Thursday, May 9, 2019

ux grumble: force touch

For me, the decade's biggest, dumbest "what feature can we add in this year so our new phones seem worth the upgrade" is Apple's Force Touch / 3D Touch.

Who ever thought "man, what I really wish I could do is have to jam my finger HARDER into this flat piece of glass"?

The fact that it's not on all iOS devices sets up the problem - it's not on any iPads, and Apple was comfortable leaving it off the iPhone XR. That means the gesture is always going to be for bonus features and extra functionality - never for the central interaction. iOS (and Macs) famously shun "right clicks", so some apps try to use the Force Touch for context menus - "shortcuts" that actually take longer because they are based on an uncomfortable gesture.

It also raises the question of whether including hardware support for this "feature" interferes with Apple's incessant drive towards thinner and thinner devices - if the need to put in this legacy thing is stifling other technologies that might theoretically be added - like Apple Pencil support... (a long shot, but a boy can dream.)

The trouble is, having to press extra hard intuitively indicates extra urgency, semantically it carries the idea of doing more - not extra foo-foo stuff. There's a fundamental disconnect in the gesture and its use. In apps that don't have a context menu, a simple tap will open up the item (probably with options to edit) while a hard jab pulls up a weird, read-only zoomed in version of what you were already looking at. But like if you're rearranging your homescreen icons... the old "tap then hold" gesture way to easily gets highjacked when the frustrated user presses in just a bit too hard - so instead of the old icons trembling with anticipation of their new home on the screen, you get a useless menu with a single "Share this app" item - probably the least useful, most weirdly self-promoting menu item in all off iOS.

It's a mess. Gestures are a minefield of unintended consequences on part of the user, and this half-implemented extra avenue of input just isn't helping.

UPDATE: looks like the gesture is on the way out anyway. Good riddance!

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