“The trouble with 3D Touch” is adoption takes time

imageJason Snell recently wrote off 3D Touch and its accompanying peek and pop features as thus far underutilized, not integrated enough throughout iOS, and not worth the time for developers to adopt them due to their exclusivity to the iPhone 6S. Gruber couldn’t agree more, calling them a worrying gimmick. I couldn’t agree less.

I’m surprised at these perspectives on what seems to be a by-the-book Apple feature introduction. Not only are 3D Touch, peek, and pop quite useful (perhaps after some new muscle memory), they have the same introduction and adoption pattern as other recent, significant Apple hardware innovations.

Think about Touch ID, introduced in September 2013. Besides being available only on the iPhone 5S at the time, it wasn’t even accessible to third-party developers for an entire year.

Steadily and surely, the feature rolled out to all other iOS devices big and small, and eventually gained an API for all kinds of third-party goodness. Still, one could argue that Touch ID had a similar exclusivity and relatively slow rollout as to give developers pause on whether to bother making it a priority for a little while.

Now think about Retina, a hardware-dependent feature with a rollout more similar to 3D Touch—exclusive to a single device at its debut, requiring at least some (but in some cases, significant) effort from third parties build new resources to accommodate, even though relatively few devices could make any use of it for quite some time.

Again, over a few release cycles, Retina also came to the rest of Apple’s iOS lineup, and even hopped the fence to the Mac, and it lived happily ever after.

The death and life of habits

They say old habits die hard. I say new habits take time.

I would argue the pinch and zoom gestures of iPhone OS 1.0 were not very ‘natural’ or ‘intuitive’ until Apple’s marketing told and showed us so. There is also no shortage of software features introduced over the years that still aren’t supported very well, from Passbook to the iOS 7 share sheet. Most of Google’s apps, for example, still use a terrible custom share sheet that effectively excludes all apps that should be listed.

When the iPhone was new, we were excited about learning all the basics and how to do the things we want most effectively. Then we develop habits and get into our grooves, and now Apple is introducing new ways of doing some tasks. Just like Touch ID, Retina, and other major introductions, 3D Touch needs time to proliferate into customer hands, and we’re still exploring the possibilities.

I wager 3D Touch will simply take time for many of us, and maybe a couple more ads as well. It will also get a couple more chances in the spotlight as Apple rolls it (and any improvements) out to the rest of iOS at major product launches.

Some new habits to try

Nearly every week I find new ways to use 3D Touch, peek, and pop to save time or view content in easier ways. I’m still in the stage where I sometimes need to stop for a beat and work on the new muscle memory, but almost every time I’m happy I did, and some tasks are turning into habit.

Here are some of my favorite 3D Touch related tricks that I like, some things to try working into your flow:

  • Preview media while selecting – this has bugged me nearly since day one. When selecting multiple photos and videos in Photos, you can now peek to preview something and make sure it’s the one you want. This is incredibly useful, I really think this needs to show up in ever single app that has anything to do with media, such as Instagram and Apple’s own file uploaded in Safari.
  • Peek links to stay in place – If you find yourself reading long articles with in-app browsers or Safari, you might find that you lose your place in that article after tapping through to a link and coming back. Peeking that link instead is a great way to avoid this problem, and once it becomes less of a deliberate action and more natural, it really does feel like a time saver.
  • Save time and avoid switching apps – Granted, this will become more useful as more apps adopt it, but here’s a simple example. When someone shares a location in Messages, tapping that location switches you to Maps. If you peek it instead, you stay in Messages, save time, and get right back to where you were once you let go.

There are plenty more tricks to try with 3D Touch, just be sure to take a beat and make an effort to learn some new muscle memory. You might be pleasantly surprised. MacRumors has a good roundup of lesser-known tricks. Macworld UK has a great list that starts with the basics and advances into some good stuff. Of course, iMore kicked butt with its Ultimate Guide.

As more developers adopt this feature and it rolls out to the rest of our iOS lineup, I wager 3D Touch will mature and become second nature like all the other iOS gestures and tricks we’ve learned over the years. It just takes time.