Tim Cook announced the bright new future for Apple on the WWDC stage this week, but one thing being left behind is 3D Touch. The innovative and magical feature that was set to revolutionize the user interface of the iPhone was never fully integrated into the family, now it’s time to exorcise it.
3D Touch was a cute little gimmick that helped create an air of magic around the iPhone 6S launch in 2015, which was little more than a spec bump over the iPhone 6. With the iPhone 6 still being supported by iOS (at least until the 1.0 release of iOS 13 later this year) 3D Touch has never had the chance to become an established part of the UI.
In essence 3D Touch was dead on arrival. Because it was a new feature, developers could not assume that the feature would be present – older iPhones did not have the pressure sensitive layer – so anything that could be activated through 3D Touch had to be available through another part of the UI, or be a unique feature that would be forever untouchable.
Last month’s leak has now been confirmed. As The Verge’s Jon Porter describes it; “The first iOS 13 developer beta is now available, and users are discovering that Apple’s 3D Touch functionality seems to have been all but replaced.”
This is not the end of the force touch technology, Apple has been using it in other areas, notably the Apple Watch. Of course the Apple Watch range has had Force Touch from the start, so there was never a disparity of function that the iPhone (and arguably apps on the iPad family) had to deal with. Every Apple Watch has the interface, every Apple Watch developer knows it can be relied on.
That was never the case with the iPhone, and I would argue that will never be the case with the Touch Bar on the MacBook Pro machines – anything added to the OLED strip cannot be unique, it must always be available either as another display or toolbar on the screen or as a keyboard shortcut command.
Some of the user interface built around 3D Touch will remain – the ‘long press’ functionality remains and no doubt will be used as a substitute by some users and developers, but Apple’s attempts to change the nature of smartphone displays has come to a quiet and ignominious end. It’s not the first piece of the revolution that has had to be abandoned – witness the ‘trash can’ Mac Pro’s Stalin-esque erasure now the ‘big boring box of power’ has returned – but I doubt it will be the last.