Apple says it took ‘multi, multi, multi years’ to perfect 3D Touch

3D Touch on iPhone 6s

3D Touch is one of the biggest selling points of the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, and one that separates them from their predecessors — and indeed rival smartphones. According to a new interview with a number of Apple executives, including Jony Ive and Phil Schiller, the “breakthrough” technology was incredibly difficult to create, and was in development for several years.

3D Touch is a lot like Force Touch on Apple Watch, only it’s much more intelligent. Not only can it distinguish between taps and presses, but it can also register a deeper press — and it’s going to change the way we interact with our iPhones and the iOS operating system.

The new technology is what “galvanizes our efforts right across the company,” said Apple Chief Design Officer Jony Ive in an interview with Bloomberg adding that 3D Touch “is something we’ve been working on for a long time—multi, multi, multi years.”

Phil Schiller, Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing, revealed that Apple’s 3D Touch displays employ 96 pressure sensors embedded in the LCD backlight, and achieving that was “unbelievably hard,” with a “tremendous amount of cost and investment in manufacturing.”

Apple worked closely with Corning to create “pliable” cover glass that would make 3D Touch possible, Schiller added.

Swipe it, and the phone works the way it always has. But press it, and 96 sensors embedded in the backlight of the retina display measure microscopic changes in the distance between themselves and the glass. Those measurements then get combined with signals from the touch sensor to make the motion of your finger sync with the image on screen.

To make 3D Touch “feel normal,” Apple is using its Taptic Engine to provide tactile feedback; when users use “peek” and “pop” gestures, they are accompanied by 10-millisecond or 15-millisecond haptic taps that tell our fingers that the action is complete.

Of course, Apple firmly believes that the time and effort it has spent on creating 3D Touch over the past few years has paid off, and it wants the feature to play a major part in the way we interact with our iPhones — and presumably future iOS devices, too.

If it’s just a demo feature and a month later nobody is really using it, this is a huge waste of engineering talent,” Schiller added. Apple is no so confident with what 3D Touch has become that it’s going all out to make it available throughout iOS 9.

With iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, 3D Touch is integrated into a whole host of built-in apps, including Phone, Weather, Music, Safari, Camera, and more. It’s also being adopted by third-parties like Facebook, Instagram, and WeChat, and it will surely be embraced by many more in the coming months.