The iPhone 11 Pro From The Perspective of a Heavy User of 3D Touch
I was excited to unwrap my iPhone 11 Pro in beautiful Silver last Friday. It was the first new iPhone I’d bought since the iPhone X, and it felt like the right time to upgrade. I had cracked both the front and back glass of my X (while using an Apple case, no less), and even though that phone still feels as smooth and performant as it did on day one, the new camera system on the 11 Pro, the better battery life, and the hot new back finishes seduced me.
Like, really nice. The new back glass is beautiful and feels great in the hand. The centered and subtle glossy logo is somehow even more powerful now that it’s harder to see. And the way that light reflects internally on the glass when the flashlight is on is just gorgeous.
The new ultra wide camera is amazing. I’ve wanted this for so long, I can’t wait to take some beautiful panoramic photos with it the next time I travel. The new Camera app is great too, so much better than the regular one. And the ‘immersive’ viewfinder that shows you what’s outside the frame is just so well done—seamless, smooth, magical. Very Apple.
Oh, and the battery improvements are cool. I actually don’t care much about this one, but I get that people do, and a lot, so I’ll jump on the bandwagon.
But It Doesn’t Have 3D Touch
When the XR lost 3D touch, the writing was on the wall. It was reasonable to expect that the next set of phones would lack it too, and it happened. How bad could it be?
The XR came with a thing called ‘Haptic Touch’, which felt like BS, mostly because it only existed on the lock screen buttons. With iOS 13 though, Apple turned into more of a ‘real’ thing: they applied it across the OS, assigned it some functions previously exclusive to 3D Touch, while implementing a standard system for context menus that also uses the gesture.
3D Touch still works on compatible phones with the new OS, but it lost some features for the sake of parity. There’s peek, but no more pop, and forget about peeking and then swiping left to archive in Mail. That’s fine, though. Unification made the tradeoffs worthy: 3D Touch is now mostly just a faster way to accomplish some of the same things that were available before, but that now are also available across all iPhones and iPads that run iOS 13. That’s great—the gaps were finally filled in. It sounds like this could be good enough to forget 3D Touch, right? I could probably survive this jump?
I Miss 3D Touch So Much
Many things change without 3D Touch. There’s the trivial stuff like waiting a little longer for menus to pop open, which I can live with. Yes, it’s slower, but no big deal. There’s the loss of the fun that the lock screen flashlight button once gave me—clicking it on and off and on and off and on and off without lifting my finger—, but whatever, definitely not critical. Control Center works mostly the same as well, all good in that front.
Then there’s the stuff that I used to rely on every day that’s just gone forever.
Let’s start with an easy one: website previews outside Safari. Peek and pop used to work on every single web view, no matter the app, which meant that any link on the custom in-app browsers of Facebook or Reddit could be previewed. No longer. Long pressing on links on one of those custom browsers gives you a basic action sheet that offers the URL as the only insight as to where the link goes.
But that’s a software thing—maybe if those apps get built against iOS 13, they’ll get the previews for free. Maybe Apple could even make it work retroactively. Let’s assume it could be fixed.
Then there’s the issue of the keyboard. I don’t use autocorrect on my phone. I rely on my fingers hitting the right keys and the suggestion bar. Whenever I mess up, it used to be a simple fix: just press anywhere on the keyboard, move the cursor, press again to select a full word, maybe swipe to select some more full words, and keep typing. That was just 2 touches with just one hand. While selecting, you could even press again to deselect, then press again to select, endlessly. Selection respected the starting word and had the ability to add and subtract, which seems obvious, but you’d be surprised.
The new, sad, and lifeless world of Haptic Touch lets me get into cursor mode by Haptic Touching the space bar on the keyboard, which is much less ergonomic and makes it a huge pain to drag the cursor downwards. Once on the mode, I can select text by letting my other upper body limb join in on the fun—I need to tap the screen once with my other hand to enter the character-by-character selection mode, which is all too happy to jump across lines, will only add to a selection and not subtract from it (so dragging up and then down will result in a huge selection instead of a smaller one), and makes it excruciating to select a word anywhere that’s not somewhere in the middle.
