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3D Touch explained: Why is Apple’s new technology such a big deal?

by Brandon Russell | September 26, 2015September 26, 2015 9:00 am PDT

You’ll be hearing a lot about it over the next several months, and you might even see it in other phones. Now that the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus are out, 3D Touch is going to be frequently talked about as the technology matures. So just what the heck is 3D Touch, and why should you care? We made a video explaining what it is, and how it will change how you navigate your iPhone.

Basically, 3D Touch senses how much pressure you apply to the iPhone’s display. Isn’t that just like a long press? No, it’s really not. Apple says that when you press the display, capacitive sensors measure microscopic changes in the distance between the cover glass and the backlight. Apple’s software will then determine how much pressure is being applied, and dynamically adapt based on context.

In addition to gestures like tap, swipe and pinch, 3D Touch brings a new dimension to iOS with “Peek” and “Pop,” making it easier for users to get information at a glance at navigation between applications. And developers will have free reign over how they want to implement the new technology into their apps.

With Peek, just lightly press on the screen, and you’ll get a popup of information depending on what app you’re in. In mail, for example, you can lightly press on an email and you’ll get a quick peek at what that email contains. If you deem it important, just press a little harder and you’ll Pop into it. Easy, right?

Peek and Pop is available all across iOS, too, allowing users to preview links, glance at photos, and bring up contextual menus based on the amount of pressure that’s applied to the screen. It sounds a little daunting at first—we’re so used to navigating iOS in one way—but once you start using 3D Touch you’ll wish it was everywhere.

3D Touch also introduces “Quick Actions,” which makes performing actions throughout the OS less of a hassle. Do a firm press on the Message app, for example, and you’ll see your favorite contacts; press on the Maps icon and immediately get directions home. The goal is to cut down time spent navigating throughout iOS.

There are several other little things that 3D Touch does to improve the overall experience. Press the keyboard within an app and it’ll turn into a trackpad; quickly bring up the multitasking menu by pressing the left side of the home screen; and draw like a pro by pressing lightly for finer lines, or more deeply for thicker ones.

As of now, 3D Touch is best demonstrated with Apple’s own apps; we’ll have to wait for developers to experiment with the technology before it really soars. Some popular apps, such as Instagram, have already updated to accommodate for the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, so it probably won’t be long before you’re peeking and popping your way around iOS.

Check out the video above to see the feature in action. We’re not sure yet if 3D Touch is the next big thing since sliced bread, but even at this early stage it certainly feels like one of those features that’s going to change the landscape of mobile.


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Brandon Russell

Brandon Russell enjoys writing about technology and entertainment. When he's not watching Back to the Future, you can find him on a hike or watching...


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