3 weeks with 3D Touch: a revolution in mobile UX?

Like many iPhone users I eagerly awaited Friday 25th September 2015, and the delivery of my new iPhone 6S. I’d watched the Apple event a couple weeks before and like others was interested to see “3D Touch” in action. I’d seen the tech journalist’s videos, but given the tactile nature of the new feature I wanted to judge for myself whether it was huge step forward in mobile device UX some were claiming.

First impressions

After activating the new phone, 3D Touch was the first thing I tried out on the phone. I guess I’m not the average user, but had a keen interest from a development perspective and what it would mean for mobile UX and the apps we build for our clients. It took a few attempts to get it working — in most cases I pressed too long on the app, in which case the wobbling icons started. I quickly discovered a firm press was required from the home screen to activate the shortcut menu.

Shortcut from the home screen

“Peek and Pop” took a little more getting used to, as it requires degrees of firmness to get it right. The initial firm press activates “Peek” from which you can preview contents and access other actions. You then need to increase the pressure to “Pop” out fully to the next screen. Now I was fully versed on this brand new interaction, I thought to myself “Apple does it again”.

Peek and Pop in Instagram

Three weeks later

Now I’ve had just over three weeks living with my new iPhone, I thought I’d share my current thinking on 3D Touch:

  1. Typical users won’t get it — there’s no tutorial or tool tips on how use 3D Touch. In fact, I’d imagine that most users aren’t even aware of it’s existence let alone are using it on a regularly basis.
  2. It’s not widely supported (yet) — it’s not supported by all apps out of the box, which is a problem. Most Apple’s apps support it in some way, but other than some of the big developers such as Instagram, twitter, Evernote, etc the majority of apps on my device don’t support it. I’ve already given up trying to remember which ones do and which don’t.
  3. Inconsistent support for 3rd parties — for those apps which have included some support, this just seems to be the home screen shortcut which is arguably the least useful feature of 3D Touch. For instance, twitter supports shortcuts but not Peek and Pop from your timeline.
  4. Mixed UI interactions — WhatsApp have added Peek and Pop for URLs in messages, but since this update I’ve found it hard to access the long press menu, which allows you to favourite, copy, forward a message. The distinction is too subtle, and you have to think about it which renders its useless to some extent.

Final thoughts

I’ve in no doubt that this new functionality is a technical marvel and many years in the making (I know this for a fact as I read this great Fast Company article). However for the reasons listed above I’ve already stopped using 3D Touch for the most part other than to show colleagues and clients. It’s not quite the giant step forward in mobile UX I’d hoped for — at least not yet. Unless Apple mandates that all apps support it and becomes a standard gesture control in the way pinch and zoom did, it may never take off and be filed along with Siri as a great idea not realised.