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.

 

3D Touch adds a new dimension to touch-based interactivity.

3D Touch adds a new dimension to touch-based interactivity.

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.

Hold your finger lightly for a 'peek' at content such as emails.

Hold your finger lightly for a ‘peek’ at content such as emails.

You can also 'Peek' into messages to view addresses as Maps locations.

You can also ‘Peek’ into messages to view addresses as Maps locations.

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.

Go straight to Beats 1 from your home screen.

Go straight to Beats 1 from your home screen.

Access Safari features right from the home screen.

Access Safari features right from the home screen.

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.

Here’s a list of the apps and features supported by 3D Touch at launch from Apple. With 3D Touch open to developers, we’ll be seeing this functionality roll out to other 3rd party apps very soon:

Peek and Pop

Dip in and out of your content without losing your place

  • Mail
  • Messages
  • Camera
  • Maps
  • Calendar
  • Photos
  • Safari
  • Weather
  • Music
  • Video
  • Notes
  • iBooks
  • Find My Friends

iOS also intelligently recognizes data throughout the system that you can Peek and Pop to quickly get the latest information. This includes dates, times, web links, flight numbers, shipment tracking info and more.

Quick Actions

A shortcut to the things you do most 

  • Messages
  • Calendar
  • Camera
  • Photos
  • Clock
  • Maps
  • Video
  • Wallet
  • Notes
  • Reminders
  • iTunes Store
  • App Store
  • iBooks
  • Phone
  • Safari
  • Mail
  • Music
  • FaceTime
  • Podcasts
  • Game Center
  • Voice Memos
  • Contacts
  • Find My Friends

Additional Quick Actions in apps:

  • Mail — Peek on email and slide left or right to delete or mark read (additional options available for swipe right in Settings -> Mail -> Swipe Options); Peek on an email in list view and slide up to reply, forward, mark as read, notify me, or move message
  • Messages — Peek on a message and slide up for contextual responses; Press a contact for additional ways to connect (call, message, etc)
  • Calendar — Peek and slide up to accept or decline a calendar invite
  • Photos — Peek and slide up to copy, share, favorite, or delete a photo
  • Maps — Press on a pin or location for directions, option to call, open homepage, or share location
  • Notes — Peek on a note in list view and slide up to share, move, or delete note
  • Reminders — Press on individual reminder for actions
  • iBooks — Peek on a book and slide up to share or show in iBooks store
  • Safari — Peek on a link and slide up to open link in new tab, add to reading list, or copy
  • Phone — In favorites and recent calls, press on contact name for additional ways to connect
  • Music — Peek and slide up to play album/playlist, shuffle, add/remove to My Music
  • FaceTime — Press contact for additional ways to connect (call, message, etc)
  • Contacts — Press contact for additional ways to connect (call, message, etc)
  • Find My Friends — Peek on friend and slide up to get directions, notify me or notify friend about change of location

More ways to use 3D Touch

  • Notes — Use pressure to make darker strokes or to erase larger area
  • Markup in Mail — Use pressure to create thicker strokes
  • Multitasking — Press left side of the display to switch to multitasking view; press left side of the display and slide right to go to the previous app
  • Dynamic Wallpaper — Press lock screen to bring to life
  • Keyboard — Press to turn your keyboard into a trackpad.