It took Apple “multi, multi, multi years” to create 3D Touch

 

3D Touch, which made its debut on the Apple Watch as Force Touch, is coming on the new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, set to launch this Friday, September 25.

 

Previous iPhones recognized multi-touch gestures like tap, swipe and pinch. 3D Touch recognizes pressure– pressing down on the screen triggers a new command, called Peek, pressing down even harder triggers the second new command, called Pop. Watch how 3D Touch works in action:

According to the Businessweek feature, 3D Touch took Apple “multi, multi, multi years” to develop. While Apple understandably doesn’t delve too deeply into the details, Craig Federighi, the company’s Senior VP of software engineering, gives a clue on how hard it was to make 3D Touch work:

 

“It starts with the idea that, on a device this thin, you want to detect force. I mean, you think you want to detect force, but really what you’re trying to do is sense intent. You’re trying to read minds. And yet you have a user who might be using his thumb, his finger, might be emotional at the moment, might be walking, might be laying on the couch. These things don’t affect intent, but they do affect what a sensor [inside the phone] sees. So there are a huge number of technical hurdles. We have to do sensor fusion with accelerometers to cancel out gravity—but when you turn [the device] a different way, we have to subtract out gravity. … Your thumb can read differently to the touch sensor than your finger would. That difference is important to understanding how to interpret the force. And so we’re fusing both what the force sensor is giving us with what the touch sensor is giving us about the nature of your interaction. So down at even just the lowest level of hardware and algorithms—I mean, this is just one basic thing. And if you don’t get it right, none of it works.”

 

The entire article is a rare look into the process behind building a new tentpole feature for Apple’s flagship product, and one underlying theme is how much Apple is willing to bet on its team of designers. Apple’s design projects have no start and finish dates, and designers can be exploring new directions for months that eventually turn out to be dead ends.

 

Jonathan Ive, Apple’s Chief Design Officer, puts it in the article as, “You know, it’s so very hard to measure [what designers do]. We can be working on something for a long time and still not know quite how it’s going to work out.”

 

But arguably, betting the company on its designers has paid off in billions for Apple. Steve Jobs, Apple’s co-founder and previous CEO, believed in it so much that Jonathan Ive reported directly to him and him alone; and Ive continues to do the same with Tim Cook.

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