How Apple’s 3D Touch Could Benefit iOS DJs/Performers

With the announcement of the brand new iPhone 6S and 6S+, Apple has also introduced a brand new technology – 3D Touch – that allows users to control their phones with the strength and depth of their touches. As we watched the Apple Keynote, it became clear that one subset of users and app developers could stand to seriously benefit from 3D Touch: music app users. Read on for an overview of the technology and how we imagine it will quickly become integrated into iOS music apps.

What Is 3D Touch?

This new technology goes beyond the limited other touch-sensitive feedback ideas that came before with Apple’s Force Touch and Taptic Engine. Many DJs and producers already know about two analogous technologies to the in the MIDI controller world: velocity sensitivity and MIDI aftertouch. The parallels are significant in that Apple’s 3D Touch is not only designed to detect how hard you touch the screen, but if you increase the pressure on the screen after the initial touch.

So far we’ve only seen three Apple-defined types of 3D Touch interactions documented in the media that has come out on the feature so far:

  • Pressure Sensitivity – this is the basic “press harder to get more of a result” type of touch. The most common example is a paintbrush thickness directly corresponding to how hard you’re pressing the screen
  • “Peek” and “Pop” – these are two stages of a deeply-integrated type of touch that Apple has defined in iOS 9 for easy use – allowing a user to click an object lightly to get a look at what it contains, and then press harder to pop into a deeper view of the content.
  • Quick Actions – think of this as the “right-click” of 3D Touch – a press (often from the Home screen) that allows a user to quickly select a common action to happen. Notably in the image above, Apple indicates that Native Instruments has already started building Quick Actions into iMaschine.

How 3D Touch Could Show Up In Music Apps

The implications for 3D Touch for iOS music makers are very clear – and we suspect they’ll roll out fairly quickly assuming that app developers are on their game.

Velocity sensitivity – not just for pads anymore.

For the pressure sensitivity, we suspect that almost every synthesizer and beat machine app will immediately incorporate velocity-sensitive pads/keys. Press harder on a pad and you’ll get a louder kick on your drum machine or sharper attack on your synth. It’s basic stuff, but something that until now has been impossible on iOS. Expect to see apps like Animoog and iMaschine be the first to integrate this functionality.

For Peek and Pop, we expect we’ll see app developers like Algoriddim quickly add these features to make the use of their apps even more efficient – want to view the full waveform or metadata for a playing track in djay? Give it a light touch to see more – or press harder to open those details. Within the same idea, you might expect these interactions to also drive quick selection process – like loading in a new track to a deck or a preset into a synth.

All bets are on Algoriddim’s djay having 3D Touch functionality in the next update…

Undoubtedly we’ll also see a number of now layered controls on iOS music making apps – somewhat like when we first started adding shift buttons to MIDI controller mappings to allow a whole new level of control. Instead of a normal filter control, press deeply on a filter to select a new filter curve to apply to the control. Want to access your second layer of cue points or select new FX? Just press deeply on these controls and select them from a contextual menu.

3D Touch Is About Workflow

We’ve seen plenty of media touting 3D Touch as being the “next big thing” on smart devices, but the truth is that for people familiar with aftertouch and velocity sensitivity, 3D Touch is just bringing iPhones (and before too long, iPads) to the same level of tactile control as high-end MIDI instruments.

Integrating this technology right into the software is a big deal – but primarily we’re hoping that it makes music making and DJing on an iOS device less of a pain and more of a pleasure. Ideally 3D touch in a music app is intuitive, and instead of being something that gets in the way, it adds concise and efficient control for the user:

“on a device this thin, you want to detect force. I mean, you think you want to detect force, but really what you’re trying to do is sense intent. You’re trying to read minds.” – Apple’s Craig Federighi in this Bloomberg article

3d touchappleIOSios music appsmusic appsNewspeekpoppressure sensitivityquick actionsvelocity sensitivity
Comments (8)
Add Comment
  • Robert Wulfman

    way to make my shiny new phone feel old & crusty. I don’t have a tablet yet though, any mention of the technology coming to new ipads?

    • Tarekith

      Not yet, sounds like it’s phone only at the moment.

      • Matías J. Padilla

        It is, not even the iPad Pro got it since it uses a Stylus for that kind of tasks. I’m guessing they’ll get it in the next update cycle.

        • orge

          Possibly coming in the next release, but tooling/manufacturing cost may delay it from integration into larger screens. Unfortunately, for music applications, this probably has a lot more utility on larger screens.

          It could persuade me to upgrade my tablet if they got this into the air and it had wide application support…


          • Unreallystic

            Pretty much this, music apps on phones are like toys or practice for the tablet versions (I’d argue that the tablets are like Gameboys to a laptop/desktop) as a SNES.

          • Matías J. Padilla

            Adobe already confirmed the Pro has 4GB of RAM and in theory it already has a Desktop class processor so DJ software companies are running out of excuses to making a proper iOS version of their software. I believe iOS 8 was the one that opened up for better plugin integration so maybe once everything is cooked up we can see some true heavy lifting on these.

          • orge

            I don’t think the obstacles have been purely technical for some time now, although apple mobile products are still a bit “locked down” in comparison to desktop computers.

            You have to also consider whether it is in Native Instruments commercial interests to produce a full featured Traktor mobile app that competes directly with the desktop version? Is this likely to result in new revenue opportunities? Also, I think they would only do this if it did not compromise sales of their integrated hardware. Currently the mobile app only supports a limited set of hw and functionality, so this would have to grow substantially.

          • Rutger Willems

            Eh Desktop class processor? I don’t think so…