3D Touch, which made its debut in the iPhone 6s, is a brilliant but underappreciated piece of screen technology.

In this article we explain how to use 3D Touch, and round up the most useful 3D Touch-enabled tricks, tips, shortcuts and new features.

What is 3D Touch?

The 3D Touch interface is based upon the Force Touch technology that Apple previously introduced in the MacBook and Apple Watch (under the name Force Touch), and owners of either of these devices will have a head start here. Essentially, the function performed depends on how hard you push the screen, but whereas your watch can distinguish between two degrees of pressure - a standard tap and a harder Force Tap - the 3D Touch-equipped iPhones offer three.

Most people instinctively know the gestures they use with an iPhone: tap, swipe and pinch are just some of the commonly used interactions. 3D Touch introduces two new standard gestures - Peek and Pop, which we explain below - and a wide range of quick shortcuts and additional interface options.

3D Touch's features are available to all developers, which means they cab create apps that take advantage of the pressure-sensitive screen. A developer of a drawing app can use 3D Touch to change the brush strength, for instance, depending on the firmness of your finger press.

Which iPhones get 3D Touch?

All the 4.7in and larger iPhones from the 6s onwards. Which means all the phones Apple currently sells, except the SE.

  • iPhone 6s & 6s Plus
  • iPhone 7 & 7 Plus
  • iPhone 8 & 8 Plus
  • iPhone X

How to turn 3D Touch on (or off)

3D Touch will be activated by default on any new iPhone (except the SE), but you can fiddle with a few settings or even turn it off (madness!) by going to Settings > General > Accessibility, swiping down and tapping 3D Touch. Then adjust your sensitivity.

3D Touch tips, tricks & shortcuts: Settings

Once you're ready, read on and we'll start exploring 3D Touch's best features.

Peek and pop to preview a document

Peek and pop to preview a document

Peek and Pop are both pressure-sensitive gestures. Press the screen with a medium strength and you perform a Peek; push it harder and you perform a Pop.

Peek allows you to preview the contents of an email, document, web page, map direction or other link, without opening the app involved. You can then choose to Pop the item open in its relevant app if you want to know more.

If you're in the Mail app and do a firmer press on an email, a preview of the message will spring up and let you check out the email without actually opening it in full. You can then do a still firmer press to make the email 'Pop' open fully, or you can release your thumb or finger to close the preview and go back to the screen you were on previously. Alternatively, you can swipe upwards and see a menu of quick actions.

It works across apps, so Peek can be used to get a preview of an image in Messages, and Pop opens the image full screen and enables you to edit it. Here are some of the things we've seen Peek and Pop used for:

  • Previewing and opening Mail messages.
  • Viewing, and opening, web links in Safari.
  • Previewing images across apps.
  • Opening a location in Maps.

These are the interactions in Apple's stock iOS apps, but developers are free to implement Peek and Pop gestures in their apps.

Preview one app without leaving another

Preview one app without leaving another

Peek and Pop might not seem like a huge benefit when you're working within one app, but when we start working between multiple apps you'll see the added convenience.

Take directions, for instance. If somebody sends you an address in an email, for instance, you can tap it to jump to Maps and see directions. But if you do a harder press on that address, a handy map preview will appear without whisking you out of the Mail app. You can then swipe up, press harder still to go to Maps, or release to go back.

The same principle applies with clickable web links. If you deep-press a URL in an email, say, a preview of the web page loads and then appears, and you can see what's there before (or instead of) opening it in full Safari.

There are similar preview options for lots of first- and third-party apps on the App Store. Try force-pressing links and see what you can find.

Quick Actions

Quick Actions

Another interaction called Quick Actions is made possible because the Taptic Engine used in 3D Touch is capable of detecting between much shorter taps.

Apple designer Jony Ive distinguishes between two taps:

  • Mini Tap: lasting just 10ms
  • Full Tap: lasting 15ms or longer

While these amounts seem insanely small, they may be instinctive to use. A Mini Tap is used on the Home screen to open a menu for an app.

While a Mini Tap opens the app, a Full Tap offers menu shortcuts. Perform a Full Tap on the Mail icon and you see Inbox, VIP, Search and New Message. Performing a Full Tap on the Camera app brings up an option to take a Selfie without having to open the app and switch between the iSight and Facetime cameras.

