What’s the difference between 3-D Touch and Haptic Touch?


The iPhone XR will feature Haptic Touch. But just what is that?
iPhone XR carries the same A12 Bionic chip as iPhone XS.
Photo: Apple

The iPhone XR replaces 3-D Touch with something called Haptic Touch, but just what is Haptic Touch? The good news is that — in theory — it lets you use all the same hard-press shortcuts you’re used to. Here’s how it works.

3D touch reborn


You can adjust the iPhone's flashlight brightness with 3D Touch.
You can adjust the iPhone’s flashlight brightness with 3D Touch.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

3D Touch was kind of wasted by Apple. There are many happy users (including me — I’m a big fan), but the feature has withered. It’s not particularly discoverable, and it hasn’t really been pushed beyond adding shortcuts to app icons, and previewing images and documents in the Files and Photos apps.

3D Touch works because the iPhone’s screen is pressure sensitive. You can press on the display, and the harder you press the more “happens.” Haptic Touch screens, like on the iPhone XR, don’t have this pressure sensitivity. Instead, Haptic Touch appears to be just a new name for our old friend, the long press.

Haptic Touch is a long press plus a vibration

If you use an iPad with a recent version of iOS, you have already used a form of Haptic Touch. iOS 11 included five different types of tap.

  1. Tap.
  2. Long tap to drag and drop.
  3. Longer tap to delete/move apps.
  4. Special half-long tap to pop up a dock-extra menu.
  5. Press-tap (or long tap) in notifications to access extras.

Haptic Touch seems to use number two in this list. And in fact, if you grab your iPad right now, you can try it out. Open up the Control Center, then press and hold on one of the icons. Try the screen brightness slider, for instance. When you press on it, the icon zooms into the full-on brightness controller.

Just hold the spacebar for a second to enter trackpad mode.

Now, imagine this exact gesture, only it’s accompanied by a subtle jolt from the iPhone’s Taptic Engine. That’s Haptic Touch — a long press coupled with a Taptic buzz to tell you you’ve been successful.

And out seems like Haptic Touch can do most of what 3D Touch does already. In iOS 12, a new trackpad mode was added, one that works with every iPhone and iPad. Trackpad mode lets you press hard to turn the iPhone’s keyboard into a trackpad, which in turn lets you control the cursor in the text above. The new mode lets you do the same by long-pressing the keyboard’s space bar. I’m almost certain that this feature will get a Haptic Touch vibration in the iPhone XR.

Is 3D Touch dead?

Does this mean that 3D Touch is being replaced by Haptic Touch? It’s hard to tell. The new iPhone XS has 3D Touch. Then gain, it uses the same display as the iPhone X, so perhaps Apple will drop it next year.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter. Whether you’re using 3D Touch or Haptic Touch, you get the same result. The fact that Apple added Haptic Touch to the XR seems to indicate that the feature is here to stay, which is good news for folks who love it. And bad news for the haters, who seem to think that anything they don’t like should be removed completely.