Is Apple’s 3D Touch a ‘Huge Waste’ of Engineering Talent?

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Three years ago, Apple introduced 3D Touch for the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, a pressure-sensitive feature that uses capacitive sensors integrated into the smartphone’s display to sense three degrees of pressure in a user’s touch and respond differently based on the amount of pressure exerted. It’s a neat idea as it has allowed users to interact with the user interface in a completely new way. Now, with the release of the new iPhone XR, Apple seems to be on the way to phasing it out. The Verge reports: While both the new iPhone XS and XS Max include 3D Touch, Apple has chosen not to include the feature on the iPhone XR. Yes, that phone is cheaper, and Apple had to strip out some features, but 3D Touch has been included on iPhones in that price range since it was introduced not too long ago, so this feels less like necessary cost savings and more like planned omission. There have always been a few core problems with 3D Touch. For one, its use often amounted to the right click of a mouse, which is funny coming from the company that famously refused to put a dedicated right button on its mice or trackpads. And selecting from those right click options was rarely faster or a substantially more useful way of getting something done than just tapping the button and manually navigating to where you needed to go. People also didn’t know the feature was there. The iPhone did little to train users on 3D Touch. And even the people who knew it was there had no way to tell which icons supported it without just 3D pressing everything to see what happened.

Apple isn’t entirely removing the concept of 3D Touch from the iPhone XR. Instead, the phone will include something Apple is calling Haptic Touch, which will make a click when you activate a button’s secondary feature by pressing and holding it. But that replacement underscores just how useless 3D Touch has really become: it’s not more than a very, very fancy long press. That’s something phones have always been capable of. And despite the name, I’ve found long press features to be faster and easier to use than their 3D Touch equivalent. Instagram, for instance, lets you preview photos with a 3D Touch on the iPhone or a long press on Android. I find the Android version to be simpler and quicker. Here’s what Apple’s marketing leader, Phil Schiller, had to say about the feature back in 2015 when it was first introduced: “‘Engineering-wise, the hardware to build a display that does what [3D Touch] does is unbelievably hard,’ says Schiller. ‘And we’re going to waste a whole year of engineering — really, two — at a tremendous amount of cost and investment in manufacturing if it doesn’t do something that [people] are going to use. If it’s just a demo feature and a month later nobody is really using it, this is a huge waste of engineering talent.'”

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