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What is 3D Touch? All you need to know about Apple’s 3D Touch iPhone screens

What is Apple’s 3D Touch technology, how does it work and what use is it? Here’s everything you need to know about 3D Touch.

Back in 2007, Apple launched its first smartphone. Known as the iPhone, this clever little mobile device helped to revolutionise the way we interact with our handsets. No longer were we reliant on clunky buttons to scroll through menus and write messages. Now we could use touchscreen controls to poke, prod and swipe through what we needed.

Multi-touch displays offer the ability to zoom in and out with just a pinch of our fingers, which was nice and all. But now we have ‘force touch’ screens which deliver a whole new dimension of control.

What is 3D Touch?

Force touch screens are pressure sensitive. In other words, they can detect exactly how hard you’re pushing on the surface and react differently for light and heavy prods.

Huawei was the first smartphone manufacturer to introduce a force touch screen in one of its consumer mobiles, specifically its late 2015 flagship the Mate S. The technology employed by the handset was dubbed Press Touch come retail and proved pleasingly responsive and precise.

Apple wasn’t far behind, offering its first force touch screen with the launch of the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus just a few days later. Apple called this feature ‘3D Touch’ but it basically works in the same way as other force touch panels, allowing the phone to differentiate between hard and light presses.

Read next: 3D Touch vs Huawei Press Touch vs ZTE Force Touch

How does 3D Touch work?

Apple’s 3D Touch screens basically employ an extra layer compared with older iPhone displays. This layer is buried away beneath the glass and contains pressure sensors, which are activated when the flexible top layer is pushed hard.

You’ll notice when you push hard on the 3D Touch display, that you feel a slight vibration through the iPhone. This is because the Taptic force feedback engine is linked to the screen, to provide physical as well as visual confirmation that you’ve poked hard enough to trigger 3D Touch.

Which iPhones have 3D Touch screens?

Every flagship phone since the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus boasts a 3D Touch display. In other words, the following mobiles:

IPhone 6s

IPhone 6s Plus

IPhone 7

IPhone 7 Plus

You can of course expect the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus to support this tech too when they’re launched in 2017 as the 3D Touch functionality is engrained within iOS 10.

Read next: 3D Touch now works on the iPad Pro, kind of

What is 3D Touch used for?

3D Touch actually has a few different uses in iOS 10.

For one, you can now hard press many app icons on your desktops to bring up a shortcuts menu. This allows you to jump straight to a specific feature of an app. For example, 3D Touch the phone icon and you can immediately call one of your favourite contacts. Alternatively, 3D touch the camera icon to jump straight into the selfie mode.

Similarly, 3D Touch can be used to quickly activate features within apps. So for instance, in the Apple Maps app, you can hard push on a location to immediately start navigating there. Or if it’s a place of business, you can check out contact details and quickly call them.

You can also preview a photo or video, or check out a full Live Photos clip, by 3D Touching it within the iPhone’s gallery.

Which apps support 3D Touch?

Since iOS 9, Apple’s main first party apps have supported 3D Touch shortcuts. In other words, poke an app shortcut hard and you’ll bring up either a menu of quick actions or a widget which gives you real-time information.

Sadly it’s still rather slim pickings when it comes to genuinely useful 3D Touch app shortcuts right now, even with iOS 10. Check out our guide to the best apps which use 3D Touch for more info.

How can I configure 3D Touch on my iPhone (change sensitivity or switch on or off)?

If you're struggling to get 3D Touch to work on your iPhone, it's possible to tweak the sensitivity settings or even turn off 3D Touch entirely. This can be done within the iPhone's settings menu.

Check out our full instructions for tweaking the iPhone's 3D Touch settings for more info.

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