At Wednesday’s media event, Apple unveiled the expected upgrades to its smartphone line, the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, with upgrades to the chips and cameras inside.
For developers, the single most important feature in these new phones comes in the phones’ screens, which are newly sensitive to the touch. Apple calls the feature 3D Touch.
Peek, Pop—Just Don’t Search
3D Touch seems to be a less brain-dead rebranding of the offensively named Force Touch feature of Apple Watches and MacBooks. It detects pressure as well as position, enabling a different set of interactions on the phone.
Apple calls these interactions “Peek” and “Pop.” You can Peek, or preview, a link within the context of a current app, allowing you to look at a photo, check an address, or browse a Web page within a text-message conversation without launching Maps or Safari. Press on the preview, and you Pop, or launch directly into, the app that handles that information type.
On the iPhone’s home screen, a longer press on an app lets users pick from several different actions. Apple executive Craig Federighi showed Dropbox allowing users to launch straight into a file upload and Instagram offering a quick jump into recent activity.
More Functions, Fewer Apps
There are a couple of implications for app developers here.
One is that it may slow the fragmentation of apps that saw Facebook spawn Messenger from its core mobile app. If it just takes one touch and an extra tap to get into a specific function, developers may see less value in creating separate apps. This may favor well-known brands—for example, Yelp, which has built new features like delivery and table reservations into its core app, and can now make those features available faster.
The other implication is for Google and a handful of other big developers whose offerings compete with Apple’s own built-in apps. While Google has persuaded many iOS users to download Google Maps, when you view an address within a text message, Apple Maps is what you Peek at and Pop into. With a Web address, it’s Safari, not Chrome.
We already know that mobile users vastly favor apps over mobile Web browsing. Where they browse, it’s often because a function is buried too far within an app. App-to-app links and deep linking are increasingly sending users from app to app without a Web search in between. 3D Touch’s Pops and Peeks are, in some sense, deep links for the iPhone’s home screen and built-in apps like Messages.
Google and other developers who see themselves disadvantaged by this interface change could respond by making use of it, of course, and building 3D Touch support into their iOS apps. YouTube, for example, might want to break out video-uploading functions from viewing clips or responding to comments.
The limitation here is people’s attention spans. As users gravitate towards a few familiar apps, and download fewer and fewer new ones over time, Pops and Peeks augur a future where they spend more time in their favored apps and only take the briefest of glances at other ones.
It’s bringing the gesture-and-glance economy of the Apple Watch and its condensed apps to smartphones, much as smartphones are forcing desktop apps to become more and more mobile in nature. Our “Retina Displays” are becoming bigger and richer, but the retinae with which we view them can only pop open and peek at so much in a day.