In many ways, Full Tap can be seen as the equivalent of a Command-Click on a mouse. It enables you bring up a menu for an app. These menus offer shortcuts to things you commonly do with that app.

Developers also have access to Quick Actions, and can use the technology to measure shorter taps in games and other apps. Between Quick Actions and pressure sensitivity we hope developers (especially game developers) introduce far more sophisticated interactions.

If you want to edit the quick-actions that come up in the mini-menu when you do a harder press on the icon for Phone, Messages or FaceTime, incidentally, take a look at our quick tutorial: How to edit the 3D Touch shortcut menus for Phone, Messages & FaceTime.

Peek and Swipe

Peek and Swipe

A gesture similar to Quick Actions is Peek and Swipe. This gesture is where you push firmly on the screen, and swipe upwards to bring up a menu.

The Peek and Swipe gesture has been demonstrated by Apple but is easy to mistake for Quick Actions. Peek and Swipe inside Safari to get a menu that enables you to open new tabs, add items to Reading List or copy links.

Camera

Camera

The three main Apple communication apps (we're leaving aside Mail for the time being, but we'll come back to it in a moment) offer the most basic execution of the 3D Touch shortcut feature, but many other Apple apps have their own equivalents. The camera app's version of this may be the most useful.

It has a mini menu that lets you jump straight to a normal photo, a video or a selfie, or even a slow-mo video. You'll never miss that important shot again.

(This is particularly useful because Touch ID has been sped up so much that we rarely see the lock screen any more. In the olden days, if you wanted to take a quick photo you would swipe up on the camera icon on the lock screen and access the camera that way.)

Phone, FaceTime, Messages

Phone, FaceTime, Messages

Go to your Home screen and do a harder press on the icon for the Phone app (not just a normal tap/press - firmly push into the screen). You'll see that a useful little mini-menu pops up, offering the ability to call one of your more frequently called contacts, or to create a new contact.

Do a 3D Touch press on the FaceTime or Messages app icons and you'll see similar quick-jumps to recently or frequently contacted friends - a very helpful means by which you can go straight to a call with a loved one without going into the app, searching through contacts and so on.

(If you want to edit the quick-actions that come up in the mini-menu when you do a harder press on the icon for Phone, Messages or FaceTime, incidentally, take a look at our quick tutorial: How to edit the 3D Touch shortcut menus for Phone, Messages & FaceTime.)

Shortcuts to jump straight into app actions

Shortcuts to jump straight into app actions

There are lots more shortcut menus to discover.

The App Store icon lets you go straight to an app search, and the iBooks app does something similar. (The iTunes Store currently doesn't offer this, oddly, but hopefully this is just a matter of time.) Mail, rather than offering shortcuts to specific contacts, lets you jump to individual inboxes (or start a new message). Safari lets you open a new tab, or a new Private tab, or jump to your Reading List. Weather has a 3D Touch shortcut from the home screen - do a hard press on the icon to see more details about current and future weather conditions.

There are more to find - try a force-press on any app icon to see if it has a 3D Touch-activated mini menu - but my favourites are probably Apple Maps and Google Maps, whose shortcut menus include an option to get directions home.

By the way, plenty of non-Apple apps have 3D Touch shortcuts - Twitter, Fantastical and Instagram are the obvious examples, but a few others such as the CARROT weather app have included this feature too.

Control Centre

Control Centre

The Control Centre got a major revamp in iOS 11. For one thing you can customise what appears in it; for another you can do use 3D Touch to open up additional options.

Do a deep press on some of the options and you'll see a popup menu of additional quick actions. Do this on the Wi-Fi icon, for instance, and you see AirDrop and Personal Hotspot options; hard-press the brightness slider and you see Night Shift and True Tone toggles. Calculator lets you copy its last calculation.

Play around and get a feel for the possibilities.

Activate Live Photos

Activate Live Photos

Any time you see a Live Photo (you'll generally get a hint, such as a brief animation as you swipe to the image or a 'Live' icon - or set of small concentric circles - when you go to share it), a hard-press is the way to make it animate fully. It'll blur out initially then play the three seconds of footage.

