How 3D Touch changes how you use your iPhone 6S

 

3D Touch: An extra dimension

It's hard for phones to pull off new tricks these days. What we know as a smartphone has become completely commodified stuff: touchscreen, apps, fast processor, camera. But we've grown used to touchscreens and how they work. You tap, you swipe. Apple's new 3D Touch adds a force-sensitive element to the touchscreen.

Why is it called 3D Touch as opposed to Force Touch, the name for similar tech in the Apple Watch and the new MacBook trackpads? As Apple explains it, the iPhone screen sensors can tell where you're pressing as well as how deep. Those are your three dimensions -- horizontal screen position, vertical position and depth.

 

With Apple's new Live Photos, which automatically capture a few seconds motion and audio in regular snapshots, pressing down turns these still shots into little living moments.

You could theoretically, however, build all these "peeks" and shortcuts into iOS without pressure-sensitive 3D Touch: tap and hold could be used, if the delete-an-app function already assigned to that were moved somewhere else on the phone. But 3D Touch makes it all feel immediate: it's a second layer on top of the existing iOS 9 we know.

Pressure-sensitive game controls, or art tools: The possibilities are wide open

There's a lot more 3D Touch could do. Instead of just a single layer of pop-up interaction, you could have multiple layers. Some games already take advantage of 3D Touch's analog-like range of sensitivity. AG Racer, a high-speed racing game, turns the one-finger thruster into a variable-pressure gas pedal. I could push down and speed up, or let up a bit around curves.

You can easily imagine other uses: All art apps should update to allow for pressure-sensitive brush strokes and sketching. Game controls could change function depending on how hard you press on a key. Music apps could have pressure-sensitive keyboards.

The new iPhones are the first to adopt this technology, but it's a clear shoo-in for iPads, and possibly all Apple products down the road. And Apple's shortcut tools could expand, and deepen, in the next version of iOS: It could relying on 3D Touch so much that even the venerable Home button might not be needed anymore. It's small steps, but 3D Touch clearly improves the entire concept of touchscreens.

Design: Feels (mostly) the same

No surprise, but the new iPhones have nearly identical feel and design. Put one in someone's hand -- assuming he or she missed the "S" logo on the back -- the only way they'd know it's a new model is that they're a tad heftier: the new models each weigh about 11 percent more, thanks to the new screen technology used (more on that later).

True, there is a new color now, called "rose gold" (it basically looks like a blush pink, same as the new Apple Watch color). But as far as looks go, this extra shade is the extent of the changes you'll be able to visually detect between this year's and last year's phones.

Apple's emphasis on hardware upgrades over design development follows the pattern that the Cupertino, California-based company has long established: Significant changes, including exterior design overhauls, come in the even years and more subtle internal updates in the odd.

Apple says that its phone may look the same as last year's model, but its iPhone 6S duo have achieved more inner strength. This time it uses a different grade of aluminum for its chassis, one that also has applications in the aerospace industry. They call it Series 7,000, and it's the same aluminum alloy Apple puts into its Apple Watch Sport. The company clearly hopes this reinforced material will help deflect against future "Bendgate" backlashes, where some customers complained that their 5.5-inch iPhone 6S phones "bent" after being sat on.

Apparently, a new type of chemically strengthened glass also tops the iPhone 6S, though the company hasn't confirmed if this is cover material from Corning's Gorilla Glass line or not


New hardware inside

The biggest news here is the hugely upgraded front and rear cameras and video capability, but there are a few other tidbits here and there as well.

Cameras and video with more megapixels

A 12-megapixel camera is a huge jump for Apple, which has been holding onto its 8-megapixel sensors in its iPhone for years. Autofocus will pick up the pace, according to Apple, and color accuracy is a point of pride.

The 5-megapixel front-facing camera now brings the iPhone 6S on par with a lot of today's competing handsets. Of course, it includes the company's proprietary voice chat feature, FaceTime video. Here's something wildly different, though. Instead of including a dedicated flash for the front-facing camera, which only a few phones do, Apple is using the home screen to light up instead. This is meant to increase the brightness of those selfies even in low-light situations.

A few test selfies we've take so far looked really good, with crisper, richer color and details than previous iPhones.

Peek-a-boo

Apps can allow "peeking in" to stuff in the app: press in on an email header, and see the whole email! Press in on a text message, and see the whole thread. Photos or news stories in the News app pop up for a quick preview, or links in emails and messages. Email or messages can be sorted: swipe left or right and you can trash or file messages.

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