will Pop into the mail and “open” the mail in the traditional sense.
If you are lost, just remember Peek is a light press and Pop is a hard press. To preview something like previewing a link in Safari without opening it up fully, you need a Peep (light press). To open the link fully after previewing it, you need to Pop (hard press) it. The Mail, Photos, Safari, Calender are some of the apps that support Peek & Pop.
Outside of any app, which is on the home screen, you can use 3D Touch to activate quick actions. Instead of tapping the icons like we normally do, you can press into the app to open up Quick Actions. You can imagine the harder press as right click on your PC. The Quick Actions allow you to select the actions directly before you go into the app. The simplest example will be the Phone app. 3D Touch the phone icon will show a few of your favourite contacts. You can call them by selecting them from the list, without going into the app.
Other than the two mentioned features, 3D touch also allows you to perform pressure sensitive drawing without using any stylus. You can press harder for a thicker line and press lighter for thinner lines. This is supported on the stock Notes app but I guess all drawing and note taking apps will take advantage of 3D Touch in no time. The other notable feature is you can 3D touch on the stock keyboard and the keyboard will turn into a trackpad. Gone are the days where you have trouble moving the cursors around the text precisely.
If you feel that 3D Touch is still confusing, hopefully the video made by Apple will help you to understand the new feature more. Do take note on how hard the finger presses on the screen!
However, the new feature does come with a price in my opinion. The addition of a new dimension in interaction means that iOS will not be as simple as it used to be. It will be challenging for Apple to educate the user to use 3D Touch. First of all, they need to understand the difference between normal tap, longer tap (for moving icons in home screen) and 3D Touch.
The problem does not stop here. In case you are not aware, these features utilising 3D Touch are hidden and there is nothing on the graphical user interface to suggest the user that they can perform 3D Touch. The icons are still the same on the home screen and who knows you can activate the Quick Actions by pressing harder? So the success of 3D Touch will depends on how well Apple passes the message to its users.
On the other hand, the developers need to revamp their applications to make full use of 3D Touch. 3D Touch allows developers to hide some menus as the optional contextual menu can be summoned via 3D Touch. Hopefully this will result in a cleaner user interface. Games may take advantage of 3D Touch too. For example, in car racing games the amount of acceleration applied can be dependent on how much pressure we applied on the virtual peddle. The possibility is limitless.
The Other Players
Other than Apple, Huawei is the only company that uses similar technology. Even though the Chinese company decided to call it Force Touch, they are basically the same. The new Huawei Mate S beats iPhone 6s to be the first phone to carry such technology. However, I have to say that being first does not guarantee that you will be the best.
While Apple is taking advantage of the 3D Touch throughout the whole operating system, Huawei is using its Force Touch for something irrelevant. On the Mate S, you can zoom into photos by “Force Touch”-ing the photos in the stock gallery app. The harder you press, the larger the magnification scale. You can also hide the navigation buttons (Back, Home, Recent Apps) and Force Touch at different parts on the bottom of the screen will give you the same results. The most ridiculous feature is that you can measure the weight of objects with the pressure sensitive screen with the limitation that the object must weigh between 100grams and 400grams. I guess they expect you to know the rough weight of an object before you weight it, which sounds kind of funny to me.
As I mentioned earlier, the implementation of 3D Touch/ Force Touch will be extremely important in deciding its fate. If I was shown that the technology is meant for little things like weighing oranges and zooming in and out only, I can never be convinced. Luckily, Apple is demonstrating the usefulness of the technology properly. However, I couldn’t blame Huawei too much as they did not have as much control as Apple in the operating system. Since Android is not ready for this, Huawei couldn’t do much either. I guess that is the advantage for developing hardware and software on your own?
Next Big Thing After Multi-Touch?
3D Touch really offers a new dimension in the interaction and I have to give credit to Apple in baking the feature into the operating system. This is certainly no gimmick and I would say it might be one of the biggest improvement on the interaction between human and portable devices ever since multi-touch displays were introduced. It’s not mind-blowing like Apple suggest (they always do that, don’t they?), but I am positive that this is not purely gimmick. However, how far it can go, or how popular it would be, remained a question to be answered in the future.