While IBM Simon – a handset launched in 1994 – would walk away with the title of first-ever touchscreen phone (it also had a stylus), the entire touch technology on smartphones was revolutionized by Apple. The first generation iPhone showcased how touchscreen could work on, what was at that time, a fairly large display. Since then, the company has constantly raised the bar. Last year, Apple Watch debuted with ‘Force Touch’ – a feature that allows the wearable to differentiate between two types of screen presses. With the latest iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus, multi-touch technology has been bolstered further with 3D Touch – which, according to Phil Schiller, is among the ‘hardest things Apple has ever engineered’. In what follows, we will do a roundup of what 3D Touch is, and how it adds value to the iPhone 6S:
- Turning on 3D Touch – First things first: let’s activate 3D Touch on the iPhone. To do so, you have to tap on ‘General → Accessibility → 3D Touch’ (under ‘Settings’) on the device. The switch that gets displayed has to be toggled to ‘ON’, to turn on the 3D Touch feature.
Note: 3D Touch is activated by default on new iPhone 6S models. You need this tip in case you want to switch it off (why would anyone want to do that?) at any time.
2. How does 3D Touch work? – To put it simply, with the help of advanced capacitive sensors and strain gauges. The built-in ‘Taptic Engine’, which also helps in detecting phone vibrations as detected by the haptic technology, powers 3D Touch as well. Reports from users as well as iPhone app developers have confirmed that 3D Touch is significantly more responsive (read: faster) than Force Touch. Every time the screen of the handset is pressed, electronic signals are generated (due to the applied pressure). These are detected by the gauge sensors and the precise placement and degree of force is accurately matched. In all, 3D Touch can discern between three types of interactions – a long press (hold), a soft touch, and a tap.
3. Setting up the sensitivity level – This one is important. Unless a user correctly adjusts the sensitivity of 3D Touch, the technology might not function correctly, and there might be lags. Doing the adjustment is easy – you only have to select one from the ‘Light’, ‘Medium’ and ‘Firm’ options from the sensitivity slider (also present in ‘General → Accessibility → 3D Touch’). The pressure level you choose will determine the amount of force required to activate 3D Touch at any point.
4. Peek and Pop – Software analysts and mobile app development experts have hailed the breakthrough ‘Peek and Pop’ functionality that 3D Touch brings to the table. This is a dual interaction option for interacting with messages and web links on the iPhone 6S in a smarter way. Whenever you press on the link of a website lightly, you get a ‘Peek’ preview of the web page on Safari (remove your finger to get back to the earlier screen). For a full view of the website, simply long-press the link, and you will ‘Pop’ on to the page. The technology also works like a charm for quickly checking emails and messages.
Note: For short emails, a ‘peek’ preview is often sufficient. You can glance at the message without having to move away from your inbox.
5. Cursor on the screen! – Yep, that’s what 3D touch allows users to do – by converting their iPhone keypad into a fully functional trackpad. Just open any application, and do a firm press on the keypad. The keys will disappear and the area will transform into a smooth trackpad (and will turn grey), with a cursor on the display screen. This feature, understandably, adds a lot to the convenience level of users, while composing messages or reading documents on their devices (no more erroneous cursor placements by finger, so…yay!). In fact, many mobile app developers feel that this feature is the biggest highlight of 3D Touch on iPhone 6S.
6. Multitasking – 3D Touch brings in an entirely new way in which users can toggle between multiple applications they might be using simultaneously. Instead of going through the trouble of double-pressing on the ‘Home’ button (which performs roughly the same function), users can just do a long press on the left edge of the screen. The app switcher/multitasking view will appear (the edges of recently opened applications are displayed). Toggling among them is easy.
7. 3D Touch on third-party applications – That’s right, 3D Touch functionality is not limited to the pre-installed iPhone apps. Leading mobile app companies working on the iOS 9 platform have already started releasing third-party apps with 3D Touch support. The all-new touch technology opens up a myriad of new ways in which people can interact with apps, and the onus now lies with iPhone developers to make full use of it. With Live Photos integration (we will come to ‘Live Photos’ in a bit), image-based apps can offer a truly immersive, engaging experience.
