Developers Enthusiastic About 3D Touch on iOS 9

Apple's iOS developer community is excited about 3D Touch in iOS 9, the haptic feedback technology available on iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus. I talked to several iOS developers, and all of them expressed various degrees of enthusiasm, even if it doesn't (yet) make economic sense for them to implement it.

Robert Linnemann at local development studio Metal Toad said that while he thinks Force Touch might be more common someday, right now he is "really excited to see what 3D Touch can do for mobile apps, since the Quick Actions in IOS 9 provide deep linking, which could make a profound difference in how people use the apps they have, as well as how developers can make using their apps more efficient."

Ishmael Shabazz, developer of Up Next, is also really excited about 3D Touch:

I wasn’t sure it would be something people would actually use (*cough Reachability). After receiving my phone though, I immediately fell in love and knew it would a game changer in terms of user experience. 3D Touch Quick Actions I think are the most useful, and I implemented them in Up Next within hours after using 3D touch for the first time. It’s safe to say I’m going to implement 3D Touch in every iOS product I work on from this point forward. It’s hands down my favorite iOS API. Super easy to implement and it doesn’t break any existing code.

Even developers who haven't released 3D Touch updates are still excited about it. Mike Glass, lead developer on SportsYapper, told me that his introduction was Force Touch on the Apple Watch, so when it became available for the iPhone he started looking at ways it could be implemented. "I’m seeing lots of places within SportsYapper where I would love to be able to 'peek and pop,' and that’s the best indicator of a useful feature." 

What he has found, however, is that most of his users are still using iPhone 5-sized devices, and 3D Touch is supported only on iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus. While he likes the technology, his company's development time and effort has to be directed where it makes the most sense to do so, and right now that isn't 3D Touch.

The Other Side of the Coin

What's interesting about 3D Touch is that a similar haptic feedback mechanism has been built in to some Macs for awhile now; both the new MacBook and the 13" Retina MacBook Pro have had Force Touch* since April of this year. Apple's updated Magic Trackpad also brings the same Force Touch capability to late-model Macs, but it's still getting very little developer love.

I asked Ken Case, CEO of Omni Group, if there were any plans for Force Touch since their iOS app OmniFocus was one of the first to support 3D Touch:

Yes, we're definitely planning Force Touch support in our apps! In fact, we started a few weeks ago with OmniGraffle 6.4 (released September 30, 2015), which added haptic feedback on Force Touch trackpads so your fingers can feel when a shape snaps into alignment while dragging it over the canvas. We talk a little more about OmniGraffle's haptic feedback in this blog post from September 30, and we look forward to adding more Force Touch interactions in future updates to our apps.

To anyone who follows the Omni Group, this won't come as a surprise. There is a long history of OmniGroup integrating the latest and greatest as part of their apps. In this case, Omni Group is the exception proving the rule.

Mr. Linnemann of Metal Toad said that he was impressed with Force Touch, and even created a little app earlier this year to show off what it could do. Then he watched as developers continued to largely ignore Force Touch.

Gedeon Maheux at the Iconfactory said that there hasn't even been a discussion about bringing Force Touch to any of their OS X apps.

The Future

Since 3D Touch currently has limited availability, developers approach the technology with different levels of commitment, no matter how much they like it. Still, there's an aura of inevitability about pressure sensitive clicking, and it's probably only a question of how long it takes for the technology to be widely deployed.

If there's something you're using that has integrated 3D Touch or Force Touch as a really useful part of the app, please let us know about it!

*There's a Star Wars reference that should go here, but I couldn't narrow it down to just one.