A Facebook user who offers up his life to the site, sharing his happiest and most distressing moments, may feel entitled to a say in the way a service looks and works. Over the years, the user has developed an idea of what Facebook “should” be, and feels betrayed when it sweeps the rug out from under him. In truth, of course, he represents a minuscule fraction of the enormous user base that Facebook depends on for revenue.
Because tech users can seem so hostile to change, some companies have gotten good at tricking people into learning and liking a new feature. Take, for example, 3D Touch, the marquee feature of Apple’s latest iPhone that allows users to press harder on their screens to activate different features.
Apple CEO Tim Cook introduced it on stage as a “tremendous breakthrough,” but then he focused the rest of his speech on demonstrating how the feature would save users a few taps and swipes here and there. “No matter what you like to do with your phone, 3D Touch makes it better than ever,” Cook said.
My colleague Adrienne LaFrance wrote about this feature shortly after it was announced. Much of the internet immediately complained about its “uselessness,” but Adrienne took the long view. “We’re only just beginning to see what pressure-sensitive screens will mean for how people use phones,” she wrote. “And a lot of that is because developers are still figuring out what to do with the technology.”
Fast-forward about six months (you can press down harder on your screen to speed up) and the prediction begins to flower. After the feature was introduced, developers updated their apps and games to use 3D Touch in creative ways, but the biggest change finally came from Apple, which maintains complete control over the iPhone’s operating system. When Cook announced iOS 10 earlier this month, he showed off a new lock screen populated by interactive notifications. How are they invoked? With 3D Touch.
With Cook’s announcement, the feature was suddenly made relevant. Users who upgraded last fall have spent half a year getting used to the idea of 3D Touch, even if many didn’t adopt it for daily use. (Many of those who didn’t upgrade probably played with it on their friends’ newer phones.) Armed with hours of practice, they now just have to learn one new thing—how the new lock screen works—to take full advantage of it. That’s a lot simpler than trying to digest a new lock screen interface at the same time as 3D Touch itself.
And perhaps the souped-up lock screen is itself a sleeper feature as well. Rumors have long swirled that Apple will do away with the round home button—the only physical button on the phone’s face. The new lock screen wakes when a user raises his or her phone from the table or a pocket—no need to press a button to bring it to life anymore. That small change is the latest in a string of developments that are pushing the home button to the brink of obsolescence. If Apple does eventually retire it, users will already be accustomed to interacting with their phones largely without it.