Apple May Have Figured Out the iPhone’s Most Promising Feature
Last fall, Apple introduced 3D Touch, a feature that lets the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus detect light and firm touchscreen presses. You might also remember that event as the last time you gave 3D Touch any thought. That’s about to change.
By weaving 3D Touch more deeply into the fabric of iOS 10—and specifically, making it an essential part of its lock screen—Apple finally arms potentially revolutionary feature with true purpose. You may not use 3D Touch much today, but after iOS 10 arrives this fall, you may wonder how you lived without it.
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Apple’s 3D Touch is a remarkable bit of engineering. A layer of capacitive sensors, snuggled up beneath the phone’s LCD display and backlight, detects pressure from screen above. A soft press, called a “Peek,” shows lets you preview things like links, photos, and messages from your inbox. Pressing harder triggers a “Pop,” and opens whatever it is you’re previewing. Adding a z-axis to a smartphone screen is a brilliant idea with many benefits. Most obviously, it cuts the number of steps required to perform your most common tasks. So-called Quick Actions are a great example: With a firm press, you can bring up your frequent contacts, compose a tweet, or check a song with Shazam, all from your home screen. In the end, each one of these Quick Action saves you a few taps.
These taps have a way of adding up. Eliminating one here, a couple there, saves a few milliseconds of friction in the moment and untold hours over time. That’s why UX designers make such a big deal of removing them from your workflow. But it can be tricky convincing someone that a more efficient way of doing something is worth relearning established habits. You’ve experienced this tension firsthand if you’ve ever tried showing someone a useful keyboard shortcut, only to hear, “I’m fine, thanks.”
A truly compelling use case can go a long way in cases like these. Provide something that becomes integral to how people interact with their phones every time they pick them up and it’ll catch on. So far, Apple and the myriad developers making apps for the iPhone have not done that with 3D Touch. That’s not terribly surprising, given that most iOS devices don’t even support it; but it is a shame, because 3D Touch could be truly special. It’s an entirely new way of interacting with your phone, begging for applications worthy of your interest.
With iOS 10, it may finally have them: 3D touch is instrumental to Apple’s newly rethought lock screen, in a way that could fundamentally change how you interact with your iPhone.
The lock screen in iOS 10 offers a few new features, like waking when you lift your iPhone so you don’t miss all those notifications you blow past with Touch ID. That’s nice, but smartphones like the Moto X have done this for years. In fact, other smartphones already match or surpass much of what iOS 10 offers. But they don’t offer the one thing that makes the iOS lock screen truly unique: 3D Touch.
Until now, 3D Touch saved you the hassle of going into an app to access its features. Now it will spare you from going into your phone at all. Have a chat notification? 3D-Touch brings you into the conversation. Want to know where your Uber is? Give it a Pop, and get live tracking of your driver. Need an updated score? Go ahead and soft-press ESPN, and see how badly the Baltimore Orioles bullpen can blow it in real-time. Are you, like me, one of five or six Apple News enthusiasts? If you get a story alert, you can read the whole thing from the lock screen, thanks to 3D Touch.
Last year, it seemed like Apple’s Proactive Assistant, which anticipates which apps you use when, then places them on the lock screen, would kill the home screen. It didn’t, and neither will 3D Touch. But with iOS 10, you’ll use your home screen a whole lot less. For apps that send regular notifications, you’ll hardly use it at all.
And this is before Apple’s officially released iOS 10. Developers have yet to ponder the implications of ceding actions to the lock screen. This offers a compelling reason do that. Figuring out how 3D Touch can help your app in isolation has clearly been a challenge. But in the context of the lock screen, it’s easy: Get in, get out.
Granted, 3D Touch won’t touch every part of your phone. But it will do something far more important: Ensure that you touch your phone less.
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