Facebook takes advantage of 3D Touch on Apple's iPhone 6s

Facebook, the most frequently used mobile app, has incorporated one of the most interesting new features of Apple's iPhone 6s.

Facebook introduces support for 3D Touch iPhone 6s Apple iOS 9
Credit: Susie Ochs

Facebook has updated its iOS app to include support for 3D Touch, the new gesture feature Apple introduced with the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus.

3D touch is like a right-mouse button that provides a drop-down list of choices on a touchscreen. A light touch on a notification or icon lets the user peek at content and, with a little longer press, it pops open to an expanded view. Lifting the finger lets the view collapse back to the original view. A light touch on a link contained in a message will open it at the top of the screen in Safari. This 40-second video explains how 3D Touch works

Facebook's updated iOS app appeared on iTunes this morning. This shouldn't be a surprise because Facebook's mobile-first development team, one of the best mobile design and developer teams, always starts with iOS. To keep its lead, Facebook is first to incorporate new features and will often roll them out early to measure their response. This test has to be restricted to iPhone 6s users because only these models support 3D touch.

On Facebook for the iPhone 6s, you get access to a few frequently used features from a hard press on the Facebook icon, like upload photos and videos or write a status update. At introduction, the iPhone 6s 3D Touch was only supported by a few proprietary applications. Facebook isn't first – Instagram, Dropbox, OpenTable, OpenTable, StubHub, News 360, Pinterest, and Evernote are some examples of early 3D Touch adopters. Based on Apple's developer documentation, incorporating the 3D Touch feature is a trivial task for programmers who are familiar with how iOS views work.

3D Touch is hardware-dependent because it uses a special capacitive touchscreen that gives the UI a third dimension. Capacitive touchscreens aren't new, but Apple has made them new to smartphones. Before Touch 3D, touchscreens used gestures in a flat geometrical plane with X and Y axes. Now, with a specially designed screen with a layer that measures relative pressure, the screen UI gets a Z axis and touch works nominally in three dimensions.

3D touch would not be as useful without more new hardware, the improved iPhone 6s Touch-ID fingerprint sensor. The new Touch-ID is about a half a second faster compared to the iPhone 6 in giving the user access through the lock screen to use Touch 3D-enabled apps. A slow authentication scheme would make the peak and pop swiftness of Touch 3D much less valuable.

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Android users can appreciate this because of the way notifications on top of the lock screen work. The user can choose to show notifications on the lock screen, and if seen whether or not the sensitive information is included in the notifications on top of the lock screen. These Android notifications are enormously useful, but they would be made more useful if the sensitive information was concealed until the user was authenticated with a fingerprint reader.

3D Touch isn't a breakthrough as Apple would have you to believe. It is, however, a novel innovation that extends Apple's brand. It might become a trademark UI feature like Apple's home button. Android can be expected to add a similar third dimension to its user interface. And, in two years, almost every smartphone midrange and better will have a three-dimensional user interface and a fingerprint reader.

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