Some people may not think of the iPhone 6s as a device that changed everything, but it did bring some important improvements such as the first 4K camera on an iPhone, Live Photos, and 3D Touch. While today’s iPhones still record 4K video and capture Live Photos, none of them have 3D Touch anymore – which is unfortunate since this was one of the best technologies ever created by Apple.
In fact, the story of 3D Touch began a year before the introduction of the iPhone 6s, when Apple unveiled the first Apple Watch to the world in September 2014. Since the device was so small, the company invented a new way to access some hidden buttons on the interface through touches with more pressure.
The Apple Watch display had pressure sensors that were able to detect the intensity of touch in order to reproduce different actions. Apple called this technology “Force Touch,” which was later added to the 2015 MacBook to replace the mechanical trackpad button.
It was only a matter of time before Force Touch was added to the iPhone. In September 2015, the iPhone 6s was the first model to have a “3D Touch” display. Despite the different name, 3D Touch was essentially Force Touch – a display technology based on pressure sensors to enable even more interactions on the screen.
What users could do with 3D Touch
3D Touch on iPhone was mainly used to access quick actions on app icons when the user pressed them hard. Apple also created an API for a gesture called “Peek & Pop,” which allowed pressing your finger on a link or conversation to see a quick preview of that content. With an even harder press, the content was fully opened.
A similar gesture also worked for notifications, phone numbers, and more. In addition to quick actions and Peek & Pop, 3D Touch also enabled pressure-sensitive controls for iOS games.
Thanks to the Taptic Engine, which was also introduced with the first Apple Watch and added to the iPhone 6s, all 3D Touch actions were immediately responded with quick vibrations called “Haptic Feedback.” Here’s how Apple described the feature:
The original iPhone introduced the world to Multi-Touch, forever changing the way people experience technology. With 3D Touch, you can do things that were never possible before. It senses how deeply you press the display, letting you do all kinds of essential things more quickly and simply. And it gives you real-time feedback in the form of subtle taps from the all-new Taptic Engine.
What happened to 3D Touch?
In 2018, when Apple introduced three new iPhone models, only the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max had 3D Touch, while the cheaper iPhone XR model was equipped with Haptic Touch – which is a fancy way of saying “long press with vibrations.” The following year, all three iPhone 11 models were released without 3D Touch.
It’s hard to name a single factor that led to the end of 3D Touch on the iPhone (and even Force Touch on the Apple Watch). Certainly the cost and complexity of producing displays with force pressure sensors was one of the deciding factors in putting an end to this technology, but there are a few other things to keep in mind.
Most iPhone users I know (and I’m not talking about tech geeks here) had no idea what 3D Touch was. Some of them only knew how to use a few gestures, while others had no idea that their iPhones had such a feature. And honestly, I blame Apple for that.
The company has never made it clear to users how to take advantage of 3D Touch. There was not a single screen during the iPhone setup to introduce the feature, so basically you had to figure out on your own how to use it. Guess what? Several people didn’t figure it out how to use it.
As a consequence, developers became less interested in supporting 3D Touch, and even Apple stopped caring about the feature at a certain point when it realized that most users wouldn’t mind having the feature replaced by long presses.
I still want 3D Touch back
I’m not saying that it has become impossible to use my iPhone without 3D Touch, but I still miss it every time I play with my old iPhones that still have the force pressure sensors on the display.
Sure, a long press might do the same thing as 3D Touch to access quick actions in iOS, but that will never be as fast and precise as accessing them instantly just by pressing harder on the screen. And things like Peek & Pop and the actions to select text using pressure on the iPhone keyboard were extremely convenient.
Not to mention the Apple Watch, which had its interface designed with Force Touch in mind and now the technology is gone. Haptic Touch might do the job, but it doesn’t feel natural or like “something only Apple would do.”
Unfortunately, I really think 3D Touch is gone forever, but it was one of the best technologies Apple ever put into the iPhone. It felt so natural to press harder in some places and instantly feel the haptic responses. It was a brilliant idea, and it’s a shame it had such a short life.
For now, Force Touch lives on Apple’s trackpads, but we are not sure for how much longer.
Do you miss 3D Touch? Let me know in the comments below.
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