Apple’s 3D Touch, a new way to interactive apps on iPhones

There was plenty for Apple enthusiasts to get excited over this week during Apple’s September special event, launching new software & hardware; the new app-enhanced iteration of Apple TV; the iPhone 6S & 6S Plus; iPad Air 3; and ‘the biggest news in iPad since the iPad’, the iPad Pro, accessorised with the Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil.

However, the announcement of the now most highly anticipated new Apple technology for devs and future-users alike transformed the launch of the latest ‘S-model’ iterations of the current gen iPhones into an exciting event, rather than the standard fare of a performance boost, added colour lines, and a shiny software update – the announcement of ‘3D Touch’.

‘3D Touch’, aptly named for allowing the user to interact with their phone in the ‘third dimension’ by pressure with variable force onto the screen, adding an additional dimension of navigation to the Multi-Touch gestures that have revolutionized and set the standard for capacitive touch screen interaction.

The technology behind 3D Touch that measures for microscopic changes in pressure can differentiate between a light press and a more forceful one, and unlike ‘Force Touch’ previously introduced on the Apple Watch that does not measure for more than one level of pressure, this ability to interpret the user’s intentions by the amount of pressure applied has enabled 3D Touch to have two distinct layers of user; ‘Peek’, a light touch; and ‘Pop’, a harder press.

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Using 3D Touch to take a ‘Peek’ at content – Image Source: Apple.com

‘Peek’, as implied, gives you the ability to take a look at content without being navigated away from the page that you’re already on. In the live demo at the keynote, we got a glimpse of how slickly this could work within your email, allowing you to browse content such as linked internet pages or schedule information without being forced into opening up Safari or your Calendar.

However, say you actually want to jump to a new place in your OS and focus in on some content – well, that’s where ‘Pop’ comes into play, as a deeper press on your screen will ‘pop’ the content into a fixed position on your screen.

Furthermore, you will be able to apply pressure at the edges of the screen to scroll through Apps, or flick back to the previous one – news that surely comes as a relief to users with double-tap thumb fatigue from navigating between lots of Apps, an action which in itself which may not be so frequent for ‘Peek’ reducing the need to transition between open screens of content.

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Using 3D Touch gestures to scroll through applications – Image Source: Apple Keynote

At the centre of this process is the Taptic Engine. A clever combination of ‘tap’ and ‘haptic feedback’, the taptic engine will provide haptic feedback to your fingers imparting subtle vibrations to give the sensation of a click, technology already in use in the trackpads of new MacBooks and on the Apple Watch.

The intuitive ‘feel’ provided by this feedback will help users to swiftly adapt to navigating with 3D Touch.

Another promising aspect of 3D Touch is how it will change the way we use our homescreen as lightly pressing on an App’s logo will now open up a contextual menu of shortcuts, much like ‘right-clicking’ on a desktop computer and without the need for the long press that performs a similar function on Android systems but at a greater cost to navigation speed.

For developers, this implies vastly more control over how their App is used on the homescreen by allowing access to key features of the App without forcing users through the usual navigation route.

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Examples of third-party contextual shortcuts from the homescreen.

When applied to the content within applications, 3D touch could enhance organisation and create a cleaner, more natural flow of content for the user, perhaps finally doing away with overcrowded navigation bars or the dreaded ‘hamburger menu’. It will be interesting to see how devs play with the separate levels of ‘Peek’ and ‘Pop’ in the structures of their projects.

It seems Apple is conscientiously taking steps to open up Apple dev kits and remove factors prohibiting Apps from integrating more succinctly with iOS, like these added functions on the homescreen and from within native Apps, functions that have previously given strength and success to those developed on rival platforms, such as Android, and made the iOS experience sometimes feel a little outdated by comparison.

As arguably the world’s most popular technology brand, Apple often comes under fire as haters accuse the company of copying ideas already present in the market, but perhaps it is the way Apple takes the time to see what works and improves upon those foundations in hardware and software alike, all the while sticking to their ethos of streamlining efficiency and maintaining the high aesthetic standards their products are renowned for is what truly sets the company apart.

Certainly, allowing developers greater flexibility within this structure where they will continue to create outstanding immersive experiences, of which those relating to 3D Touch will be exclusively available on these newest devices, could be what will maintain the momentum of this global phenomenon.

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