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I have used an Android as my primary smartphone for 5 years now. I also own an iPhone 5, given the nature of my job, but that’s not my daily driver. The iPhone has never tempted me in all these years—until I tried the iPhone 6s complete with 3D Touch. Android fans: we can no longer claim we have the best smartphone.
Android still has plenty of things going for it. Apple’s closed ecosystem annoys me, and Android’s customisability (especially when rooted) is an absolute delight. There were always tradeoffs in the Android vs. iOS argument when it comes to app availability, openness, hardware limitations, and so on. But 3D Touch shuts down the pro-Android arguments more firmly than any other feature.
The iPhone 6s is now the best smartphone thanks to 3D Touch, and Android is nowhere close to emulating that experience yet.
What Is 3D Touch?
When Apple launched the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, we noted that 3D Touch was the only real innovation, adding an additional layer of functionality not found on the iPhone 6. On a pure hardware level, it wasn’t a dramatic step.
3D Touch is an evolution of Force Touch on the Apple Watch and new MacBook trackpads. The iPhone screen now has a layer of circuits which can detect the pressure your finger is applying. It registers two types of pressure — light taps and hard taps — and a small current or vibration provides haptic feedback to give you a feel of the pressure you’re putting. It sounds complex, but in actual usage, it feels natural and I got used to it within minutes.
The secret to 3D Touch isn’t the hardware alone. It’s how Apple has married its software to the hardware to make for a new way of interacting with your screen. Craig Federighi, Apple’s Senior VP of Software Engineering, told Bloomberg that the hardware measures the force and the software figures out the intent of the user.
What Can You Do With 3D Touch?
As you can see in the video above, a light tap can let you preview the contents of a link without opening it in a new tab or app. You could look at a photo in Instagram without actually visiting it. And if you do want to visit it, a little more pressure will do that. Apple calls this “peek and pop”, a fancier way of saying preview and launch.
On the homescreen, 3D Touch works a bit like a right-click button does on Windows or Mac, although that’s a simplistic explanation. When you hard-tap an app, you’ll get shortcut actions. For example, hard-tapping the Phone icon will show your favourite contacts so you can quick-dial. Hard-tap Apple Maps and you’ll get a shortcut to find directions to your home.
To put it simply, 3D Touch refines your workflow. It saves you taps, and it saves you from going away from a screen you’re looking at. Smartphones show one app/window at a time, and 3D Touch actually is an ingenious way of fully using your app without leaving it.
For more, check out the full list of 3D Touch features by Apple.
It’s Not Right-Click, It’s Middle-Click
The simplistic explanation goes: “3D Touch is right-click for your iPhone” — but the better explanation is that it’s a new way of interacting with your phone. Remember when the computer mouse had only left-click and right-click? And then middle-click came along to open up several shortcuts, let you scroll faster, and generally saved you clicks. That’s what 3D Touch is — it’s a new button. In fact, it’s two new buttons.
Here’s a quick comparison to show the difference between Android smartphones and iPhone 6s or 6s Plus now:
The iPhone 6s and the bigger iPhone 6s Plus, in essence, adds three new modifiers to how you can interact with what’s on your screen. As iOS architect Kevin Harwood explains, developers can add four new types of interactions with 3D Touch:
- Quick action support: More options when 3D tapping icons on your homescreen.
- Peek and Pop: Previews and app launching when you are already inside an app.
- Custom gestures: Swiping will have two layers, hard and light, to enable multiple gestures.
- Enhanced web viewing: Web developers can customise how their website behaves when viewed from a device that supports 3D Touch.
— Marcel Freinbichler (@fr3ino) September 28, 2015
Apple itself uses 3D Touch in limited apps right now, but third-party developers have shown great enthusiasm in supporting the feature in their apps. “I feel like it’s just getting started,” writes veteran journalist Walt Mossberg. “I believe that 3D Touch is a big deal and can be a bigger advance once developers, and Apple itself, starts expanding its uses.”
Tech Reviewers Love 3D Touch
Most reviewers are in agreement: 3D Touch is one of the best new features in the iPhone 6s.
Mossberg dedicated a significant portion of his iPhone 6s review to 3D Touch and its many uses, and noted that while the technology was already tried on the Apple Watch and Macs, it does much more on the iPhone.
John Paczkowski has been writing about technology longer than I have been able to construct coherent sentences, and he feels 3D Touch justifies an iPhone upgrade or purchase.
Man, 3D Touch totally lives up to the hype. It actually has that "exciting new tech" feel to it. #iPhone6s
— Mihir Patkar (@mihirpatkar) October 2, 2015
Personally, I only got to spend a couple of hours playing with a friend’s iPhone 6s (it hasn’t yet launched in India), but I’m thoroughly impressed. It’s exciting technology, and as Apple’s VP of User Interface Design put it to Bloomberg, it feels inevitable. This feels like how we would all be using smartphones five years down the line, irrespective of platform or brand.
3D Touch Beats Huawei’s ‘Force Touch’
Speaking of platforms and brands, it should be noted that Apple wasn’t the first to come up with pressure-sensing screens. Huawei actually beat Apple to the punch with the Mate S, an Android smartphone that has “Force Touch” pressure-sensing screens.
However, Huawei was unable to cohesively tie the feature to the software and make it a seamless, intuitive experience. The only really useful aspect was magnifying a part of the screen with a hard tap, as pictured above. Android Authority called it a “limited implementation” and that’s how it will continue to be till Google officially rolls out a standardised way for developers to make apps for phones that have Force Touch, whether made by Huawei or someone else.
Given Android’s current fragmentation, the near future is unlikely to see a standard feature set that offers the same experience across different types of hardware.
As it stands, Apple has a big lead on Android when it comes to pressure-sensing touch interfaces. Since the iPhone’s 3D Touch is limited to just two phones, it’s easier for a developer to predict how his or her app will perform on any user’s phone because it’s a standardised hardware and software experience. That’s not the case with Android.
Eventually, some pressure-sensing screen technologies will come out at the top of the Android hardware world, and over time, become inexpensive enough to be used across phones of all budgets. Meanwhile, Google will need to figure out how to standardize the technology in a way that developers can make apps using such technologies.
Until that happens though, app and game developers will largely support 3D Touch on iOS, and if you want the best possible user interface experience on smartphones, you’ll need an iPhone.
Are You Ready to Switch for 3D Touch?
So Android user, are you ready to make the switch to the new iPhone 6s or 6s Plus to get your hands on 3D Touch? Just remember, don’t buy the 16GB model!
Are you this impressed by 3D Touch? Let us know in the comments!