Oct 15

Dueling monikers: 3D Touch & Force Touch

touch2We first met Force Touch when Tim Cook unveiled Apple Watch in September of last year.

Six months later, Force Touch debuted in the new Macbook, and soon after it appeared in an updated Macbook Pro.

So it only seemed logical to believe that Force Touch would appear in the new iPhones as well.

Except that it didn’t. Instead, the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus arrived sporting 3D Touch.

Some were confused. Others were elated.

And just to add to the effect, last week Apple introduced the new Magic Trackpad — featuring Force Touch.

You’d be forgiven if your first reaction was, “Good grief, Apple, make up your mind!” Having two kinds of Touches seemed uncharacteristically wishy-washy, especially with all of this happening in the span of a year.

In case you haven’t decoded it yet, Wired explains that there is a technical difference. Force Touch has a single level of depth, while 3D Touch has two levels, a deep press and a deeper press.

So here’s the big question for you naming enthusiasts: is this difference enough to merit two different names? Or would Apple be better served by using a single name to communicate the one basic concept?

Okay, I’ll throw the first stone.

I think Apple is way overanalyzing this one. It’s creating a needless complication by splitting hairs — and this, at a time when it’s doing so much to show consistency across all of its devices.

(Then again, this is the same company that created a needless complication by naming an Apple Watch feature “complications.”)

Apple has achieved its astronomical success largely on its ability to make things simple. Or at least create the perception of simplicity. Here, it is successfully creating the perception of “Huh?”

For hypothetical purposes, let’s say that the better name is 3D Touch.

If Apple were to advertise 3D Touch — a pressure-sensitive display — as a feature across many devices, I’d get it in a second. I wouldn’t be surprised or disturbed that the feature might be implemented differently in different devices.

That’s because the concept is identical.

Having two names for the same concept only creates extra work having to explain the difference to confused customers. Further, most consumers won’t get the difference even after you explain it to them.

As long as we’re in Hypothetical Land, here’s another question: What happens when Apple brings a deeper level of touch to the MacBooks and Magic Trackpad? Will it rename the feature on those devices for the sake of accuracy?

I often fall back upon a principle I learned by watching Steve Jobs make decisions. One of his first questions was “What do we gain by doing this?” If the gain wasn’t significant, it was wiser to put our energy elsewhere.

For example, we at the ad agency once shared a three-page newspaper ad idea with Steve. The first page was the “teaser” that set up the following two pages. What do we gain by spending more to have a teaser headline, he asked. He weighed that gain against what we had to lose — which was a big chunk of money. His decision was a resounding “no.”

I imagine Apple would have evaluated the Touch naming decision in a similar way.

What does the company gain by splitting one concept into two separate product names? And does that gain offset the complexity it creates, today and in the future?

Seems that there is little to be gained by going this route — and much simplicity to lose.


Tags: ,

  • During the iPhone 6S announcement, Craig Federighi mistakingly said “Force Touch” at first, and then quickly corrected himself. It makes me wonder if the “3D Touch” name replaced “Force Touch” late in the iPhone 6S development.

  • Yes, that was interesting. Made me think the same thing. That was another clue that Apple was doing a quick re-think and re-naming Force Touch as 3D Touch. And another reason why my head spun when the new Trackpad was announced with Force Touch.

  • WFA67

    For me, the mere use of the word “force” compels representation of a meaning in one’s imagination. It’s not pleasant imagery.

    Same distinction between expressions like “peaceful” and “non-violent.” In making meaning, the mind can’t escape the ‘violence’ embedded in the latter.

  • Tuomas Hämäläinen

    The theory that Force Touch is a system that only has a single level of depth whilst 3D Touch has multiple only works when comparing Apple Watch and the iPhone. It breaks apart on the Mac – deep-pressing to fast-forward in QuickTime Player actually uses more pressure levels (I think at least five) to control the speed than the two used in peek and pop functions on the new iPhones.

  • dan pahlajani

    I don’t think Apple is causing confusion. Yes on the surface it may seem to. But the truth is when the functionality is different, using same name would actually confuse users when using the products. For example, try using “deeper” press on the watch. What happens? Nothing. Then move on to your phone. You probably may not use the “deeper” press feature. I think over time all devices will have 3D Touch. Force Touch may be sun-set.

  • SuperMatt

    Seems like marketing to me. They make a lot of money on iPhones, and they want the iPhone 6S to be the only device with the magic of “3D touch” – so they call everything else “Force Touch” instead.

  • Whatever Apple thinks is the right thing to do about the naming, having gone with two names for what can be perceived by almost all users as a single technology, seems like Apple is losing its single focus and operating as a multiple divisions company.
    I don’t think this perception loss can be balanced by any gain.

  • Anthony Siu

    Force Touch or 3D Touch, it makes customers confuse. But, in my point of view, it is not a big problem when compared it with the iPhone naming system.

    The name of iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6s & iPhone 6s Plus are too similar and not so intuitive. Its complex rather than simple. Hope Apple will change it soon although I didn’t think they will.

  • Doesn’t 3D Touch have one extra state? Apple Watch’s force touch has a tap and a force tap.

    iPhones have a tap, a peek and a pop, in Apple parlance.

  • amjmcintosh

    The idea that force touch has only a single layer of depth is not quite right. Even on the apple watch you can see that the screen is capable of measuring many very fine degrees of pressure (just try very slowly and carefully force-touching a watch face to see what I mean). So from a technical perspective, force touch and 3d touch are even more similar than they appear.

  • Bill J

    .In Horology, the study of clocks and watches, a complication refers to any feature in a timepiece beyond the simple display of hours and minutes. A timepiece indicating only hours and minutes is otherwise known as a simple movement. Common complications in commercial watches are day/date displays, alarms, chronographs, and automatic winding mechanisms. (Wikipedia)