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  1. Computer Skills
  2. iOS 9
Computers

3D Touch Explained

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Difficulty:BeginnerLength:ShortLanguages:

3D Touch is a new feature on the latest iDevices: the iPhones 6S and 6S Plus. It will revolutionise how people interact with touch screen devices. It’s been compared to adding a right-click to iOS, however, it does a lot more than that. It makes it quicker and easier than ever to use an iPhone.

There are lots of features of 3D Touch that both regular and power users will love. The main ones are Quick Actions, Peek and Pop although there others.

In this tutorial, I’ll show you what exactly 3D Touch is and how to use it.

A New Layer to the Screen

Although Apple has been using the metaphor that 3D Touch adds a new layer to iOS, physically, it actually involves adding a new layer to the screen. 

In addition to the previous touch sensitive and protective layers, there’s now an additional array of sensors that detect how much pressure the screen is under. They can tell the difference between a light tap, a hard press and everything in between.

What isn’t clear in Apple’s marketing materials is how hard you actually have to press on the screen to use 3D Touch

When I first tried it, I was surprised by how much pressure I had to apply for it to activate. Although it takes some getting used to, this is a positive. It’s next to impossible to accidentally activate 3D Touch when you just want to tap something normally.

Quick Actions

The first, and simplest, application of 3D Touch are Quick Actions. When you’re on the Home Screen, you can press on any app that has them enabled and get a couple of shortcuts. 

If you press on the Camera app you will get the options to Take Selfie, Record Video, Record Slo-mo or Take Photo

Whatever option you tap on, you’ll be brought to the relevant section of the app. For example, tap on Take Selfie and the Camera app opens up with the front camera active.

camera quick actions
The Camera app's Quick Actions.

It’s not just Apple’s apps that support Quick Actions. A number of third-party apps are beginning to implement them. 

My favourite Twitter app, Tweetbot 4, has Tweet, Tweet Last Photo and Show Activity as shortcuts.

tweetbot 4 quick actions
Tweetbot 4's Quick Actions.

Over the next few months, you can expect many developers to implement Quick Actions in their apps.

Quick Actions aren’t just limited to the Home Screen. There are APIs for developers to use them within their apps. At the time of writing though, it is still early days for 3D Touch so not all apps support them.

Peek and Pop

Peek and Pop are Apple’s names for two related features: 

  1. the ability to preview information, Peek, by pressing on it, and then
  2. the ability to open it, Pop, by pressing harder

The example they use is Mail app. Pressing on an email opens a preview where you can see its contents. Let go and the preview disappears. 

If, however, you swipe up you get options to Reply, Forward and do other things to the email while if you press harder, it opens the email fully as if you’d tapped it normally from the start.

Peek and Pop aren’t limited to working within one app. If you press on a URL or address in a message, for example, you will get a Peek into the relevant app—in this case, Safari or Maps respectively. 

Press harder and you’ll be Popped over to that app.

peek in Tweetbot 4
Peek in Tweetbot 4. If I press harder, it would Pop open the Tweet fully.

Third party apps are also able to integrate Peek and Pop

Again, Tweetbot 4 is one of the first to have done so. If you press on a Tweet in the Timeline you get a Peek preview with more information about it such as how many times it’s been favourited or replied to. It’s the same for links in Tweets, usernames, hashtags and pretty much everything else.

Peek and Pop, more than any other feature of 3D Touch change how you use an iPhone. They make it a lot easier to look up secondary information without moving away from what you’re doing. 

They feel almost like extra tabs in a browser. You can check who the user tagged in a tweet is without actually having to visit their profile, or losing place in the Timeline, in the process.

Control the Cursor

One of the biggest barriers to writing anything of length on an iDevice was that the cursor was next to impossible to control. Selecting text was difficult and you just couldn’t easily go back and add something in the middle of a paragraph you’d just typed. 

With 3D Touch, the cursor is now much easier to control. If you press on the Keyboard, it turns into a small trackpad that you can use to control the cursor by sliding a finger around.

It makes selecting and editing text on an iPhone much easier.

controlling the cursor
Cursor control with 3D Touch.

Access the Multitasking Menu

The Multitasking Menu has had an overhaul in iOS 9 and, with 3D Touch, there’s a new way to access it. If you press on the left edge of the screen it activates the Multitasking Menu

Pressure Sensitive Drawing in Apps

Although most of the applications of 3D Touch I’ve talked about so far only rely on one or two levels of pressure sensitivity, the hardware in an iPhone is capable of detecting many more. These become relevant in drawing apps. 

For example, in the new Notes app, if you’re sketching, how hard you press determines the thickness of the lines you draw. A light touch gets thin lines while a firm press gets thicker ones.

If you’re using your finger on an iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, this is more of a novelty than a major feature, however, as third parties bring out styluses that support 3D Touch it’s likely to become a lot more useful for the artistically minded. 

With the future models of iPad Pro, if the feature us added (it will not be available on the first incarnation of the new device) it should allow artists, designers and photographers to use an iDevice instead of a computer.

Third Party Integrations

How useful 3D Touch proves to be really relies on third party developers integrating it. As good as Apple’s stock apps are, they aren’t the ones most people spend their time using.

They’ve gone out of their way to make the feature available to other developers; not only do they have access to Quick Actions, Peek and Pop, and the other features I’ve mention, but they can also implement their own pressure sensitive gestures.

It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out, but I expect, over the next few years most iOS apps will support 3D Touch.

Conclusion 

3D Touch is the flagship feature on the newest iDevices. It brings the biggest change to iOS since iOS 7. After using an iPhone with 3D Touch for a few days, it’s surprisingly hard to go back to using one without it. It seamlessly fits into iOS.

Features like Quick Actions, Peek and Pop narrow the gap between iDevices and computers. They make it possible to use context menus, multitask and check secondary information like you can on a Mac. 3D Touch isn’t just a right click for iOS, it is a whole new way of doing things.

If you’ve any questions about 3D Touch or its features, please ask in the comments. I’m happy to answer.

And if you're interested in trying out your hand at developing for iOS, we have a great collection of iOS app templates on CodeCanyon that make a good starting point. Perfect for trying out some of these new 3D Touch features in your own app!

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