3D Touch is a niche I can't live without

Recently, there's been a lot of talk amongst Apple fans about 3D Touch — and the lack thereof on the new iPhone SE. "Does anyone even use 3D Touch?"

Hi. Me!

Yes, 3D Touch began as a gimmick, and peeking and popping are the scapegoats of that gimmick. Do you need to peek at a mail message you're going to open anyway? Probably not.

And without question, it's a feature that should deprecate to a long press on older phones. The fact that both long press and 3D Touch exist in the iPhone ecosystem is head-splitting, and incredibly frustrating for apps (or home screens) that offer both options.

But I can't imagine buying another iPhone without 3D Touch.

Forget peek and pop — it's all about the cursor

Since the iPhone 3G, there's been a pretty simple way to select text and move your cursor: You tap anywhere in your text, and the cursor moves appropriately. If your thumbs are too stubby, as mine are, to get a precise cursor location, you can long press to get a magnifying glass and move your cursor accordingly.

It's not a bad way of selecting text. But as a writer, it makes typing out anything extensive on the iPhone uninteresting and slow.

3D Touch actions rebuild cursor and text selection from the ground up. It steals the iPad's two-finger gesture that turns the keyboard into a glorified trackpad and implements it, instead, with a single press. Want to move your cursor with an iPhone 6s or 6s Plus? Press firmly on your keyboard and you can quickly move your cursor at lightning speed across the page. It even scrolls, so you can adjust text anywhere in your document, tweet, or email message.

Lighten up on that touch then press deeper, and you can access text selection, too. If you start at the beginning or end of a sentence, you can drag accordingly; hover over a word, and that word will automatically highlight.

It completely changes my workflow for text on the iPhone in a meaningful way. I wrote this piece on my 6s — not because I greatly prefer this keyboard to the physical one on my iPad or Mac, but because it's comfortable (and available in a pinch). That's largely thanks to 3D Touch. It hasn't completely replaced the older text selection gesture, but it's become a huge supplement to writing on the iPhone.

This gesture isn't perfect: One thing the 3D Touch cursor won't do is bring up the contextual pop-over menu, which can be annoying if I'm trying to paste a link inside Markdown brackets. Selecting text took me a few days to truly get how to press, though iMore's editor-in-chief Rene Ritchie explaining it like "taking your foot off the gas, then reapplying" helped a lot.

But even with little nitpicks, this feature is invaluable to me. It barely got screen time in 3D Touch's initial demonstration, but it's become one of my most-used shortcuts.

Peek, pop, and switch

I agree with Six Colors's Jason Snell: Peek and pop are silly.

I thought I'd love peek for URLs in messages or emails, but the inability to scroll through the peeked website means you often only load the website's banner and maybe a hero image; most sites push the headline down on mobile to where a peek makes it unreadable.

That said, there is one thing that makes peek worth it, for me: the contextual menu. Slide up on a peek, and you get three common menu actions for the item you're looking at. For a website, that's opening it in a new tab, copying the URL, or saving it automatically to a reading list. For a date, you can show that information in Calendar, copy the information, or create an event right from the app you're in.

I use the contextual menu constantly to add links to my Reading List and create calendar events on my phone, and I find it a really nice shortcut. But if you don't take a few days to get it into your workflow and use it, you're not going to find value in it.

The same goes for the 3D Touch multitasking gesture: You can switch between apps by pressing firmly on the left side of your iPhone display, but most of us are so trained to use the Home button double-press, we never even think about it.

We've been using the Home button shortcut since iOS 4, so when you first attempt to get comfortable with the 3D Touch shortcut, it's going to feel slower than the traditional double-press. But once you get used to it, I've found it to be much quicker long-term.

For one, if you use your phone with your left hand (as I do), your left thumb is already close to the bezel and triggering the shortcut. This is especially handy (no pun intended) when you're using a phone like the 6s Plus and don't want to rearrange your grip just to multitask.

I also wonder if this isn't training for the future: There have been rumors of Home button-less iPhone models for years, now, and if that prediction does at last come to pass, we're going to need a quick way to multitask. A left-bezel shortcut could be the way to do it.

Go where the users are

By its very nature, 3D Touch doesn't really bring anything new to the iOS table: It duplicates system functionality as shortcuts — and currently does so sporadically, not offering quick options or peeks for every app. In doing so, users really have no reason to use it if they like their current workflow. "I can already select text. I can already multitask with the Home button. I can already get to Low Power mode if I just tap a few more menus."

