Mobility

The need for a 3D Android interface is now

Apple upped the interface ante with 3D Touch. Can Android OEMs pull off a similar feat... or possibly even best Apple? Jack Wallen ponders the idea.

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Image: Jack Wallen

In the latest iteration of iOS, Apple unveiled a new feature called 3D Touch. This allows your device to respond differently to variances of pressure you apply to the screen. This feature has turned some serious heads, with good reason. Force (or 3D) Touch enables a new level of interaction with our devices. Instead of having a single contextual menu, imagine having multiple contextual menus (depending on how hard or soft you press).

Fear not, Android faithful, 3D Touch will be coming to our favorite platform. A few days ago, Synaptics announced their ClearForce technology that recognizes different levels of pressure to the screen. Synaptics is working with Android OEMs to make this happen.

The skeptics, of course, abound. Before Apple rolled out devices with this feature, people were doubtful of its usability. What Apple did, however, was seriously impress. They took a very challenging feature and made it work. That's something Apple is quite good at.

Here's where the rub comes in. Should Samsung, HTC, Google, Motorola, OnePlus—or any given Android manufacturer—dive into the realm of Synaptic' ClearForce, they better bring it! Most likely, Samsung will be the first to venture into this arena. When they do, they need to ensure the feature is not only dialed in to perfection, it also must be useful. The last thing Android needs is to have something like ClearForce arrive and be nothing more than a gimmick.

I firmly believe that this technology is the future of the mobile interface, one that Android needs and could take to levels that even Apple can't imagine. How? Because Android is simply a much more flexible platform. Of course, that means OEMs have to make some serious good on this technology, and the app developers have to as well.

If I were to envision what ClearForce could do for Android, my list would look something like this:

  • Soft press a contact: call
  • Soft press+hold a contact: edit contact
  • Hard press a contact: message
  • Hard press+hold a contact: place shortcut on home screen
  • Soft press within an app: bring up app menu
  • Long press within an app: close app
  • Soft press+hold+swipe down/up within a browser: slow scroll down or up
  • Hard press+hold+swipe down/up within a browser: fast scroll down or up
  • Soft press an app within Settings | Apps: clear cache
  • Long press an app within Settings | Apps: delete app
  • Soft press a message: reply to message
  • Long press a message: delete message
  • Soft press on the home screen: standard home screen menu
  • Long press on the home screen: contextual menu or user-defined menu

You get the idea. There are literally thousands of possibilities for this technology, but delivering it in such a way as to either equal or best that found in iOS will be crucial.

The good news is that Synaptics knows what it's doing. It has a long, storied tradition with interfaces. This means the hardware element shouldn't be a problem. Even better is that Samsung and Synaptics has a long-standing relationship, so the hardware will deliver.

But will the software?

Believe it or not, Huawei was the first to bring such a feature to the market. Their Mate S included force touch, but the feature was almost laughable in its execution. Their take on 3D Touch was so bad that it barely made a dent in the ocean of Android news.

That is exactly what the next Android OEM must avoid. Bringing such a feature to market before it's ready could place a serious dark spot on the platform. Make it work and make it something users must have—otherwise, don't even bother. Huawei had some great tech at their disposal and failed to make use of it. Samsung... I certainly hope you followed that failure closely.

ClearForce could easily pave the way for the next level of Android interface. Imagine what home screen launchers could do with this? Apps like Nova Launcher could turn this into something Apple couldn't dream of.

Outside of the OEMs/developers "bringing it," it has yet to be seen if Apple will play their usual game of dirty pool and patent the idea of a three dimensional interface. Here's hoping that they don't.

What would you do with a 3D Touch interface on the Android platform? Share your thoughts in the discussion thread below.

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About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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