Smartphone screens have been touch sensitive for many years, but Apple’s latest smartphones are also pressure sensitive, so they can tell how hard the user is pressing on them. This new ability, called 3D Touch, actually simplifies the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus.
On the homescreen, you can press on the icon for many applications and bring up a menu of commonly used actions without having to open the app itself. For example, a hard press on the Camera app lets the user quickly take a selfie, take a photo, record video, or record slo-mo.
Most of Apple’s own applications support this feature including Mail, Messages, Maps, Calendar, Photos, Music, Podcasts, iBooks, App Store, News, and Game Center. Third-party software is also starting to embrace it, such as Facebook and Twitter.
Learning to use this feature, which Apple has dubbed Quick Actions, takes a little bit of practice — it’s easy to not press hard enough and accidentally start moving icons around on the homescreen. If problems persist, go to Settings > General > Accessibility > 3D Touch to adjust how much pressure is required to activate.
Peek and Poke
When 3D Touch is used in applications, it’s called Peek and Poke. Perhaps the best way to explain these is by example: in the Mail app, pressing lightly on a message in the list of emails will bring up a preview of that message. Pressing harder will then open the message.
Another example is in the Safari web browser. Pressing on a link will open a preview of the web page being linked to, and then pressing harder will open that page.
Peek and Poke can be used on an address shown in any application to get a preview of it in Maps, or to jump to that address in Apple’s navigation software.
This feature is also available to get previews in the Photos app, and to open Live Photos.
Currently, 3D Touch seems like a gimmick, but it has the potential to really change the way phones and tablets are used. There have already been unconfirmed reports that this feature will allow the iPhone 7 to eschew a physical Home button, making room for a larger screen.
Although 3D Touch may be a much more important part of the iOS experience in the future, right now Apple has to go slowly because just the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus have it. If radical changes were made then only a small percentage of iPhone users could take advantage of them.