Everything you need to know about 3D Touch on the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus

BY Rajesh Pandey

Published 10 Sep 2015

3D Touch on iPhone 6s

With every new ‘S’ iPhone, Apple introduces one new major feature that it hopes will change the way people use their smartphone. With iPhone 4S, it was Siri, and in the case of iPhone 5s, it was Touch ID. This year with the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, that new feature is called 3D Touch.

3D Touch introduces a new dimension and way to interact with your iPhone and can very well be the next big thing for smartphones. Apple called 3D Touch the next generation of multitouch at its event yesterday, and says it will completely change the way how you interact with your iPhone.

3D Touch is not something that Apple managed to develop over the last one year — far from it, actually. Engineers from the company have been working on it for several years now, and as Phil Schiller noted in his interview with Bloomberg, creating the 3D Touch capable hardware was “unbelievably hard” and required a tremendous amount of investment in manufacturing for Apple.

So, what exactly is 3D Touch and what does it do? Read below to find out.

3D Touch

3D Touch introduces a completely new way with how you interact with your iPhone. Instead of just tap and gestures, the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus will also be capable of detecting how much pressure has been applied on the screen. Apple achieved this by embedding capacitive sensors into the backlit of the Retina HD display that calculate the distance between the cover glass and the backlit, which when combined with other relevant information from the touch sensor and the accelerometer makes 3D Touch possible.

3D Touch on iPhone 6s

By detecting this new dimension of force, 3D Touch allows you to drastically cut down on the number of steps required to do day-to-day tasks on your iPhone 6s or iPhone 6s Plus.

Apple has deeply integrated 3D Touch everywhere in iOS 9. Some use case of the features are as follows:

  • While inside apps like Notes, Mail, and Messages, you can make the keyboard behave like a trackpad by pressing harder on it to easily manipulate text.
  • You can easily and quickly get to the multitasking view in iOS 9 on the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus by pressing hard and swiping from the left side of the home screen. Keep swiping until you find the app you want to switch to and then simply tap to switch to it.
  • The Notes app in iOS 9 will take advantage of the pressure sensitive screen on the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus to allow your creativity to flow free. A light touch on the screen while using the Notes app will draw a fine line, while pressing deeper will drawer thicker lines.

Apple will also be making 3D Touch available to developers, so we should soon see app and game developers take advantage of it in their apps and games. Developers will be able to add 3D Touch factions like pressure-sensitive drawing, support for Peek and Pop, and more.

That’s not it though; 3D Touch has also allowed Apple to introduce two new gestures in iOS 9 for the new iPhones.

Peek and Pop

The new gestures, dubbed Peek and Pop, take advantage of 3D Touch and the Taptic Engine to allow you to quickly peek into content. These gestures will allow you to preview almost any kind of content from anywhere in the OS and within applications.

Middle: Peek, Right: Pop.

Middle: Peek, Right: Pop.

Some examples of how the new Peek and Pop gestures are used in iOS 9 and iPhone 6s are as follows:

  • Lightly press an email in your mailbox to get the content of the mail appear on top in a small window. If you remove your finger from the screen, the pop view will close, while pressing harder on the screen will open the mail in a full view mode.
  • You can peek into any link in Safari by lightly pressing it, while pressing harder will open the page in a window in the browser.
  • If someone messages you an address, you will be able to take a quick peek at the exact location in Apple Maps by lightly pressing on it. Press harder and the full blown Apple Maps app will open with directions to navigate to that place.
  • Similarly, you will be able to quickly peek into the photos you have just shot in the camera app by lightly pressing on the thumbnail that is displayed in the camera app. You will also be able to scrub through all the photos you have taken by swiping left. To open a photo in its full view mode so that you can get the Share menu and editing options, press harder on it. To get back to taking a picture, all you need to do is let go off your finger from the phone.

Thanks to the Taptic Engine, the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus will respond with subtle taps to help you ‘feel’ those peek and pop gestures. The difference between the haptic feedback will be strong enough to easily allow you to distinguish between the two gestures. While a taptic feedback for a Peek will be 10ms long, a Pop feedback will be around 15ms long.

Peek and Pop gestures can be used almost throughout iOS 9. Not all UI elements in iOS 9 support both Peek and Pop though. There are certain sections in the UI where only Pop works and in such cases, you will be able to understand it as soon as you press on the screen thanks to the taptic feedback.

Quick Actions

Apple is also taking advantage of its new 3D Touch technology to bring Quick Actions to iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus. This feature will allow you to do certain day-to-day tasks in fewer number of steps, thereby reducing the total time taken to do it. Almost all the system apps in iOS 9 will take advantage of Quick Actions. All you need to do is simply press down lightly on an icon to get a barrage of useful options and then select your desired option without lifting your finger from the screen.

Quick Actions in iOS 9 and iPhone 6s

Some example scenarios of Quick Actions can be found below:

  • Press the Maps icon and you will get options like directions to your home, the ability to send your location, and more.
  • Lightly pressing the Camera app shortcut will provide you with options to quickly take a selfie, record a video, a sl0-mo video, or just shoot a picture using the rear iSight camera.
  • Lightly pressing the Phone icon will bring up a list of your favorite contacts whom you can call instantly.

Quick Actions will also be available when you peek into a content. While in Peek mode, you can swipe up on the screen to bring handy and relevant options. For example, if you are peeking into a link in Safari, swiping up will provide you with Quick Actions to open the link in a new tab, copy the link, or add it to your reading list. Similarly, you can quickly delete or mark an email as unread in iOS 9 by simply swiping left or right when you are peeking into an email.

Live Photos

Live Photos are among the major new camera features introduced by Apple with the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus. This new feature takes advantage of 3D Touch on the new iPhones to show the moment when you clicked that picture. It records 1.5 seconds long ‘moments’ before and after you take a photo. It is one such feature of iOS 9 that could only be made possible if there was a tight integration between the software and hardware of a device, which is the case here.

Live Photos can also be set as a lock screen wallpaper in iOS 9. By default, the wallpaper will remain motionless, but press lightly on it, and it will come alive and let you revisit the moment when you shot the particular photo.


John Gruber of Daring Fireball got to play around with the 3D Touch feature on the new iPhones at Apple’s ‘Hey Siri’ event and this is what he had to say about it. 

“…(3D Touch is) the multi-touch equivalent of keyboard shortcuts on the desktop: shortcuts for tasks that can all be accomplished without it. To use the old parlance, 3D Touch is for power users.

The taptic feedback feels great. Apple calls the two levels “peek” and “pop”. They definitely feel different. Peek is like the half-press on a camera shutter to auto-focus, and pop is the full-press to take a picture. Pop feels stronger. And, for 3D touch UI elements that only have one level, you feel the pop right away, giving you haptic feedback that you need not try pressing harder, because you’re already all the way in. The taptic engine also serves as the vibrator for notifications, and I suspect that’s going to be a big improvement over the rinky-dink vibrator in every iPhone since the iPhone 4.”

At first glance, 3D Touch might not seem like a particularly noteworthy feature, but it will likely end up becoming a common place across all smartphones in the future.

What do you think about 3D Touch, and the new Peek and Pop gestures?