Can Apple revolutionise the user experience with its latest iPhones?

This month saw the highly anticipated launch of Apple’s new and updated versions of its top products, in particular the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus. So far reviews have been mixed, with some predicting a big demand for the products, while others have criticised the lack of radical changes.

While the new devices may not have changed much in appearance, it is clear to see that for the S-versions, Apple has focused much of its attention on internal upgrades rather than developments in the physical design.

On the outside, the new iPhone 6S and 6 Plus look identical to last year’s versions of the 6 and 6 Plus. There is now the choice of purchasing the new iPhone in rose gold, but apart from this adaptation, the design and appearance of the device remains the same as before.

Perhaps the biggest change to the latest versions come in the form of the ‘3D Touch’ which allows users to apply varying levels of pressure to the display technology in order to carry out different actions depending on the amount of pressure used. The feature allows users to push down and open a range of menus, view photos and switch between apps.

How will consumers engage with the new features?

Underneath the 3D Touch pad on the screen, there are sensors which can detect how hard the user is pressing on an icon. By pressing on a file icon, it will be selected but by pressing harder, it will then be opened, for example. The feature can also be used in apps such as the video player where users can fast forward a clip at varying speeds based on the amount of pressure exerted on the screen.

From a consumer perspective, the new 3D Touch feature could well be an innovative addition to the devices, especially when combined with the ‘Taptic Engine’. When you ‘click’ or press icons on an iPhone, the screen is solid and doesn’t actually depress – but with the new Taptic Engine feature, the clicking sensation has been created through the use of a sound and vibration that is generated when the user presses on the screen. Both of these features give the user a little bit more control over how apps are used and interacted with, all at the touch of a finger.

There has been the ‘long press' option available on devices for a number of years but it hasn't traditionally been used to change how consumers use and engage with their apps. I think perhaps one of the most interesting ways that we could see this technology revolutionise mobile use is not only how we will use our apps, but it could also add many new dimensions to the way we play our mobile games.

For mobile gaming, 3D Touch and Taptic Engine could transform the user experience and really bring it to life with various actions built into the sides of the screen. For example, this could be incorporated into games which require shooting actions, perhaps to alert the player that they have been hit or injured, or even driving games that can detect breaking depending on the amount of pressure placed on the screen.

This new concept could open a whole new dimension of interaction amongst users, but the initial hurdle will be educating users about the new features so that it becomes a natural part of their gesture arsenal. With 3D Touch, it could potentially be a problem that users may not know where the hidden menus or functions are, as not all apps will support this feature. This means that users will have to look to see where 3D Touch can be used and over time they may stop engaging with it if it’s not something that they find themselves using often.

Of course, those first clues and hints will need to be given by us designers, but in the longer term it's going to be interesting to see how and where designers choose to put 3D Touch to use in their apps.

How can designers incorporate the new features into their apps?

In the longer term, I think it's going to be interesting to see how and where designers choose to put 3D Touch to use in their apps. At present, designers have limited space to work with when it comes to building apps and they are restricted by what they can do without the app feeling too cluttered. With 3D Touch, designers will be given more freedom so that they can move away from traditional drop down menus when it comes to giving users multiple action options and I believe it will greatly minimise app clutter.

By having a greater selection of gestures and various ways that people can interact with their apps using 3D Touch, this should enable designers to create much simpler user interfaces. This is a big step forward for developers, and with the transitions between the ‘Peek’ and ‘Pop’ options in 3D Touch, it will also give designers a lot to think about with the way they animate the modals in the app.

‘Peek’ allows the user to press harder on an app using 3D touch to preview things such as an email, view photographs, browse a webpage or check a location all without having to actually open the app. ‘Pop’ then allows users to press a little harder and be taken directly into the app that holds that information.

How will this work when designing across platforms?

While all these features make for smooth navigation between various actions and hidden options on the iPhone 6S, they do open up slight issues when it comes to designing across platforms.

This is particularly relevant when it comes to creating apps that will be used on both the iPhone and Android devices. Designers will need to be cautious with how they incorporate 3D Touch into the user interface and how this would affect the android side of things. For example, some actions may have to be swapped to ‘tap and hold’ functions.

All of these features have the potential to truly transform the user experience, but it’s important to remember that they are still in the very early stages and the devices are yet to make their way into the hands of the consumer. For people to make the most of this new technology and understand exactly how it works, there needs to be a large amount of education around the various ways the features can be used throughout apps.

Without this, users will have difficulty engaging with the devices and this may affect levels of adoption. Having said this, this is an exciting advancement in mobile phone technology and it going to be interesting to see the response from consumers and the industry once the devices have been launched.

Matthew Hunt, CEO of Apadmi Enterprise, the enterprise app development division of mobile app developer Apadmi