I may love 3D Touch because I'm a shortcut-obsessed freak who forces herself to learn new things to speed up her workflow. But that's not your average user: For them to enjoy 3D Touch, there needs to be at least one gesture that's essential to their daily iOS navigation. Without one, they won't get comfortable with the movement and explore the others.

If Apple's going to stay on the 3D Touch train — and I do hope it is — the company needs to give its users a must-use gesture. The Apple Watch does this perfectly: You use a firm press to change your watch face. There are other Force Touch gestures that are shortcuts in watchOS, but that one is front, center, and vital to the Watch's operation.

It's of course, hard to do this without offering the same action to users on older iPhone or iPad models. But that's a great excuse to unify long press and 3D Touch: People are already comfortable with long pressing to edit apps or get contextual information. Unifying the gestures in iOS 10 would open Apple up to some big experimentation with how pressure and timing-based touches can be central to the iOS ecosystem.

Not a passing fad

I've found my daily reasons to use 3D Touch, and I'm so happy I did: They make my workflow quicker, more comfortable, and enjoyable on an iPhone. But I understand if you're not on the 3D Touch train yet: Apple has some work to do if it wants to make it truly appealing to the average user.

While the company is heads down trying to figure that out, however, we don't need to ring 3D Touch's death knell. It's not on the SE for hardware and cost reasons. And hey, if Apple does decide to unify the long press with 3D Touch, the iPhone SE will be a great testing device for that.

Until we see what Apple has in store for future models, 3D Touch remains a niche feature with some really great uses if you take the time to learn them. I'm glad I did, and I won't buy another 3D Touch-less phone if I can help it.

Serenity was formerly the Managing Editor at iMore, and now works for Apple. She's been talking, writing about, and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, sings, and in her secret superhero life, plays roller derby. Follow her on Twitter @settern.

