Last fall, 3D Touch was a big part of the iPhone 6S launch. At first, it looked like a major breakthrough but today the dust settled and we are facing an incomplete solution in search of a few real problems. Consider these two recent articles:
- “The trouble with 3D Touch” from Jason Snell of Macworld
- “3D Touch is a niche I can’t live without” from of Serenity Caldwell of imore.com
I would summarize problems with 3D Touch as follow:
A) Because there is a lack of shortcuts on iOS, 3D Touch looks more like a technology demo as it is available on spotty areas of iOS.
B) 3D Touch should be a modern version of the long press gesture which is not available system wide.
C) 3D Touch suffers from a lack of discoverability.
Let’s get into each of these problems.
First, consider iOS before 3D Touch: it didn’t provide any shortcuts to execute tasks. The only thing that comes close to shortcuts is the Control Center or the long press on the home screen. The latter is also used by Instagram.app running on pre 3D Touch device that allow the user to long press on a picture thumbnail to see the whole one. By adding 3D Touch to iOS in spotty places make it look like if Apple didn’t know what to do with it and choose to create a technology demonstration more than anything else.
Second, before implementing 3D Touch, Apple should have thought out how it would add system wide shortcuts to iOS. One solution could have been the long press gesture mentionned previously. If it was the case, 3D Touch would have replaced an already familiar gesture with a more effective one (potentially). Developers would have implemented changes to their apps for a feature available on all devices. But this is not the case. Even for Apple. This is a blatant case of the software not following the hardware.
Third, the last issue is the lack of discoverability and it could the most important one. There is no visual indicator when a 3D Touch action is available. Since these actions are numerous and different in nature, this create a burden on users’ memory. They cannot remember in every context what actions are possible with 3D Touch. So they tend to forget about them. Coupled with inconsistent availability of 3D touch actions in similar contexts, users ignore them as they fall back to more consistent gestures readily available in predictive matter.
John Gruber’s comments on the subject are telling, Apple could be playing with gimmicky features here and this is troubling.
For Apple, all is still fixable though as iOS 10 is on the horizon. They will have to provide a more complete and predictive model for 3D Touch or users could simply ignore the thing altogether.