What is 3D Touch, the Big New iPhone 6S Feature?

By Gary Cutlack on at

The iPhone 6S has just been announced as was foretold, with one of the big new hardware and software combo features being the addition of 3D Touch to this year's iPhone upgrade. So what is it and do you need special glasses to make it work?

3D Touch is best described as Apple adding a layered menu system to app icons and action links inside iOS 9, with apps able to do different things depending on the strength of your press. The simplest explanation is that it's like the Android long-press system that can pull up menus, but without the few tenths of a second pause until your special input is recognised, using this to generate app previews without having to dive right into something.

Like opening something but not 

Jony Ive's silky voice suggested this will be instantly added to the control world's lexicon alongside the swiping and pinching popularised by the first iPhone, with his demo video showing the system where Apple's familiar home screen icons now come with pop-out options accessed by firmer touches -- like right-clicking in Windows -- and a "peek" view that opens previews of emails, web pages and images with lighter taps.

3d-touch-2

But, and here's the useful part, this "peek" isn't the same as actually opening the item you're clicking on. It's a floating preview, one that disappears when you let go -- without opening the actual app. It could save seconds of your life per day from pressing Home to escape things you've just opened and get back to where you were.

Peekaboo

The best example demonstrated by Apple was when sending someone a link to a location. A light touch on the hyperlinked location now pops up a floating preview of the map, whereas, in the olden, darker days before September 9 2015, you'd have opened the entire Maps app and been booted out of the chat window. It could actually be a hugely useful new thing if communicated to users and signposted properly.

3d-touch-maps

It sounds like quite a hard sell to the consumer, though, who's quite used to tapping in the usual manner already. We can't help but wonder how much learning will be involved and whether we'll be able to accurately judge press strength repeatedly. After all, if we get the wrong thing as a result of the wrong type of press, chances are we'll not bother using it again.

3d-touch

Plus it's more things to remember -- is it a light tap or a massive whack to pop up the Music app's controls? Still, if it reduces time spent inside Apple's lengthy menu navigation world, it must be a good thing.

Only for iPhone 6S

Those looking for a reason to upgrade to the 6S, this is it. 3D Touch is orchestrated by sensors embedded into the backlight behind the display that sense press strength and power a tighter haptic feedback system, so there's zero chance of this hitting your battered iPhone 4S.


Looking for more news from the iPhone 6S "Hey Siri!" launch event? Find a tonne of news in our Apple event hub.