47 Comments
  • Most 3D Touch actions I do find gimmicky. But a few are useful. One I like is the ability to peek at an iMessage without leaving the read receipt. I generally like showing the read receipt, so that really comes in handy. Most quick actions on app icons don't really seem to save time.
  • While I don't have a 6S, my partner did up until a week ago (she's since shrinkgraded to a SE) and I got to play with the features for a bit. The only one I found genuinely useful was the multitasking*, where you force press along the edge and swipe to reveal the app switcher screen. I suppose I could make some app icon shortcuts work for me if I could configure the actions (Launch Center Pro immediately comes to mind). Regarding the cursor movement; a few third-party keyboards already implemented this ability before the 6S models even came out, and most of the solutions they offered worked pretty well. *Personally, for non-S model, I wish Apple did away with Reachability and let us open the app switcher with double-tap instead of double-press. Seems much more natural.
  • Great idea -- also saves wear and tear on the physical button! Maybe not doing away with it though, but an option. Two or three taps... I think those with the Plus sized phones would revolt if you got rid of Reachability.
  • Id cry if they got rid of reachability. Need that. Sent from the iMore App
  • The multi-tasking would be nice, except most screen protectors (particularly tempered glass) do not fit the curved/raised edge of the glass well so it's hard to use that gesture when you have a tempered glass screen protector that is 1.5mm off the edge of the glass. It has you pressing hard just to activate it, or trying to get to the right spot to trigger the gesture. Case + Tempered Class Screen Protector = Grief with that multi-tasking gesture. I don't know anyone who ever uses it for that reason. Most just double tap the home button, and that's what I do as well. I personally find reachability to be completely worthless. They should have made that the app switcher shortcut, I agree.
  • Even if we can highlight text with 3D Touch we STILL have to move the thumb to either cut, copy or paste... What is the solution? Make the keyboard smaller, for iOS 10, so there is room for....*tadaaa* cut, copy and paste buttons! AND this, in turn, makes the other buttons/ smaller which will make it easier to use with one hand *tadaaa*... Sent from the iMore App
  • 3D Touch is in its infancy and will only get more useful as developers find more uses for it. Here's a shameless plug: take a look at Poison Maps to see how it is used to simplify panning around maps by temporarily zooming out according to how hard you press. If you move to the edge of the screen whilst pressing then it auto-scrolls, making it easy to pan long distances with just one touch of one finger instead of lots of multi-finger gymnastics. I use it for maps but it would work for any kind of document that is too big for the screen: large PDFs, images being edited, large websites etc. On phones without 3D Touch it uses a long touch, where the length of the initial touch controls the temporary zoom factor, but this does not allow the zoom factor to be changed during the pan, which is an example of how 3D Touch is more powerful than a long touch for some gestures. It's also quicker to initiate a gesture.
  • CURIOUS... Why are the older phones, and even the brand-new SE, not having 3D touch? Does it have anything to do with the actual screen itself? I'm curious because the SE obviously has all the innards that the 6S has. What reason does Apple have not to bring 3D touch to the iPhone SE and the older models? Sent from the iMore App
  • Cost...
  • Cost and Apple has to cripple down its low cost phone so that users can pay more for few new features. Nothing new and probably be like that for ever.
  • I never use it
  • Funny, Gruver just posted an entry about how bad 3d touch is. I don't gave a 6s, but when I have used one, I have found 3d touch to be more gimmicky than useful. A solution in search of a problem.
  • I linked to his article!
  • The author linked linked to Gruber's blog post, which in turn links to Jason Snell's well thought out article on MacWorld (also mentioned here), which, I suspect, is the reason for all the 3D Touch related articles on iMore today. Personally, I'm with Snell on this one. Make it an alternative to the long press (and find another way for us to reorder the icon grid in the process) that saves time on devices that have it, not something that provides exclusive features that fragment a developer's optimizations for different devices.
  • I Love it too especially for apps like Instagram or the photos app and to preview links in safari I found it extremely helpful! Sent from the iMore App
  • I wouldn't use the iPhone SE regardless of 3D Touch as I enjoy the bigger screen on my 6s Plus. Other than Instagram, and when typing, I don't use 3D Touch that much and while I've tried "peek' and "pop" in the mail app I've not really use it since. I personally like 3D Touch, I just wish that developers would embrace it more. Sent from the iMore App
  • I find 3D Touch useful for accessing the camera on the feature I want, also use it for peeking at messages without leaving read receipts. Another big feature is on settings, giving me quick access to Bluetooth and particularly WiFi which I use a lot. As I'm used to it now I hope the feature remains in future handsets too. Sent from the iMore App
  • What I never see mentioned, and one of my favorite 3D Touch features, is peeking/popping on a thread from the index in Mail, where it will peek/pop the first unread message. To me that's brilliant.
  • It's really key while using Instagram. The team did a great job with implementation. Sent from the iMore App
  • I've had my 6s Plus for about 3 weeks now. It's the first Apple device I've ever owned! I took the time to learn how to use 3D Touch, and I like it! It really does come in handy once you get used to using it! I'm glad I decided to try iPhone out. I never would of gotten one if Apple wouldn't have made a big phone. The 4" iPhones are what kept me from ever trying iOS. I do hope they keep 3D Touch around! Sent from the iMore App
  • 3D Touch allows for a secret Print to PDF on iOS! Just print anything (webpage, email, etc...). Once the print preview pops up... Peek and pop one of the preview thumbnails and you'll have a PDF you can send or open anywhere. I use this daily. Sent from the iMore App
  • I've always said that 3D Touch is a gimmick especially when you consider this function always existed in the form of a long press. No reason at all Apple could not develop the long press beyond the wiggle to move apps function.
  • Here's the thing; almost every trick mentioned in the article and in the comments, you could duplicate with a long press. Show's how much is wasted with having the long press only do the home screen icon reordering.
