The peek pique — or can't 3D Touch this!

Recently several voices in the Apple community — all of whom I admire greatly — expressed their lack of affection for the "peek and pop" aspect of the pressure sensitive technology found in the iPhones 6s, 3D Touch.

Jason Snell, writing for Macworld:

Although Apple's proud of the peek/pop interface that it unveiled with the iPhone 6s, I'm skeptical of its utility. Most of the time, when I accidentally initiate a "peek" of the content behind whatever I'm pressing on, it's content I was already trying to see by tapping. Loading a "peek" doesn't really take any more time than actually tapping on an item and loading the result, and returning back to the previous screen seems a lot less work than holding your finger on the glass while you peruse a "peek" to see if it's worth opening the rest of the way.

John Gruber, writing for Daring Fireball:

The gimmicky nature of peek/pop is alarming. I never got into "peeking" while using my 6S — like Jason argues, it solves a problem we didn't have. It's not any faster than just tapping whatever it is you want to see, and worse, it's harder to read because your thumb is still there covering the display. It's a demo feature, not a real feature, and I find that deeply worrisome.

And our own Serenity Caldwell, writing right here at iMore:

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.

All three express that 3D Touch should be merged with long press to simplify things, though for her part Serenity also shares how much she likes other aspects of the technology. She goes so far as to say:

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

I can't either.

Can't 3D Touch this

I use 3D Touch a lot. Reviewing the iPhone SE for the last few weeks, I can't count the number of times I've tried to use 3D Touch — including peek — only to be reminded again and again it's not there.

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It feels like I haven't been trolled this hard by Apple's product team since the original iPad Air shipped without Touch ID and it took me several seconds each time to remember that sad, sad fact.

Everyone's use-case and perception of value are different, of course, but, for me, 3D Touch is an interface accelerator. Unlike iPad, which is roomy enough to support a two-column view, iPhone can only show one. So, for example, to browse through random items in a list, on iPad I could just tap the items one after the other and skim quickly through whatever caught my eye. On iPhone, however, I had to tap, load the item, then tap back to the list. It's perceptibly much slower.

Peek solves that problem for me in a very real way. I simply press a little harder on an item that may or may not interest me. If it does, I can pop right in, same as before. If not, I can relax, it goes away, and I can peek at whatever item I want next. No back, no forth, just peek, peek, peek. Perceptibly faster.

That's true for things like Instagram as well. Where previously I'd tap into the list view to better see a stream of images, now I stay in the grid view and peek at any and all that interest me.

Same for web links, where I can sample a page before deciding if I actually want to switch to Safari and commit to it. Many times I don't, and the peek spares me the switch and switch back — even if iOS 9 deep and backlinks makes that faster than before as well.

Deal non-breakers

That my thumb initially covers the content isn't a big deal to me, because I can drag it down and out of the way without closing the peek, or I can pop in if the content interests me enough. That web page peeks are static don't bother me either, I can likewise press harder for more when I have to.

Peek is essentially a way to preview, and once that clicked for me, it made total sense. I did have to spend a couple of days building it into a habit, but since then, iOS has flown for me. It feels like I can press into an interface, through one view or app and into another.

As to whether or not 3D Touch should be merged with long press, I think not right now at least. Both do signify greater intent of action by requiring either more force or more time, but both also currently serve different purposes. For example, 3D Touch an app icon and it triggers the home screen shortcuts. Long press and it triggers jiggly mode for rearranging and deleting. 3D Touch a link and it previews, long press and it brings up the options menu.

On iPad, which doesn't have 3D Touch, the thought of mapping those functions to the already plentiful long press functions feels overwhelming.

Touch down

In addition to peek (and pop), I use the home screen shortcuts, the app switcher, the trackpad mode, the mail-to-pdf shortcut, the quick contacts access, pressure sensitivity in Notes, and pretty much everything 3D Touch has to offer.

That's not to say 3D Touch is perfect, of course. It's a first-generation technology in an area that's already seen physical and piezoelectric versions of the BlackBerry Storm crash and burn, and several Android rush-to-markets not even get off the ground. It's tough stuff.

But so was multitouch in its first generation. Especially to the keyboard shortcut faithful who found it excruciatingly slow and, yes, gimmicky.

Whether or not 3D Touch ultimately succeeds, let alone to the degree multitouch has, remains to be seen. For now, I like it and find it useful. Beyond that, I'm glad Apple isn't letting touch stagnate, and pushing the boundaries in search of what comes next.