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How Apple's New 3D Touch Feature Will Benefit iOS App Development

In the smartphone universe, things change quickly. Apple revolutionized the industry when it’s introduced multitasking with iOS 4, now the company has taken it several steps further with the new 3D Touch feature in iOS 9. This new development opens a three dimensional realm in app development and basically changes how users interact with apps and how apps in turn function.

With this awesome new feature, you can now perform various actions quickly from the home screen. As a result, iOS app developers will now focus on ascertaining how people are using their apps and find new ways to help them perform their tasks in one quick motion. For example, social media applications like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter will now let you upload photos with one quick motion. Further, Google Search will bring you directly into a voice search.

3D Touch essentially enhances iPhone 6S and 6S Plus by adding another dimension to your smartphone interaction. The hardware has vast processing power, an upgraded 12MP camera, 4K video, and Live Photos. The last couple of upgrades haven’t really had a massive impact as consumers saw these upgrades as minor when compared to the model they already owned. However, expect this to be the year that Apple breaks its own sales records.

What makes the 3D Touch screen feature possible in the new devices is the A-series processors that have significantly evolved and become very powerful. This in turn makes your iOS 9 experience lag free whether you’re using Apple’s standard apps or third-party apps.

So what are the benefits for iOS developers? What do they need to learn about in iOS 9?

iOS 9 is All About Quick Actions

3D Touch is changing the way users interact with icons on the home screen in iOS 9. So when you tap an icon on the home screen, you will get a short menu instead of loading the app right away. This enables the user to choose where to go within the app. This tap-to-menu function is known as quick actions. Although this new feature provides a massive benefit for the end user, it creates a lot more work for the developer.

iOS 9 offers two different types of quick actions which are static and dynamic.

Static Quick Actions: This is the default quick action when the app is installed. Developers will now have to set up these shortcuts in the user interface.

Dynamic Quick Actions: These are the quick actions that are displayed once an app is launched based on the user’s previous activity. As quick actions are governed by its own API, user interaction with the app can be anticipated. At the present time, four quick actions can be presented on the home screen icon.

3D Touch is Basically Force Touch Evolved

The Apple Watch brought about Forced Touch to enable enhanced interactions with the smartphone. Different amounts of pressure on the watch, performed different actions. 3D Touch follows the same principles and has been upgraded for iOS 9.

UITouch class controls the interaction in 3D Touch (force and maximum possible force). The main difference here is the elimination of a long push that has been replaced by a tap. The apps will react to touch pressure that is essentially based on the UIEvent objects.

For the seasoned iOS app developer, incorporating UITouch elements into the app won’t be very difficult as you can easily add UIEvent objects that are present in the operating system.

Peek & Pop

Peek and Pop is what Apple calls the interactions which are supported by the UIKit in iOS 9. When you “peek,” you get to preview the content before opening it. “Pop” is when the user chooses to click the preview window and view all the content. This is almost the same as email snippets that can be viewed before one chooses to view the whole email.

This feature is supported by two APIs in iOS9:

  • UIKit
  • Web View

UIKit is the complicated aspect of iOS app development. Although it is very similar to Web View, handling native app interactions can be problematic. The “peeks” can be mixed with quick actions and incorporated with preview by adding new features of UIViewController for iOS 9. Web Views will handle the peeks and pops via Safari.

Developers now benefit from pressure sensitivity and a pressure-sensitive touch screen that will open doors to offer more options and functionalities for any iOS based app. This new feature is expected to kick open the doors of iOS game development by creating a massive amount of options. Further, there are a lot more gestures to be discovered in 3D Touch and it will be interesting to see what new gestures developers build in the near future.

The Development Environment

Xcode 7 will support 3D Touch development and the debugging features of Xcode can be used to execute the new features. However, if you use Xcode 7.0 for app development, make sure that you’re developing on a device that supports 3D Touch. At the present time, 3D Touch is not supported by the simulator in Xcode 7.0.

Further, when using Xcode 7.0, the peek and pop view controllers can only be implemented via code. There is no graphical support for configuration in the Interface Builder for configuring view controllers and transitions.

Older Apps need to be optimized for 3D Touch

With record sales for iPhone 6S and 6 Plus expected this year, it is imperative to make older apps 3D Touch enabled. As users get used to the features of 3D Touch, any app that doesn’t perform these functions will be left behind. This will require a giant overhaul of all iOS apps that are currently available at the app store.

So, is it fair to say that the next race in iOS development has now begun?

Are you looking to build an iOS 9 optimized app or upgrade your existing product to take advantage of iOS 9 features strength? Check out our mobile app development and app evolution services.

IT Storyteller and Copywriter
Andrew's current undertaking is big data analytics and AI as well as digital design and branding. He is a contributor to various publications with the focus on emerging technology and digital marketing.