  • Honestly, I'd have preferred it if they had developed their own iPen for the iPhones and delegated all this 3D Touch madness to that, similar to what Samsung has done with the S Pen in the Note Series (which basically had all this 3D Touch functionality years before the iPhone as a result). I could Peek and Pop, and do Smart Actions on my Galaxy Note 3 and people were doing most of that on their Note 2's, and the input method actually made a lot more sense as a result. 3D Touch Peeking and Popping isn't that useful to me because my hand is halfway covering the screen overtime I use it, so 85% of the time I end up having to just tap the email, video, or whatever to view it, anyways. But I bet Peek and Pop with the Apple Pencil on the 9.7" iPad Pro would be kind of nice, similar to a Note Pro-type device with an S Pen. This was functionality that I used all the time on my Note, but almost never use on my iPhone 6S Plus. I think the way it's implemented has a lot to do with that.
  • I honestly don't think Apple needs to go the route of Samsung with a pen for the rest luscious model iPhones. All the plus iPhones need from Samsung is the split screen multitasking like on the iPads. Sent from the iMore App
  • Done right, I've found it to be a great feature. For example, 3D touch'ing Google Maps to get quick pop up options for directions to work or home is very nice. Doing the same with the phone app is great for a quick dialer. I've found it replacing a lot of what I used widgets for in the Today view.
  • If Apple removes the physical Home button in the future, then 3D Touch could be the mandatory "must-use" method for waking up your iPhone.
  • Or double tap to wake, like almost every phone out there. That would be a really nice feature on IOS Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Or you could just use the power button, like about 90% of people out in the real world do...
  • Good thoughts Ren. I enjoy your writing. I help elderly people and intellectually challenged people with computers, tablets and phones. Your post and Jason's on Macworld made me think about the whole IOS 9.0 UI experience. In my opinion it is a step in the wrong direction. 3D Touch is one of the culprits. Discoverability is poor. There is a level of skill required. Yet it offers just another way of achieving a goal. Simplicity is compromised. Unitended initiation of 3DTouch confuses new users. (At least this is less common than the unintended initiation of split screen view on the later iPads when, for example, swiping through photos). Windows offers multiple options for achieving goals, but this has led to complexity and a lack of consistency. Hence the appeal of the simplicity, discoverability and consistency of earlier versions of IOS. The learning curve for IOS is becoming longer and higher. This cannot be good. Sent from the iMore App
  • Not really. Ios adds some techy feature sure but fir now at least it doesn't come in the way of using it... You can use ios as simply as before without using 3d touch or other stuffs. Back in the day people complained that ios was too simple. So whatever they do they will face criticism Sent from the iMore App
  • "opping are the scapegoats of that gimmick. Do you need to peek at a mail message you're going to open anyway? " Actually tes. I do that for a mail that i don't want to open right away. I peak at it, see its content and it doesn't mark as read until i do something about it later. Sent from the iMore App
  • Why not just wait until later to read it period then? Sent from the iMore App
  • Why not reading immediately to see how urgent it can be ? :)
  • ."The fact that both long press and 3D Touch exist in the iPhone ecosystem is head-splitting, and incredibly frustrating for apps (or home screens) that offer both options." I highly disagree with that and John Gruber. 3d touch is not and should not be a long press. On the home screen there are both of them performing different tasks and i never bothers me. Reading that is kind of strange: do you think people are too dumb to get it? Sent from the iMore App
  • Only thing I ever use it for is to move the cursor. I think that part of it is genius.
  • The only time i see myself using it is for Camera, mail & cursor.
  • So nobody else has issues moving the cursor a second time? My experience is that it just doesn't work until I tap the cursor elsewhere then try again. Sent from the iMore App
  • Not me, but ugh! That's annoying.
  • I really like the shortcuts you can trigger using 3D touch not he home screen. Second, to me, is the cursor functionality. Beyond that I've not seen much benefit to 3D touch.
  • I'm living just fine without it on the SE. The only thing I miss about it is moving the cursor around. I wish there was an easy way to do it.
  • Excellent report on how 3D touch helps those who have good manual dexterity to be ABLE to use it. Although the 6s Plus size is perfect for those with older hands or mobility constraints, 3D touch can be a nightmare. It's quite hard to adjust the accessibility touch levels so that the feature can be used effectively . More than not, it becomes a hazard and confusing, especially to older hands. Thank goodness there's an OFF switch so that the device becomes a valuable tool for a wide-range of users.
  • Perhaps it's not a gimmic but rather a fix to a problem that didn't need solving. I never use it. I'm so used to using it the old way that the muscle memory keeps doing it the old way. Making it hard for me to remember to use the force touch way. Now sometimes I may use it to switch between apps quickly but with the 6s plus it is easier to switch between apps using the home button like I always have. Especially if your doing it one handedly. Maybe better on the 6s than the 6s plus. The peek and pop I think it would be useful but I don't like that once you peek at it and delete it, it considers it as a open email. Then once you delete it, it makes the next email as if you opened it and read it. I think a peek should be just that a peek and not consider it as a complete open until it is completely opened.
  • The email thing sounds like a bug and I'm astonished it's still working that way. Does anyone at Apple actually use their phone for work email, and why hasn't this been noticed by the developer team?
  • I really like 3D Touch and find it useful and use it several times a day. The one thing I don't like is having to remember which apps have 3D Touch functionality. Apple needs to have some sort of logo on the app's icon that shows that, that particular app has 3D Touch functionality.
  • I agree there should be something to show us it's 3D capable on apps.
  • What I use the most 3d Touch for, apart from moving the cursor (brilliant!), is quickly calling my favourite contacts with a force-pressure on the icon of the Phone app.
    I can call either my girlfriend or my parents without lifting the finger from the screen until I want the phone call to commence.