Designing Dimensional Interactions

Once again, in a world as of late dominated by mundane technology at best, Apple showed the world that it still has a few surprises left. The newly announced iPhone 6S & 6S+ feature numerous improvements to speed, battery life, and overall computing power. However, by far the most impressive announcement of the day was the introduction of 3D Touch.

Apple has created a completely new way of interacting with your iPhone. In fact, I would go so far as to state that they have actually created a new paradigm for interactive design. Long familiar multi-touch gestures such as Swipe, and Pinch are still ever-present, though they take a rather unapologetic back seat to this new technology. Tap, however, has been elevated to a rather lofty position. Now, in addition to the ‘Tap’ we are all familiar with, Apple has added two additional gestures: Peek and Pop. And as an added affordance, when activating these new gestures the user is rewarded via the Taptic Engine with a subtle tap. What this means is that the user will actually feel the results of his command. This serves as an ideal way to inform the user of the nuanced difference between a Peek and a Pop.

Now to answer the pressing question: What exactly are Peeks and Pops? A Peek is when the user lightly presses any number of options including an inline email in the Mail app, an embedded web link in an SMS message or even a thumbnail photo preview in the Camera. Said item will reveal itself with a ‘peek’ preview… A deeper press with more pressure, or a Pop if you will, opens your selection so that you have full native app access. These same interactions also mimic old-school desktop right-click functionality when used on a supporting app icon, brining up a contextual quick-access menu. For example, clicking the Camera app icon brings up options for instantly taking a selfie or regular photo, as well as recording video.

So now that we have established the technology, let us now move to the possibilities. In reality, even though it is billed as 3D Touch, the actual interactions in Z-space are minimal at best. In other words, a traditional Pinch or Swipe provides broad, sweeping affordance across the device’s X/Y axes. While Peek and Pop are pressure-sensitive nuances focused on a single point. Therefore designing for this new 3rd dimension should be focused on the reduction of clicks or taps required to get the user to the desired end-goal. 3D Touch is more about the pay-off and less about getting there…

As it was conceived and introduced, 3D Touch and its accompanying Peeks & Pops barely scratch the surface of design possibilities. The whole point of 3D Touch is to solve the mobile UI bottleneck of one screen > one tap > one action. At first glance Apple has succeeded in unlocking a one-tap deep-dive into core application functionality. However, is a one-tap deep-dive all that is achievable?

Touch and tactility working in conjunction are a powerful metaphor. Taptic technology is already in place on the Apple watch, providing user feedback without the need to actually view one’s device. One begins to wonder at the possibilities waiting to be unleashed by bringing similar design thinking to 3D Touch for iPhone. Imagine, if you will, applications designed specifically for Taptic 3D Touch instead of simply streamlining existing experiences.


Consider that the iPhone can be used as a primary computing device linked to secondary interfaces, this opens a wealth of possibilities for designers. 3D Touch can be construed as a control mechanism for any iPhone-connected device in the Internet of Things. Design thinking would seem to dictate that these paradigms have a low barrier to entry if they are useful in our everyday lives. An easy to understand example would an iPhone app for a Nest IoT thermostat. The app interface could simply be the icon and 3D Touch Taptic experience. The user could simply Peek the app icon to decide whether to raise or lower the temperature and hold the Pop of the icon afterwards until the desired temperature is reached. In this example, the user never even opens the “app” as there would be no app interface to interact with. All user feedback happens with increased tactility… Increasing feedback matches the temperature. Therefore the designed experience is just that, an experience.

In conclusion, as designers we are about to embark on what promises to be the beginning of a true paradigm shift in interaction design. As new technologies such as Apple’s 3D Touch become dominant over traditional multi-touch (in the same way that multi-touch has albeit replaced the keyboard & mouse), the way we approach designing for these technologies must dominate our design thinking.

We must strive to craft solutions and experiences that leverage the true inspiration behind these shifting paradigms… We must immerse ourselves in studying how interfaces (or the lack thereof) are evolving… We must ourselves evolve.

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