On 3D Touch and Long Press

If Apple declared that a 3D Touch was the moral equivalent of a long press, it would have to make some adjustments to the iOS interface (including changing how we reorder app icons), but in the end I think we’d have a more cohesive set of common iOS gestures. 3D Touch users would benefit by not having to wait for the OS to pause and see if you intended to long-press an item, but users of non–3D-Touch devices wouldn’t be left out of the party.

via Jason Snell, writing for Macworld

There was lots of talk about this last September with the introduction of 3D Touch. I don’t think it’s a great idea.

Long press is a purposefully slow gesture. It makes you stop, literally, and wait a second or so before you can move on with other things. Therefore, it’s suited best for tasks that you want to do very deliberately and only very occasionally, like rearranging the icons on your home screen. The nature of the long press makes it very unlikely you’ll do it accidentally, and so it’s perfect for these sorts of tasks. You have to think about a long press, and that’s a good thing[1].

3D Touch, on the other hand, is meant to speed you up. Application launching shortcuts take you directly to a spot within the app in one gesture. Pressing hard from the left of the screen helps you invoke the app switcher faster. It’s all about the speed.

Peek and Pop, of course, is supposed to be all about speeding you up, too. I agree with Jason; it’s more gimmick than useful at the moment. I just about never use it.

I also agree that Quick Launch shortcuts are limited (though already much more useful than Peek and Pop), and 3D Touch would be more useful if it were possible to use in many other places, like the Notification Center. These are all great suggestions by Jason. I have no doubt Apple will be adding many of these features and more to iOS this year and beyond.

That doesn’t mean, however, that long press and 3D Touch belong together as one gesture. They just seem to be diametrically opposed, from a user interface standpoint. Forcing non–3D Touch users to use a long press for all these actions that are meant to speed up the iOS experience will make those users feel like frustrated, second-class citizens. Their phones will feel like slugs.

Not having those features at all is better than having them at the expense of feeling great about using them.

I suggest Apple keep 3D Touch and long press separated. The problem of some people not having devices with 3D Touch will be solved by time. Touch interfaces need more gestures, not fewer, if they are going to become more powerful tools.


  1. Some people seem to have trouble invoking a long press on a 3D-Touch enabled iPhone. Seems like pressing long and pressing hard are equivalent in many people’s minds. It doesn’t help that for many years prior to 3D Touch, you could press long and hard to invoke a long press. It takes some practice, but eventually you manage to tap and hold for a long press without pressing hard by default.  ↩