3D Touch on your iPhone: Explained

Apple first showed off pressure sensitivity combined with tactile haptic feedback—taptics—a year ago on the Apple Watch Because of the small display size it was limited in scope: press and you get a context-sensitive set of options. Next was the new MacBooks, which began to hint at the potential of multiple levels of force touching multiple points of a surface. Now, on the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus we get to see what's possible when you combine the direct interaction of the former with the spatiality of the latter.

It's important because the iPhone remains primarily an icon launcher and single column view of computing, especially in its typical portrait orientation. It doesn't have the split view controller of the iPad, which lets you quickly tap lists and glance at the details beside it. Instead, you have to tap, check, and if you went to the wrong place, tap back.

3D Touch works around that. It folds space almost like a wormhole so you can jump directly to actions or look or leap through to views and entirely different apps on the other side.

That might sound silly but functionally, it's genius.

Home screen quick actions

Home screen quick actions let you press an app icon and get a list of options you can choose from, right from the Home screen. Think of them like shortcuts or wormholes straight into the functionality of an app. Instead of tapping Camera, then switching to the front-facing camera or slow-mo video more, you can press the Camera app icon, swipe down to the Selfie or Slo-Mo options, deep-press, and launch right into that mode. It's like a launch accelerator.

There are two kinds of quick actions:

  • Static quick actions ((UIApplicationShortcutItem (opens in new tab))), which are available immediately when you install an app.
  • Dynamic quick actions (shortcutItems (opens in new tab)), which are available after you've launched the app.

As the names imply, static quick actions are always there and always the same, while dynamic quick actions are optional and can change according to conditions.

Up to four quick actions can be displayed for any app. Static quick actions get displayed first and then, if there's any space left, dynamic quick actions. So, for example, Messages can show you a static "New Message" action, and dynamic actions based on the last three people you texted.

Each quick action can include up to two lines of text and an icon to help make them faster to visually parse and acquire. They also support VoiceOver for visual accessibility, which is great.

Delightfully, if no quick actions are present, you get the 3D Touch and haptic equivalent of the head-shake interaction, which tells you there's nothing there but encourages you to keep exploring.

Reducing the amount of taps not only shaves seconds off each interaction, which all add up, but makes one-handed use easier as well. Instead of having to balance while moving around to tap several different areas in succession, you can press an icon and then tap an option that's proximal to it. Much less getting there, much more being there.

Overall, Home screen quick actions don't reduce the Home screen's (Springboard's) roll as the gateway to apps, but it does transform it from an app launcher to a feature launcher, which is perceptively a much, much faster paradigm for when you're starting from Home.

Peek and Pop

Peek and Poke—technically hint, peek, and pop, because there's a hover-like state for discoverability—let you glance at items or go to them. Think of it as a preview. You can press the title of an email in your inbox to peek inside and then press harder to pop right into it. Then, in that email, you can press a linked location to peek at it on a map and then press harder to pop right into it in the Maps app.

  • Hint lets you know something is there. It blurs out the rest of the screen so that only the list item or link (including links created by data detectors) is visible.
  • Peek lets you preview (using new methods in UIViewController (opens in new tab)) the contents of the item or link. It keeps the rest of the screen blurred and overlays it with a remote view of the item's or link's content, whether from the same app or a different app.
  • Pop lets you commit to going to the contents of the item or link. It works similarly to how tapping a list item, or link has always worked but since the view is already open, it simply animates it expanding as you move into it in the same or different app.

The great thing about this interaction is that you can abort at any time. If you decide you don't want to peek at a hint or pop into a peek, you simply let go. There's no need to navigate back because you stopped before you actually went anywhere.

Developers can also add quick actions to a preview. Swipe up and the peek will not only stay on screen even if you let go, but will show you a list of common tasks for that view. For example, flag a message, add a webpage to Reading List, or FaceTime a contact.

Think of it as a combination of peek and pop and Home screen actions, because functionally it provides the convenience of both.

Mail gets a couple of custom actions as well, thanks to its existing gestures and use as a way to triage emails on the go, you can also swipe sideways to get to mark and trash buttons. Those behaviors aren't available to developers, at least not yet, but show how more complex options could eventually be mapped.

Peek and pop are also available for the web (using AllowsLinkPreview) for standard and data detector generated links in the new Safari View Controller as well as the older WKWebView and UIWebview controllers. That means modern Twitter and chat clients can implement them, as well as custom browsers like Chrome.

Pressure sensitivity

In addition to Home screen actions and peek and pop, Apple has also provided a way for developers to get direct pressure data as well (force (opens in new tab) and maximumPossibleForce (opens in new tab). The pressure of a touch has a high dynamic range that's provided to developers as a floating point.

Apple shows it off in the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus version of the new Notes apps. When you use the Sketch tool, you can increase or decrease the line thickness by increasing or decreasing the pressure you put on the screen. It doesn't work as well as the iPad Pro, and it's dedicated Pencil, but it works.

Personally I'm hoping messaging clients adopt a universal "deep press" action for the Send button that lets it know you're angry or excited and then POSTS IN ALL CAPS. Come on, you know you want it.

3D touch miscellany

Apple is also using 3D Touch in a variety of other ways on the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus.

  • Activate Live Photo.
  • Pull up the fast app switcher.
  • Switch from keyboard to trackpad and back.

And perhaps other ways that we'll discover as everyone starts using it.

Multidimensional Touch

Prior to iOS 8, most interfaces were "pull". You had to leave where you were and go hunting for the app that contained what you wanted to do. Post-iOS 8, thanks to Extensibility, interfaces started to become "push". Actions, widgets, and more would come to you where you already were.

