[Speculation] What if Apple is removing 3D Touch in favor of a visibly cooler technology?
Here goes: **I believe Apple will debut 3D display technology in their next iPhone.**
Ever since the first iPhone, Apple has strived to differentiate itself from its competitors. Apple’s main revenue stream comes from hardware sales, and that’s because Apple takes its hardware design very seriously. Technologies like 64-bit mobile processors, Touch ID, and Face ID made their debut years before Apple’s competitors; Android device makers are still trying to figure out where to put the fingerprint sensor while Apple has stated that iOS 13 makes its Face ID unlocks even faster.
In 2015, Apple launched the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, with a flagship feature known as 3D Touch. Enabled by a special hardware layer under the display glass and embellished by the Taptic Engine, 3D Touch made you feel like you were pressing /into/ the screen. iOS leveraged this by turning hard presses into contextual menu triggers, not dissimilar to right-clicking on a desktop computer. Force presses also let users quickly “Peek” content with gentle press, and then “Pop” into the content with added finger pressure.
Discoverability was always a problem for 3D Touch. Apple never made an effort to show end users what 3D Touch could do, unless you were the type of nerd to watch WWDC keynotes. As of iOS 13’s reveal at WWDC 2019 this past week, evidence shows that 3D Touch is on its way out. Context menus and content previews are now available from a simple long press on any device, even those without 3D Touch sensors, and current devices equipped with 3D Touch have lengthened the time between a force press and a context menu triggering, which seems to be Apple’s way of acclimating us to a long-press future.
Since Apple found that they could integrate 3D Touch’s best features — The Taptic Engine, its context menus and content previews — into iOS itself, what use was that hardware display layer? It added weight and cost to every device built. R&D on 3D Touch was famously expensive, too, but Apple isn’t exactly hurting for money. It can afford to take the hit on 3D Touch. I believe that Apple has been pouring R&D money into a new technology, something more immediately obvious to end users both in visibility and utility.
I believe that Apple will debut 3D display technology in the next iPhones. Similar to the Nintendo 3DS but with much better viewing angles and resolution, the 3D display will bring depth to UI, photos, videos, and AR apps.
Apple has a history of hinting at its hardware intentions in its software previews. When iOS 11 tweaked the new Springboard animation when launching and closing apps, it seemed that the new arc animation was a stylistic choice. But after the iPhone X was shown to “fling” apps home in a similar arc, the new animation finally made sense.
Another early hint of Apple’s intentions can be found in the design video launched way back when iOS 7 was first previewed at WWDC 2013. Jony Ive spoke of bringing depth to iOS, giving each layer of the newly redesigned UI a clear hierarchical deepness relative to the eye. This philosophy was best demonstrated by the new Perspective wallpaper style, moving home screen icons as the user tilts the device to give an illusion of depth.
This year, I believe Apple Maps’ new Look Around feature is the tell. Though it was hard to notice on stage, every Look Around view has a depth effect on it. These 360º images will look great on any iPhone, I’m sure, but what if there was a device that could not only view images in 3D, but capture them too?
The iPhone rear camera system will soon be primed for 3D photography. All leaks point to a three lens system in this year’s iPhones, which many Android device makers have already jumped on. But unlike their competitors, Apple will arrange these cameras in a triangle formation. iPhones have leveraged dual-lens cameras to construct depth maps since the iPhone 7, but three lenses at separate vertical and horizontal distances will allow Apple’s industry-leading ISPs to construct even better depth maps. The TrueDepth front camera is already an effective 3D camera, but its infrared dot technology is better suited at close range.
3D photos and videos could become a new industry standard. Apple has already laid the groundwork for 3D photos by embracing HEIC, which among other things allows them to bundle depth maps and images into one file. If Apple can get services like Instagram and Snapchat on board, 3D photos could become a hot new trend.
3D displays would also bring new levels of realism to Apple’s AR offerings; viewing AR content on a 3D display is an obvious plus. I don’t think I need to elaborate further.
Apple has always tried to skate where the puck is heading, refusing to do things first until they can get them just right. I believe that Apple will position their 3D display technology as a key differentiator from their competition, finally bringing together their camera and display hardware and their software UI into a true 3D experience. The competition will take years to catch up as usual, giving Apple time to perfect the technology and integrate it into upcoming products like the rumored AR glasses.
Apple would never debut new technology without a firm marketing strategy, but a 3D display seems awfully hard to advertise using 2D mediums like print or television. Still, I believe that there are enough hints out there to indicate that 3D displays are the future for Apple’s iOS devices.