The same technique applies to dynamic wallpapers, too. Give it a firm press to see the fish (or whatever) do its thing.

Priority download

Priority download

Since the launch of iOS 10 it's been possible to stipulate the order in which apps are downloaded if you're installing more than one at once. Use a 3D Touch hard-press on the semi-downloaded app's icon and you'll get the option to Prioritise Download.

It's not widely heralded, but this can be a handy option when setting up an iPhone from a backup and downloading lots of apps at once. Only you know which apps you need to have access to first.

Track your Uber driver

Track your Uber driver

3D Touch your Uber notification and you'll see the driver's progress on a map, with the option to send them a message.

Activating cursor control on keyboard

Activating cursor control on keyboard

Any time you've got the system keyboard up - in Mail, in Messages, even in third-party apps like Twitter - you can do a hard press anywhere on the keyboard and (while the individual keys grey out) you'll take control of a cursor, and can move it about pretty easily.

A simple one this, but very useful for precise text editing. (We advise you to do this with a fingertip, not a thumb. With a thumb we always find that the cursor gets a little jog out of position while we're lifting what is evidently our clumsiest digit off the screen.)

Activate app switcher

Activate app switcher

Another quick tip. Do a hard-press close to the lefthand edge of the screen - you can do this from the Home screen or from a lot of apps. You'll see the screen edges of some previously used apps. Press harder still or swipe across to the right and you'll find yourself in the app switcher, from where you can easily jump to a recently open app.

Hey, it's slightly quicker than doing a double-press on the Home button.

3D Touch art & pressure-sensitive drawing

3D Touch art & pressure-sensitive drawing

The fact that the 3D Touch screen can distinguish between different degrees of pressure is a godsend for makers of illustration and drawing apps: it unlocks the ability to create proper art.

With 3D Touch, you can draw a line across the screen and have a compatible app create a thin line if you're pressing gently and a thicker one if you're using more force: a small but fundamental step forward in touchscreen sketching.

(In the past it's been possible to achieve these effects but only crudely - by using the larger area of contact when pressing harder - or by depending on a pressure-sensitive stylus bought separately.)

This feature would be even more appealing on a tablet, which is the natural form factor for digital artists, but the implementation of 3D Touch on an iPad screen seems unlikely to happen.

The Pro offers a similar feature provided you buy the (pressure-sensitive) Apple Pencil stylus, but it doesn't have 3D Touch.

Pressure-sensitive buttons in iOS games

Pressure-sensitive buttons in iOS games

3D Touch holds the potential to turn onscreen elements into pressure-sensitive gaming controls - making games deeper without making their control systems any more complicated. This is a quantum leap forward.

The poster child for 3D Touch gaming at launch was AG Drive, which offers a pressure-sensitive accelerator button on the righthand side of the screen: press it normally to go at a normal speed, and press harder to kick into top gear.

For our advice on the titles to go for, see Best iPhone games and Best free iPhone games.

Peek zoom

Peek zoom

The partially sighted or others who find the relatively small icons and text on smartphone screens difficult to make out are likely to enjoy the zoom feature - which isn't by any means exclusive to the new iPhones but can be activated in a slightly easier way thanks to 3D Touch.

You need to have zoom switched on to use this feature. Go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Zoom, and make sure Zoom (at the top) is switched to green. But we also want to switch on the onscreen controller icon, so tap 'Show Controller', slightly lower down, so that's green too.

With zoom enabled, you can activate it at any time by doing a double-tap with three fingers. You can then move around the screen by swiping, again with three fingers. Double-tap again with three fingers to unzoom the screen.

That's pretty awkward, right? So instead, use the controller with 3D Touch. Do a hard-press on it with a thumb, say, then move the thumb around to move around the screen.

You can also do a normal tap on the controller to open a menu of options, including variable zoom and the ability to hold the controller icon, but we find the 3D Touch technique the most convenient.

Pair Apple Watch

Pair Apple Watch

This is a feature we've wanted for a while. If you do a hard-press on the Watch app you'll get a quick-jump to the Pair Apple Watch action.

But why stop there, Apple? We'd love to be able to quickly Mark As Missing from here, too.