Peek and pop take it even further. Instead of "pull" or "push" they're closer to "teleport". They let you pull in what you want to see, right where you are, and then push into it, and simply by increasing the pressure on the screen.

If we consider pre-iOS 8 Extensibility interfaces as being pull and post-iOS 8 Extensibility interfaces as being push, then peek and pop make those distinctions seamless. Now interface can both come to you and you can go to it simply by varying the degree of pressure you put on the screen.

It really does make multitouch multidimensional. The hardware is finely tuned, and the interface is consistent and incredibly well considered. It might take time for the really important options to become perfectly chosen and placed for each and every app, but even at launch it's obvious it's going to be transformative.

It's one of those things that makes an interface, especially a single-column interface like the iPhone perceptively much, much faster. And I've long felt that when it comes to mobile, convenience is always the killer app.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • Gimmicks Sent from the iMore App
  • Lol. And you'd know this ...how? You've not used one. Guaranteed. If you had/did/do, you'd have never posted such FUD. Yet you race to be the first poster, on an Apple site, based specifically on iOS OS X and peripherals --- for what reason? Off (this ridiculous response) topic Rene. Many thank as always for the 'deeper dive' into Peek n Pop with the added 'Hint'. I just shared the article with my wife - as your description and 'toutaliage' is helpful with each line released, without a 'picture manual' for her to 'peek' at - pardon the pun;) Actually I'll admit, I learned a lot from the article after a month now (nearly) with our 6s+'s. Excellent job linking us geeks into the instructions, deeper links and specifics about the development of or tools for the 'Roxio' in each of us;) J
  • It may sound like a gimmick until it's out and tested. Until then it's too good to be true how long till Android phones would try to replicate this technology? Sent from the iMore App
  • Years before its fully implemented across the system, if Google even attempts it. People need stop the long press comparisons.
  • No different from what I have seen on the watch.
  • The Blackberry Torch had this feature. Not as nicely implemented. But let's not act like Apple is doing something entirely new here. Sent from the iMore App
  • It looks like it's going to be a cool feature but my question is how are we supposed to move apps around? We used a long press until the apps moved around to delete and move apps around. Does anybody know the actions to do it now? Sent from the iMore App
  • This is what I've been dying to know too. It's killing me, like when I get a 6s or 7 I'm gonna be lost for a week trying to eff around, pressing and pressing harder and peeking and popping.
  • Or maybe pop, lock and drop will be on the iPhone 7s?
  • My hunch is that it won't be any different. A long press isn't the same as a deep press. Press the icon, hold it, but don't apply any pressure that would make the Quick Action items appear.
  • This is my main reason why I'm getting iPhone 6S Plus! I can't wait for this feature!!! Is it Friday already?!!! Sent from the iMore App
  • Ditto. Sent from the iMore App
  • Hey fools,does anyone know about mouse right click on windows is! Sent from the iMore App
  • Yes. Everyone does. This isn't a desktop/laptop and a mouse, though. It is the implementation of something old in a new way
  • This article makes it sound as if the for the iPhone, to simply compensate for the split screen functionality, they added a whole new feature. I'm sure 3D touch is much more than that... Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Not sure Apple is interested in "gimmicks." I'm fairly certain that it's making the user experience all that much better. And, look, Blackberry may've had it before (did they?) but, nobody knew. Now, that Apple 6S has it everybody will use, and love, this unique feature.
  • For all those that consider this a gimmick, let me start by sharing what I am reading in the tea leaves, or apple peels, as it were. Look at some of the iOS 9 functionality, like the "breadcrumb" return to app. Look at what 3D touch is going to bring to the iOS. Remember the limited/locked down nature of Touch ID on the 5s? Then the 6 came out with Apple Pay and BAM! Makes sense why they were trying to get (1) public usage and testing and (2) build a comfort level for a technology. iPhone 7 with iOS X will have no home button. This is actually part of the reason I am going from the non s cycle (4, 5, 6) to the s cycle. I want the home buttonless iPhone to have a year of public testing. Claiming "so and so did this already, first, better" means nothing to Apple. Apple knows where it is going, and the best way to bring the most of it's users there. This is more of the same.
  • All i can add is that may not have been the first on most things they release but when they do it just works. The fact that the hardware and software is by  they make sure that it will utilize and compliment the user experience. Not to mention when they do release any updates it's available to almost every version of their products. No need to wait for the providers to if or when they would release it to their subscribers. Sent from the iMore App
  • How do u delete apps ??? Sent from the iMore App
  • Can someone explain how this 3D Touch differs from a long press on Android. When I used Android, I could long press to bring up sub menus.. I agree, that this is a good functionality for iOS, but don't understand why I can't have a long press, bring up a submenu functionality on my iPhone 6. Is this the infamous planned obsolescence?We were doing it many years ago on non pressure sensitive screens.
  • I have only found this one article that mentions anything about a 'Pop'. I don't know why all of a sudden this happens when I click a link and hold it for a moment. I have a 6s, and as I always had in the past, I would see a link I'd want to open, touch it with my finger, keep it there until a window opens asking me if I want to open in a new tab, add it to reading list and one more thing i cannot remember, because I always just chose open in new tab. But now, I do the same action and my phone does this quick pop I can feel in my hand and finger, sometimes a window opens with just a white screen, other times I can swipe a link up and the options appear, what ever happened to make this change? I hate it! I just want to touch the link and have the options open up. Anyone know how to deactivate the pop option?