It’s a Downgrade
There’s no way around it: the lack of 3D Touch makes the keyboard on the iPhone just worse. Much worse, actually. And all the other places where the lack of 3D Touch can be felt don’t just make for a less enjoyable experience, they actually make the device itself feel less capable—as if it was handicapped somehow. And it can’t be fixed by clever software. 3D Touch actually introduced an input vector that enabled a few unique interactions that cannot all be co-opted by a glorified long press.
Why would Apple remove 3D Touch? Well, for many reasonable reasons. For one, it’s difficult and expensive to produce screens with 3D Touch, and they apparently could just never pull it off on the iPad. All of this for a feature most people don’t care about, if they even know it exists. It’s likely that most owners of 3D Touch-enabled iPhones go through life without ever triggering a deep press on purpose. And some people say that the extra space afforded by removing 3D Touch actually enabled Apple to build a bigger battery.
It’s On Them
First, I’ll call BS on that last point. I’ve tinkered quite a bit with my iPhone X, and I can tell you with confidence that that phone has enough room to house a bigger battery. They probably held off on making it bigger until they needed a tentpole feature to sell a new revision of what’s mostly the same phone from 2 years ago. Second, the fact that 3D Touch was so poorly adopted is completely, one hundred percent on Apple. They had all the chances in the world to make 3D Touch work, and they didn’t take them. They didn’t put their software, marketing, and user education weight behind it and instead they just let it wither and die, either consciously or by sheer negligence.
From the beginning, 3D Touch looked like a feature pushed by the iPhone hardware team that the software team scrambled to support and rushed out the door before really thinking through, resulting in an uneven and unpredictable experience. The sad part is, in its 4 years of hardware support, the UI barely got iterated upon, and nothing fundamental about its usability challenges really got improved. It’s so strange that a feature with such a high level of continued investment in hardware was almost completely abandoned in software. Not strange: dysfunctional.
A Real Pro Move
You know the Apple of 2019: it’s all about them Pros. If there’s an October event, the word ‘Pro’ will be on the invite, probably embedded in a hilarious pun. The Mac Pro is back. The iPad Pro is now more Pro because it gets its own OS now (at least as far as Marcom is concerned). Oh, and the iPhone is now Pro too! So now that the iPhone is Pro, it’s definitely the natural time to remove the one and only hardware feature that was built for and constantly leveraged by advanced users.
This isn’t the first time iOS power users get the metaphorical finger. iOS 10 added a sweet feature that iOS 11 promptly took away: the ability to quickly invoke Spotlight from within apps. You dragged down Notification Center partially, so as to only reveal the Spotlight field, and you’d feel a haptic bump. Releasing the drag brought the whole Spotlight interface into view, where you could easily type a few letters of an app’s name, hit Return, and the app would launch. It was undiscoverable too, so the ruthless gods of UI felt no pain when they killed it. But it changed the way I used my iPhone, and 2 years on, I still miss it.
So What Now?
I’m honestly baffled by this. Am I really considering returning the shiny new iPhone that I just got on launch day? Every time I think about it, it seems less and less unreal. My gut is telling me to get the best iPhone with 3D Touch that I can find and hang on to it for dear life. I can probably get 2 good refurbs for the money I’ll get back from my 11 Pro.
Or I can just decide to accept that my iPhone is just worse now and move on with my life, like I did with the Spotlight thing, but in a much more irreversible and hopeless way. Accept that, sometimes, things just get worse because the company you chose to trust with the screen that you look at and interact with the most just decided that’s what it wanted, there’s nothing you can do about it, and better get used to the new and worsened because, sooner or later, you’ll have to anyway.
Isn’t that a bit depressing?
• • •
Did I return my 11 Pro? No, it’s gorgeous and the cameras are amazing. Do I still miss 3D Touch? Yes, at least once a week.