Apple’s new 3D touch brings a new dimension to a touchscreen interface. With the addition of pressure sensors that are integrated beneath the screen, 3D Touch is designed to deliver a new way of interacting with your iPhone and the apps that live there.
While we’re already used to tapping, swiping, pinching and pressing the home button, app developers can now make use of ‘peeks’ and ‘pops’ along with a range of pressures to make their apps easier, and more fun to use.
The technology works by layering a grid of capacitive pressure sensors beneath the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus’s Retina HD display and backlight. The pressure sensors are so sensitive that they can measure miniscule changes to the distance between the cover glass and backlight, or essentially, the flex of the screen as you press, move and remove your finger.
Adding in signals from the touch sensor and accelerometer, along with some complex mathematics, translates into data that can be used to understand where, and how hard you are pressing, and what this should mean.
Also, beneath the pressure sensors is what Apple calls its ‘Taptic Engine’. This provides physical feedback in the form of a ‘tap’ through the display and to your finger to let you know that your gesture has been detected and understood. It’s like the screen is tapping back at you, and is surprisingly effective.
So what does 3D Touch do?
Using the two gestures – a ‘peek’, or light press, and a ‘pop’, or harder press, can help you interact with apps and access content without actually opening it.
For example, you can preview a mail message from your inbox by holding down lightly on the message. A ‘peek’ screen pops up with the message’s contents. If you want to read the message, a harder press, or ‘pop’ will open it up, or just let go of the screen to go back to your list of new messages.
I’ve also found that you can ‘peek’ at a playlist in Music with a light press, and ‘pop’ it to full screen with a firmer press. You can also swipe upwards to play the entire playlist while you’re in the ‘Peek’ view.
Then there are Quick Actions, or a shortcut to a specific function within an app that you would normally need to open the app to access. By pressing on the Music App, for example, calls up a short menu with a search function, a track I just listened to or Beats 1 radio.
Another great Quick Action is with the camera where you can press on the icon and go directly to Selfie mode, rather than opening the camera and selecting the front facing camera.
So is the 3D Touch feature just a gimmick, or is it really useful? With about a week of use under my belt, I can say that the ability to quickly of accessing the features and content I want does come in handy.
While it takes a little bit of effort to remember that there are new ways of doing things, just like when you realise it’s easier to say ‘Hey Siri, wake me up at 7AM’ than it is to set your alarm by hand, it’s good once you get in the habit.
You can always do things the way you did before of course, and 3D Touch is really for people who ‘want’ to get things done faster, and many may just use their iPhones the way they always have.
As for me, I may even become so ingrained in 3D Touch that I’ll be left haplessly tapping and pressing my phone once I go back to a regular phone.