3D Touch is what the long press should have been all along

It’s going to happen, again and again. It has to happen. Today, Apple executives unveiled the new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus at the company’s annual keynote, and just as the rumors had suggested, one of the biggest changes made to the new smartphones was the addition of Force Touch — or rather, 3D Touch. Apple went on to showcase some of the practical uses of 3D Touch, from accessing additional menus, to previewing images and emails, to creating new ways of interaction in mobile games. Of course, as is always the case with Apple news, Android users are taking to the social feeds to brag that “Android had it first,” citing the long press as the same feature, but is that really true?

3d-touchLong press is undoubtedly one of the more useful methods of input on Android. A quick tap will generally select an item or follow a link or shortcut to trigger an action, and a long press — that’s pressing and holding on an item for a short time, usually opens additional menus or acts as a click-and-drag function. iOS has had the latter functionality for a number of years now; long pressing any icon on the home screen causes the entire grid to become rearrangeable until finalized by pressing the home button. But until now, there’s been no way to get additional context in iOS. No sort of menu button, like on older Android phones. No long-press menus, save for the copy/cut/paste commands and the “Open in browser” link option. Nothing until 3D Touch.

With 3D Touch, the user can now press with additional force to trigger new menus throughout the operating system. Touching the camera icon on the home screen brings up a menu with options to take a selfie or capture slow-mo video. Touching an email can preview the contents without opening the message, or trigger actionable options like replying or marking unread. One of the more interesting applications of 3D Touch demoed at Apple’s event was during gaming, in which the demoed shooter game allowed the user to jump into a focus mode, aiming down the character’s sights and blurring out everything outside of the 3D Touched focal point. In a lot of instances, 3D Touch can seem interchangeable with the long press, simply being used to open a secondary menu, but in actuality it’s more complex than a simple press-and-hold input. 3D Touch is multi-layered and offers different information based on applied pressure, and its ability to activate without the slight delay of long pressing makes it more useful in quick-paced scenarios like gaming.

Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 3.06.21 AMThere are plenty of arguments to be made about the practicality of 3D Touch. Whether or not it just adds another layer of complication onto the platform that’s all about ease of use. Whether the Taptic Engine inside making the functionality possible is worth the added space it takes up. Whether it’s really such a big leap from press and hold, and if it’s even necessary to include. But we’ve already seen what 3D Touch can do, thanks to Force Touch on the Apple Watch, and while it’s not an absolute necessity just yet, its uses in version 1 alone are already impressive. The thing about 3D Touch is that it’s not out to replace the long press, but to augment and work alongside it. Where long pressing allows you to rearrange your home screen, 3D Touch allows you to call up new options with your apps. It’s like the new equivalent of right clicking on your touch screen, and even if third-party apps don’t initially take advantage of it, it can only get better over the coming months and years.

What do you think about 3D Touch? Do you think it’s a nice addition to the way you interact with the iPhone, or is just a confusing layer that’ll cause users headaches? Sound off below!

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Hayato Huseman