iPhone 6s’s 3D Touch and Live Photos Features
Now that smartphones can do more than a million different things with apps, you have to wonder whether it matters when Apple adds two main new features to its latest iPhones. The answer, to cut to the chase, is yes. That’s because when Apple incorporates new smartphone capabilities, the features may become widely used by consumers and then copied by rivals. The trend may start again this Friday, when Apple releases the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, part of an S generation of iPhones that are typically known as the “iteration” cycle. In an S generation, the company improves on the last model by sprinkling in a few new features. For the iPhone 5s, for instance, it was the fingerprint sensor. For the iPhone 4s, it was Siri, the voice assistant.
This time, the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus are being equipped with two signature new tricks: 3D Touch, in which hard or soft presses on the touch screen bring up different functions; and Live Photos, which lets you snap photos that turn into miniature videos.
The iPhone also now comes in a new metallic finish, a pale pink that Apple’s marketing team insists on calling “rose-gold.” After testing the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus for two weeks, I had mixed feelings on the usefulness of the new features. I found that Live Photos quickly became an enjoyable, integral part of shooting photos with an iPhone. But I couldn’t get into the habit of using 3D Touch.
Live Photos works like this: When you take a photo, you capture a still frame in full resolution. But the iPhone camera system keeps a buffer of a second and a half’s worth of motion frames before and after you take the photo. So while you get a still shot of your photo, when you press down on the image, you can also get the motion frames to play back, bringing the photo to life. You might wonder, why not just shoot a video? The short answer is that there will be tiny moments in life where you would never have guessed you wanted to shoot a video, and now Live Photos has a chance to capture them. I tried this by photographing my pets. In one instance, I captured a moment when my corgi started digging his paws into dirt on a mountain, showing a side of his personality you wouldn’t witness in a normal photo.
There is a short learning curve for Live Photos. If you move your camera immediately before or after taking the photo, the movement will show up in the animated photo. Several of my Live Photos were ruined because I put the phone down too quickly after taking the picture. Apple said it planned to modify the feature in a software update so that it did not capture those quick movements.
Two other items that I’d like to see addressed in future software updates: One, when Live Photos are captured, they include audio. I’d like the option to disable that because images alone can speak loudly enough. You also can’t edit Live Photos. You can only apply an edit to the still frame, but not the motion frames. It would be ideal to at least be able to make minor adjustments to Live Photos, like increasing brightness or contrast. The major limitation of Live Photos is that only Apple devices with the latest software systems — iOS 9 for mobile devices, OS X El Capitan for Macs, and WatchOS 2 for the Apple Watch — can see them. Apple says it is working with Facebook so users can share their Live Photos with others on the social network. Hopefully more platforms will support Live Photos in the near future.
In interviews, Apple executives have moaned about the pains that engineers went through to develop 3D Touch. Pressing lightly on an email, for example, displays a “peek,” or preview of the message; pressing harder opens the email. The phone also responds to your finger with a light vibration. 3D Touch also works on app icons to get quick access to different actions. Pressing hard on the icon for the camera app gives you the options to take a selfie, shoot a video, record a slow-motion video or take a photo. You can also use 3D Touch to turn your keyboard into a trackpad to hover around a document as you would on a computer.
It was fun experimenting with 3D Touch, but I rarely felt compelled to use it. With my camera, my instinct continues to be to open the camera app by swiping up on the shortcut on the iPhone’s lock screen. When using email, I don’t bother to peek; I just open them. Unlike past touch gestures on the iPhone, like pinching or swiping, I found 3D Touch, in its current state, to be limited and mostly unnecessary. But it’s still early days, and 3D Touch has the potential to mature into a useful feature.
Third-party companies, like Instagram and Dropbox, plan to support the feature in their iPhone apps. I would like to see Apple expand 3D Touch into other key parts of the iPhone system — for example, it would be thrilling to be able to fast-forward or rewind a video or audio recording at different speeds, depending on how hard I press down on the screen.
So who should buy the 6s? For owners of iPhones that are at least two years old (which includes the iPhone 5s and any generation before that), the new phones are an excellent overall upgrade. With the 6s or the 6s Plus, you’re getting a screen that is significantly larger than those of the older iPhones. Also, the phone’s processor, called A9, will deliver a big increase in speed.
For screen size, I personally prefer the 6s with a 4.7-inch screen to the 6s Plus with a 5.5-inch screen, because the smaller phone is easier to pocket and use with one hand. But people who want a smartphone that will double as a tablet, for reading books or watching videos, will be better off with the 6s Plus’s larger screen.
And then there’s data storage. Apple offers the new iPhones with different storage options and prices: The 6s costs $650 for 16 gigabytes, $750 for 64 gigs and $850 for 128 gigs; the big-screen 6s Plus costs $100 more, respectively, for each of those storage tiers. I strongly recommend against the 16-gigabyte model, largely because Live Photos are twice the size of a normal photo. For just $100 more, you’ll get a lot more enjoyment out of your iPhone with 64 gigs.
For those with an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus, the new 3D Touch and Live Photos perks aren’t substantive enough to make it worth upgrading to a 6s. While Apple improved the camera resolution and designed the 6s and 6s Plus with stronger metal and glass than the last iPhones, a major component — battery life — was not improved. It would be wiser to hold off until the next version, which will most likely include more significant improvements.
Source: The New York Times