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A New Dimension to Touch Navigation

This news story was published on November 24, 2015.
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Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 10.24.36 AM

Apple- November

It is getting harder and harder to remember a time before touch-screen devices. From phones and tablets to wearables and all-in-one PCs, touch screens have added a new dimension to how you interact with your technology. But even these have improved drastically from a few years ago. In the not too distant past, a touchscreen was as primitive as having two layers that needed to physically touch one another for the point to register. Today’s capacitive screens have an extreme level of accuracy, and with Apple’s new 3D Touch technology in the iPhone 6s they have moved from a simple 2-D surface into a 3-D one.

The Basics

In its most basic form, the 3D Touch technology comes from adding an additional layer beneath the display that measures how much the display flexes when you press on it. Due to very subtle flexing that occurs when you touch your device, this new layer is able to determine how much pressure occurred and execute commands from that information. The more pressure that is applied, the more flex that is introduced. Depending on the software, this could be stretched into multiple commands and allow a single touch to go through several stages of a button press.

In conjunction with this more sensitive screen, Apple has developed a more accurate haptic feedback engine that allows for more subtle vibrations and for you to differentiate between the older full tap and the new lighter tap. This seems to be similar to the technology that gives the Apple Watch a nearly silent vibration mode that subtly taps on your wrist without making sound to alert you to notifications without distracting others around you.

Natural User Experience

Just like with the pinch-to-zoom function, this sort of addition brings a new level of immersion to your device. The ability to use a natural command to navigate a 2-D environment lets your entire user experience feel more natural. In addition, 3D Touch enables even more subtle variations on these sorts of commands. On the base level, Apple is using 3D Touch to add subtle secondary commands that straddle between a true press and a press and hold. For instance, using the light touch on your phone or messaging app may bring up a quick function for the last three people you spoken with or your most used contacts.

Better Multitasking

These functions can also be used to gain greater context of a message you have already received. Peek and Pop, which is what Apple is calling this function, enables you to bring up information from another app while still staying within the original app by using a light touch. For instance, if you have a message that contains an address, you can press lightly on the address and your map application will show you the area, but a longer and harder press will bring you into the map application itself. This should cut down on how often you lose your place when jumping between apps.

The Future

Because this is now part of the operating system itself, app developers will be able to leverage this to come up with new and novel ways of interacting with their programs. For example, drawing apps will gain the ability to do more precise lines and shading variations. How developers decide to use this new technology going forward has yet to be seen, but if this is like any other piece of technology, someone is going to think of something amazing and we will all reap the rewards.

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