This is why you don’t use iPhone’s 3D Touch

How many times have you used 3D Touch since you got your new iPhone?
For me it’s somewhere around 20–30 times total, and for most non-technical people I’ve been talking to NEVER DID!

It has been 2 years since Apple introduced ForceTouch with the Apple Watch (later called: 3D Touch) and it seems like it has not been truly adopted yet.

It’s easy to tell when a feature is a big hit: all the other players immediately copy it.
Touch ID was introduced by Apple few years ago and today similar technologies can be found in almost all smartphones.
Pull to refresh, swipe-down to minimize (for photos) and other gestures — were all quickly adopted by most apps.

This is not the case for 3D Touch.

Up until now, there is no other phone with pressure sensitive touchscreen, and the adoption in iOS apps functionality is slow and often done just to increase the chances of being featured in the AppStore.

3D Touch when googling through images

I seriously question the friendliness of a pressure sensitive touchscreen. I think it was a wrong direction taken by Apple and it would require some time and tweaks until it becomes popular.

First of all: It doesn’t feel NATURAL

The original iPhones were all about making things simple, elegant and delightful. The functionality came packed in a slick, fun, easy to use touch interface.

3D touch is exactly the opposite: there’s nothing elegant in pushing you finger hard on a glass surface. It’s not a natural thing to do, it sometimes feels a little bit unpleasant, almost as if you are urging the technology to do things for you.

It lacks CLARITY

Clarity is one of the most important things in user interface. Every UI element should “tell” the user what it does and how it works, or as Apple calls it in the iOS human interface guidelines document: “convey interactivity”.

Labels, buttons, vertical scrollable lists, horizontal collections, they all give hints about what will happen when you tap or swipe them.

Clarity was one of the reasons why iOS became so popular by non-technical people; there were no hidden tricks, no right-click menus, no SHIFT+SELECT functionality, so even technophobic users like my mom could easily use and even enjoy it.

The problem with 3D touch is that it contradicts all of those things: there is no visual sign that an element is 3D touchable, so you need to try pressing it hard to see what happens. I often find myself randomly force-touch elements on the screen without knowing what will happen.

But that’s not all: even if an element is 3D Touchable — it’s still not clear WHAT would happen when you force-touch it. Will it open a preview? Will it zoom in? What would be the optional buttons? Will it stay popped up when you lift your finger up? Sometime it does, sometimes it doesn’t.

That’s definitely something that contradicts Apple’s design principles and a bad thing for people who are looking for a simple user interface.

There are very few (useful) use cases

Yes, I do know the keyboard tricks, and I sometimes force-touch a photo. But besides those 2 gestures, there aren’t enough use cases to turn 3D Touch into a winning technology.

Let’s take the app’s shortcut menu as an example. Let’s say you want to compose a new email:

  • Without 3D Touch you need to: 1) open the app, 2) tap the compose button, 3) start composing your email.
  • With 3D Touch you can: 1) Force-touch the app icon, 2) tap the quick compose shortcut, 3) start composing your email.

Well, that didn’t turn out to be very different did it? 3 steps each.

In some cases the shortcut menu might save you 1–2 taps, but the tradeoff is that you now need to remember what shortcuts each app provides. There are not standards and it can easily become too complicated to remember, especially if you have hundreds of apps like I do.

3D Touch vs. Long Press

Try downloading an image for a second: you can now do it in few ways: long press opens the download menu, 3D Touch expands the image and lets you do few more things with it. It’s quite confusing and the question is — why didn’t Apple get rid of long press now that 3D Touch is available?

The answer is probably backward compatibility, but for newer iPhones it creates a quite messy experience.

Now What?

It looks like we are “stuck” with 3D Touch. It’s not going to disappear soon, but the technology still has a long way to go.

Apple will probably continue to polish and fine-tune the experience until it feels more natural. Apps developers will hopefully find more use cases and innovative features to develop with it.

It could definitely be that in 1–2 years from now I will find myself writing about how this technology has changed the way I use my mobile devices, but until then, I will probably continue to randomly force-touch stuff… hoping something useful will come out of it.

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