8. Quick Actions – This is precisely what its name suggests – an extensive range of shortcuts, geared to make common iPhone tasks simpler and, of course, quicker. When an app icon is long-pressed, the rest of the screen frosts over, and a contextual menu for shortcuts (which is the ‘Quick Actions’ menu) appears. Selecting what you want to do from this menu is a breeze. Apart from the communication apps of Apple (Mail, Camera, Messages), Quick Actions is available for select external applications (e.g., Dropbox) as well. Right from checking messages and capturing selfies and videos, to viewing maps and browsing the contact list (a press on the Contacts icon brings up your favourite contacts) – a lot of things can be done with this feature. The left-swipe option to delete emails is also a Quick Actions feature.
Note: To delete an app, do not press down on the app icon (which would activate 3D Touch on it). Instead, simply tap on the icon (avoid using any pressure) – and then move or uninstall the app, as per your requirement.
9. Live Photos with 3D Touch – The Live Photos has been one of the best new features of iOS 9, and with 3D Touch – it gets even better. There is a large selection of dynamic wallpapers which can be used as the wallpaper on the Lock Screen of iPhone 6S (or use any of your personal Live Photos). However, the magic of 3D Touch surfaces when users actually press down on a Live Photo to make it, quite literally, ‘come alive’.
10. Force Touch vs 3D Touch – As already pointed out at the start, 3D Touch is faster – thanks to its cutting-edge sensors and strain gauges. Also, while Force Touch on Apple Watch can detect multiple presses on the display screen, 3D Touch can actually tell the differences in the degrees of pressure exerted at multiple points of the iPhone screen – thereby adding an extra layer of responsiveness. The force required to activate Force Touch on Watch is slightly more than that needed to trigger 3D Touch on iPhone 6S.
11. Drawings with the Notes app – The new multi-touch technology on iPhone 6S allows users to show off their creative side as well. On the built-in Notes application, thick lines can be drawn by long presses, while light taps create fine lines (comes in extremely handy while systematically depicting an idea on the go). Once again, iPhone app developers can use this feature to come up with an entirely new type of drawing apps.
12. Peek Zoom – How about pressing the iPhone screen to zoom in? 3D Touch lets users do that as well. Once the Zoom Controller is activated (a hard press does the trick), you only have to enable Peek Zoom, by tapping on ‘Settings → General → Accessibility → Peek Zoom’. Now, whenever the Zoom Controller is pressed, the whole screen zooms in. Remove the pressure, and the screen will zoom out back to normal.
13. Preview and launch videos – This is a classic example of the ‘Peek and Pop’ feature we discussed above. A light press on the video thumbnail displays a preview of the file (directly within the message in which it is located). A long press, on the other hand, launches the video on the iPhone screen. If someone sends you a video file, you can now catch a preview first, before actually playing it.
14. More engaging iOS games – For iOS game developers, 3D Touch opens up a whole new world of possibilities (some games at the App Store are ‘upgraded for 3D Touch’, but they do not quite make full use of the technology…yet). Practically all elements visible onscreen can be turned into game controls. For instance, in an iPhone racing game, a light press can make vehicles go at normal speeds, while a longer hold can accelerate them. Users will take some time to get used to 3D Touch-enabled games – but this is certainly something that will catch on pretty soon.
3D Touch, or the ‘next generation of multi-touch’ as the Cupertino company hails it to be, is currently available only on iPhone 6S/6S Plus. As newer iPhone models are released over the next few years (iPhone 7 is coming this fall), the technology will become more popular. It is also almost certain that 3D Touch will be present on the upgraded second-generation Apple Watch, which is set to arrive in mid-2016. It is a truly great feature, and it takes up the usability value of the latest flagship iPhone by several notches.