3D Touch is not a Game Changer – Because this is no longer playing games

On: September 17, 2015
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About Julia Wissel


In the words of one of the worlds most famous men, unbeaten in his self-confidence on stage and ability to use rhetorical strategy to convince others of his visions:


“Every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything. […] One is very fortunate if you get to work on just one of these in your career. Apple’s been very fortunate it’s been able to introduce a few of these into the world.” – Steve Jobs, 2007 

It is time for yet another game changing member of the iPhone family: the iPhone 6S. At least that’s what people still expect from “new” Apple releases. But there are two facts, I’d like to state here:

  1. Apple has never been the first. Apple has always been the one to make it right and good.
  2. Apple is not a tech company (only). It is a – one of a kind – customer service company.


Apple has been with us for decades, answering our continuous craving for more entertainment and business, complexity and simplicity, usability and interactivity by exactly integrating each of these factors into every device they have ever launched. But still: we’re never satisfied.

As usual, the press is hashing all over the topic. The winning word this year on my first SERP in every news or blog article when searching „apple” or “iPhone“ on Google is „3D Touch“, Apple‘s latest technological revolution. Or should I say: newest objective for perfecting the customer experience? 

What is 3D Touch and how does it work?

3D Touch is the younger but smarter version of Force Touch. The technology relies on pressure changes depending on how hard or soft you press your finger on the screen. A layer of capacitive sensors integrated into the backlight of the phone‘s Retina HD display measure the finger pressure between the glass and the backlight. Thus by lightly pressing on an E-Mail, for example, you get a preview of it without the need to open the actual app. This is “peek”. By pushing it heavier, the E-Mail will be fully opened. That is “pop”. 

How do you know if you peek or pop? This is where it gets interesting! And which explains the “3D” part. For the first time in smartphone history ever, your phone interacts with you rather than the other way around. By using haptic sensors aka. the „Taptic Engine“ which gives you tactile feedback in form of little differing vibrations depending on how light (10 milliseconds) or heavy (15 milliseconds) you just pressed the button. And this happens quick and is super sensitive, the recognition as well as the reaction to it, weather you’re lying on the couch, walking or are more or less hacking into your phone emotionally. 

What has changed? Only Everything.

The technology behind 3D Touch is not new; it’s been out there for decades. Neither is Apple the company who invented it. But they are indeed the first ones to actually implementing it and not just anywhere but, more importantly, in a little mobile device such as a smartphone. Apple is used to not being the first – at least not the first in the arena, but the first to do it right and win the game as some may say – but Steve Jobs himself said that creativity is nothing more than connecting the right dots that are already out there.

Huawai did indeed manage to adapt Force Touch (they actually even called it that way) into their newest smartphone before Apple did – but then again – this was only Force Touch, even though it comes with one extra feature (the “Knuckle Sense“).

Swiping and zooming has become a norm. A natural movement, kids nowadays learn before walking or speaking for that matter. Next generations will probably already have it in their DNA. The capacitive touch screen though responds to one more thing: pressure.

The word „interaction“ takes on a whole new meaning. It has, or let’s say will, change the way we use our iPhone completely. How we read texts, how we browse, how we listen to music. How we manage to be anywhere, do anything at the same time. Without losing valuable time.

3D Touch is so much more than “Smartphone only”

Scientists and engineers have been working on tactile technologies for ages. The fact that Apple made it technically accessible for the genreal public to use this kind of technology on a real device made it less fictive and virtual things so much more approachable. Like virtual reality.

Currently VRs are more virtual than real. The developments from audio (e.g. 3D sound) and visuals (e.g. VR glasses) have emerged and evolved tremendously making certain virtual experiences like gaming feel so much more physical. But we have not only two, but five senses. With 3D Touch and especially its haptic feedback, Apple created something way bigger and beyond simple, UX-improved smartphones.

It affects not only our mobile life and the way we use our mobile phones, it will also affect our everyday lives in reality, like driving for example.

The british company Ultrahaptics has developed a technology that enables users to “receive tactile feedback without needing to wear or touch anything“. Yes, anything. Not even a touchscreen.

“The technology uses ultrasound to project sensations through the air and directly onto the user. Users can ‘feel’ touch-less buttons get feedback for mid-air gestures or interact with virtual objects.”

Just recently Ultrahaptics announced its support for the Jaguar Land Rover with Mid Air Touch. The technology allows the driver to stay focused on the street while he presses and moves virtual buttons. These buttons “fly” in the mid air of the car and the technology is based on (and would be useless without) the haptic feedback of the driver by pressing or turning them.

This is a huge step towards safety provisions for driving and a huge change for us resulting in another optimization that makes our life more convenient.

I’m not saying Ultrahaptic’s technologies are based on Apple’s developments and couldn’t have appeared without them. Apple is not the hub of everything. But the way this company works, its visions, their continuous willingness to improve our everyday lives, to make the use of complicated technologies convenient and easy – to make customers happy – is and has been a truly important motivator for many, many others and has driven technological developments forward ever since.



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