How Force Touch Will Change the Way We Use Our iPhones

How Force Touch Will Change the Way We Use Our iPhones

Apple has introduced Force Touch on the Apple Watch and in the trackpad of their newest laptop, and rumors are suggesting that this feature will eventually come to Apple's entire line — including the forthcoming iPhone 6s. Evidence is mounting, including purported leaked photos of the device's display. As our blogger Todd Bernhard explains in the linked post, the photos show that the display uses rivets instead of clips and screws. This could be an indication that the display will be pressure sensitive. Also, as I explain in this post, evidence suggests that the new phone will be a tiny bit thicker, probably to accommodate the Force Touch feature. 

What is Force Touch?

So what is Force Touch and how will it be used on an iPhone? According to Apple's website, Force Touch on the Apple Watch "uses tiny electrodes around the flexible Retina display to distinguish between a light tap and a deep press, and trigger instant access to a range of contextually specific controls." Force Touch is used to bring up additional controls. And you can use it to do things such as select different watch faces and pause a workout. In short, it offers more options and specific functions. On the MacBook, Force Touch seems to mainly be used to expedite tasks. MacWorld gives 13 examples for how it can be used, such as to drop a pin in the Maps application or to look up a word definition. In each instance, these actions can be otherwise accomplished, but doing it with Force Touch is simpler and quicker. Force Touch can also add new functionality, such as giving the brush tool a wider stroke as you press more firmly. 

iPhone 6s Force Touch will make actions quicker

As I explain in this post, people familiar with the implementation of Force Touch on the iPhone 6s have said that the emphasis will be on expediting actions. Whereas the Apple Watch uses Force Touch to reveal additional options, on the iPhone 6s Force Touch will primarily be used to reduce the number of steps or taps required to accomplish a particular action. In Maps, for example, currently to begin navigation you need to click on the navigation icon, then click another button to start the navigation. Force Touch will make it possible to begin directions immediately simply by pressing on the destination with a little extra pressure.

Apple has also reportedly considered using Force Touch with app icons themselves. Force Touching the Phone app might go directly to voice mail, for example, or deep pressing the News app could take you directly to the For You tab or the Favorites tab. In some cases, a Force Touch will bring up a menu of actions that are available within the app. In the Music app, deep pressing a song will bring up a menu of the most common actions, such as adding to a playlist or saving. In Safari, Force Touching a link will bring up a preview of that web page, or Force Touching a word will bring up a definition. Deep pressing an address will bring up a preview of a map, or deep pressing a contact name will bring up a preview of the contact card.

As the examples above suggest, Force Touch on the iPhone 6s, as on the MacBook, will primarily be a quick way to accomplish a particular task. However, it will reportedly also be used in two additional ways: a user interface will appear surrounding your finger where you're deep pressing the display, or a shortcut list will pop up toward the bottom of the display.

Concept video of how it might work

This concept video gives an idea of how Force Touch can expedite tasks.

Haptic feedback

Another important feature of Force Touch technology is that in conjunction with with Apple's "Taptic Engine" it makes it possible for your device to give you haptic (tactile) feedback. With Force Touch, on the MacBook, for example, you can not only see what's happening on the screen but also feel it as you touch the trackpad. Apple's website explains, "The trackpad sends a tangible response to your fingertip when you perform certain tasks, like aligning annotations on a PDF."

Apparently a major function of haptic feedback on the iPhone 6s will be to give you feedback that you've invoked Force Touch. Imagine pressing a little harder, and your phone vibrates a bit under your finger. As it does so, some action takes place. However, it's likely that there will be a huge array of uses, as with the Apple Watch. My favorite example is how the Apple Watch can guide you while you're walking by using haptic feedback to tell you when to turn — and whether to turn right or left. The Apple Watch gives different kinds of sensations that are organically related to the context, as I discuss in this post. If you're scrolling the Digital Crown and you go too far, it becomes less responsive and then, like on an iPhone or iPad, it snaps back. And right at that moment, the Taptic Engine gives a sensation that feels like a taut rubber band gently being snapped on your wrist. The range of sensations replicated by the Taptic Engine includes taps, heartbeats, shakes, and more. Sensations are also used for notifications and to reinforce audio alerts.

Your fingertips are much more sensitive than your wrist, so it seems like the potential for a haptic language on the iPhone is much greater. I imagine that gaming will be able to provide a more immersive experience using haptic feedback.

A revolutionary innovation

Apple has referred to Force Touch as its most significant innovation since its development of the Multi-Touch display. When I first began using smartphones, the only available gesture was tapping a display with a stylus. Apple's multi-touch dramatically expanded the repertoire of gestures. Force Touch will take things up another level, and the Taptic Engine yet another.


Top image credit: Denys Prykhodov /

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Author Details

Jim Karpen's picture

Author Details

Jim Karpen

Jim Karpen holds a Ph.D. in literature and writing, and has a love of gizmos. His doctoral dissertation focused on the revolutionary consequences of digital technologies and anticipated some of the developments taking place in the industry today. Jim has been writing about the Internet and technology since 1994 and has been using Apple's visionary products for decades.