This is why 3D Touch failed

Here's why 3D Touch failed - the mobile spoon

Hey iPhone users, how many times have you used 3D Touch this week?
I use it every now and then, but most users I talk to rarely use it (or "never knew it existed” to quote some of them). 

It has been a few years since Apple introduced ForceTouch with the Apple Watch (later called: 3D Touch for iPhones) and it seems like it has not been successfully adopted. With iPhone XR missing this capability, there are now solid rumors that Apple is going to phase it out soon.

It’s easy to tell when a new OS feature is a big hit:
- It quickly becomes popular 
- Apps developers embrace it and implement incredible features with it
- All other players copy it
None of those things happened with 3D Touch. 
Here’s why I think it failed: 

It doesn’t feel natural

The original iPhones were all about making things simple, elegant and delightful. 
3D touch is exactly the opposite: there’s nothing elegant in pressing your finger hard on a piece of glass. You need to prepare your grip in advance (especially if the press is done on the upper area of the screen) and hold it tight while trying to control the level of press. It’s hard to determine the level of pressure required and the whole experience creates an ergonomic nightmare.

It lacks clarity and discoverability

Clarity is one of the most important things in a user interface. Every UI element should create a clear picture of what it does and how it works, or as Apple calls it in the iOS human interface guidelines document: “convey interactivity”.
Labels, buttons, vertical scrollable lists, horizontal collections, they all give hints about what will happen when you tap or swipe them.

Clarity was one of the reasons why iOS became so popular by non-technical people; there were no hidden tricks, no right-click menus, no SHIFT+SELECT functionality, so even technophobic users (like my mom) could easily use and enjoy it (and even become an admin in various Facebook groups… but that’s a different story).

The problem with 3D touch is that it contradicts all of those things and doesn’t provide discoverability: there is no visual sign that an element is 3D touchable, so you need to guess what happens. I often find myself randomly force-touch elements on the screen without knowing what will happen.

If that’s not enough, there's no clear standard in regards to WHAT happens when you force-touch an element: will it open a preview? Will it zoom in? What would be the optional buttons? Will it stay popped up when you lift your finger up or go back to the previous state? Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.
So basically we are talking about power features that no one knows WHERE they are or WHAT they do… 
If only there were visual force decorators indicating a 3D Touch is available for certain elements - that would probably make things a bit easier to understand and remember.

Related: how to design a true mobile experience - the guide,

Too few meaningful use cases

Yes, I do know that keyboard trick, and I sometimes force-touch a photo or two, but besides those 2 gestures, there aren’t enough use cases to turn 3D Touch into a winning technology.

It’s not that effective either

Let’s take the app’s shortcut menu as an example. Let’s say you want to compose a new email: 
In the good old way you need to: 1) open the app, 2) tap the compose button, 3) start composing your email. 
With 3D Touch you can: 1) Force-touch the app icon, 2) tap the quick compose shortcut, 3) start composing your email.
Well, that didn’t make a big difference, did it? 3 steps each.

In some cases, the shortcut menu might save you 1–2 taps, but the tradeoff is that you now need to remember what shortcuts each app provides and when.

An old post but still relevant

I wrote this post 3 years ago and decided to re-post it because I think it’s still relevant.
Some rules never change: a technology seeking for a problem to solve often fails.
Great features with poor usability fail. 
Even if they were invented by Apple.

Related: a list of all the operating systems running on smartwatches.