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Hands-on with 3D Touch: Why You Should Be Pumped About the iPhone’s New Interface

·National Correspondent, Technology
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3D Touch in action on the iPhone 6s Plus. (Alyssa Bereznak/Yahoo Tech).

Apple released a slew of new products at its big event on Wednesday — perhaps too many, in this live-blogger’s humble opinion. Amidst all the hubbub over the extensively upgraded Apple TV, the shiny rose-gold iPhone 6s, and the hulking iPad Pro, you might have missed something subtle but significant: 3D Touch.

Simply put, 3D Touch is a new way to interact with your gadgets. Today, you can swipe, pinch, and tap things on your iPhone’s screen. But iPhone 6s owners will be able to do more than that. They’ll also be able to use the pressure of their fingertips to “pop and peek” (as it was so cutely described by Apple) at the content on their smartphones.

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All GIFs courtesy of this Jony Ive narrated Apple commercial or Wednesday’s keynote.

This means that when you press your finger on a link, photo, calendar date, email, message, or app (and the list goes on), you’ll get a preview bubble or a list of convenient shortcuts; press even harder and you’ll get still more options — all without ever leaving the current screen. The result: You’ll be able to navigate your device way more quickly and efficiently than ever before. Below, I explain how it works based on my quick hands-on with the technology.

3D Touch on the home screen

Say you want to text your friend about dinner plans tonight. On your old iPhone, you’d start by opening your Messages app. But on the iPhone 6s, you can take a shortcut: If you hold your finger on the Messages icon on the Home screen, the background of the phone blurs, leaving only a clear image of the app icon and a short list of options beneath it, named the Quick Look bubble. (These options vary by app, but they’re usually frequently used shortcuts.) Increase the pressure of your finger on one of the choices in this menu, and you’ll go straight to a conversation with that person.

The Messages app’s shortcut menu gives you the option to immediately write a message or contact one of the three most recent people you’ve been texting. Hard-press the Mail icon, and you’ll see options to go straight to your inbox, check your VIP folder, search, or write a new email. In Maps, you can immediately ask for directions home, mark or send your location, or search for nearby businesses. In Camera, you can jump straight to selfie mode. Heh.

3D Touch in apps

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3D Touch isn’t confined to your home screen. It works within apps as well. Say you’ve opened an email from your mom. She’s invited you to go to dinner at a weird new restaurant and included a link for this questionable establishment. You can hard-touch the link to preview the website of that restaurant. If (based on that preview) you decide the place looks awful, you can lift your finger from the link: The website preview will go away, and you can immediately reply to your mom to say, “Heck no.”

If you wanted to actually visit the website to investigate further (instead of just previewing), you could just press a little harder on that link: That would open the site in a browser.

Same goes for the date and time she suggests to meet: Push your finger on the date in the email, and a preview of your calendar will appear. If it says you’re free at that day and time, you can lift your finger off the screen and get back to replying. If you need to come up with a new date, you can push a little harder on the calendar, and it’ll open up.

Hard-pressing your finger while also swiping it from side to side while in the Quick Look bubble mode gives you further options. For instance, swipe to the right on an email preview, and you can trash it immediately. (I could honestly do this for, like, 95 percent of my emails). Those actions work to toggle between apps, too. Just hard-press on the edge of your screen and your applications will shuffle out like a deck of cards. From there, you can touch and pick one. You’ll never have to double-click your Home button again.

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Perhaps the most complicated part of the 3D Touch system is its reliance on these three levels of pressure. Anyone who has ever used a touch-screen is familiar with the first level, which is just touching something on your screen. The next level up is a hard-press, meaning you keep your finger in contact with the screen. If you then want to open something completely, you push the hardest and take it to level 3.

The iPhone 6s is also capable of detecting continuum pressure when you’re in an app—a perfect feature for drawing or gaming. So say you’re in Notes and you want to doodle. As you hold your finger on the screen and oscillate between pressures, it’ll adjust the line you’re producing accordingly. Same goes with games. If you press harder on the screen, you’ll shoot at your enemies more fervently. Lighten that pressure, and your firearm will chill out. In some apps, the harder you press, the closer in your screen will zoom.

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The evolution of the interface

3D Touch didn’t come out of nowhere. It’s a ramped-up version of technology — Force Touch — that Apple uses in the Apple Watch and in MacBook trackpads. (Force Touch itself survives in those product lines, even though the Internet has noted that the name sounds a bit too much like a form of sexual harassment.)

Though 3D Touch might not be an entirely instinctive interface on a laptop, it is ideal for smaller devices whose screens are harder to see and tap precisely. I use it all the time to clear notifications from my screen on the Apple Watch, for efficiency’s sake.

The feature may have roots in those other Apple product lines, but I think it’ll really make its mark with the iPhone, especially when third-party app developers begin to pay attention to it. Companies such as Instagram have already redesigned their apps to take advantage of this new hardware capability. (I previewed — and loved — the results.) It’s only a matter of time until other apps get in on the action.

Ultimately, 3D Touch is a natural evolution in the way we interact with our devices. Back when we were still twirling the click wheels of old iPods, we thought it was actually a convenient way to move from Artist to Album to Song. But even as we’ve evolved from twirling to swiping, pinching, and tapping, navigation in iOS has become more arduous.

3D Touch helps cut out a lot of extra, unnecessary steps — particularly when, say, you don’t know where you are but need to find your way home ASAP. Ultimately, it will save you lots of time on your phone, even if you then use that saved time just to play a couple rounds of TwoDots.

Follow Alyssa Bereznak on Twitter or email her.