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In death, 3D Touch shows that Apple has innovated without playoffs



When Apple introduced the 3D Touch as one of the major innovations in the 2015 iPhone 6S, I was optimistic about the hardware, but worried about the software. The 3D Touch combines a touch screen with a more robust haptic vibration system, enabling iPhones to record gentle, moderate and strong finger presses, providing a lightweight touch or heavier response response.

Conceptually, 3D Touch may have been a killer addition to iPhone and iPads. True pressure sensitivity across an entire screen may have enabled several useful buttons, deeper new user interfaces and less expensive styles. Instead of a volume or flashlight slider, you can press down more to turn up the power. In a game, a hard press can burn a stronger laser or give a stronger kick. The new technology seemed to have tons of potential.

But Apple launched 3D Touch in a way that unfortunately has become a known red flag: as interesting hardware, with too little software to justify it. The iOS large 3D Touch software addition was "Peek and Pop", which allows some apps to create preview of floating web pages (over) or context-specific menus (below) if you press the screen gently. Smaller tweaks allow users to use tap to make "Live Wallpaper" animated, watch "Live Photos" games, or faster forward. It did not seem like a major master plan for 3D Touch, beyond letting developers play with it and see what they could bring.

In short, despite Apple's supposed two-year iPhone hardware development cycle, and maybe five years with Apple engineering work the company hadn't come up much for users to actually do with the 3D Touch. It wasn't alone: ​​One year later, Apple repeated the same "neat hardware, not particularly necessary software" formula with the 2016 MacBook Pro's Touch Bar.

Even early, there were questions about how many Apple devices would support the 3D Touch. Instead of bringing pressure sensitivity or haptic feedback to the iPad, Apple instead released an Apple Pencil stylus with its own pressure sensor inside. Cynics owed Apple's desire to make $ 99 more from anyone who wanted a stylus, but reports at the time said the company couldn't make its pressure sensors work accurately and consistently across larger iPad screen sizes – at least for a reasonable price. price point.

Whatever the reason, "Peek and Pop" never came to the tablet version of iOS. Live Wallpapers did not, but Live Photos did; You can just touch your finger on the screen to play them. The absence of 3D Touch was next to several consecutive iPad releases and even the iPhone SE, which started without pressure sensitivity … and almost no one cared.

Therefore, it was not a surprise when Apple dropped 3D Touch from last year's iPhone XR, which instead came with "Haptic Touch", an option without pressure sensitivity: A slightly longer finger holding certain buttons gives you a confirmatory press. Again, no one seemed to care about the change, apparently emboldening Apple to move forward this year releasing 3D Touch from the sequels to the iPhone XS and XR. The change was expected for months by supply chain analysts, and as a Barclays survey (via MacRumors) suggests today, reports of 3D Touch's death continue to build up before the new iPhone's fall 2019 launch.

While I can live outside of the 3D Touch, my concern is that it demonstrates that Apple does not really have a playoff in mind for some of the features it adds to devices, often for extra cost to customers. Hundreds of millions of devices have been sold with 3D Touch hardware over the last nearly four years, but if 2019's flagship iPhones dump it, it will be the end of the feature – and what did all that expense cost us?

It would be one thing if the 3D Touch was pointless, but it wasn't: There were many things that could have been done with it. Apple's modest, partial embrace of the function condemned it to irrelevance. So what could have been an exciting new user interaction paradigm would instead come up as a footnote in the history book at best.

This type of "here one year away next" is common with Android devices, which are often obviously experimental with features. Contrasts the flippancy with the company that marks itself as saying a thousand noses for every yes, tightly integrating hardware and software, and holding on to design until it has a particular purpose in mind.

Clearly not every new hardware addition or design decision is going to work out, and there are times when something strange Apple did, such as removing hand strap attachments from iPod touches, can be undone without anyone caring. But there was nothing strange about the 3D Touch, except the way Apple went nowhere with a promising technology, it had taken time and cost to evolve into its flagship products. The more I look at it, the less I can think of any new Apple innovation that doesn't have immediate tangible use.


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