Three Hours with the iPhone 6S: a VoiceOver User's Perspective

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

Take the Size Difference with a Grain of Salt

There is a very slight difference in the thickness of the iPhone 6S when compared to the 6. And because it's thicker, just like with human beings, that means it weighs slightly more. However, until I held the 6s in one hand and the 6 in another, I couldn't really tell that there was a difference in the weight or girth of the phone. Take this with a grain of salt then, quite literally, as that's about the difference in thickness between the 2 devices. This is good news, though, since it means that most cases designed for the 6 should work on the 6S. That said, with the new 7000 Series aluminum, the phone feels more sturdy in my hand. I haven't tried to bend my phone, since it's new and a device I plan to hold on to for a year or two, but it doesn't feel like it would bend very easily.

It’s Old and New All at Once!

Many people have been wondering about the new 3D Touch system found on the new iPhone models and how it will work with VoiceOver. From what I’ve found thus far, the way it works for VoiceOver users is the same way in which it works for people not using the screen reader; all the gestures for VoiceOver remain the same; open or activate items by double tapping, flick left and right to get around the screen, etc. I have not had to change much in the way I interact with the touchscreen to do the things I normally would. I was talking with a friend, though, who is quite heavy handed on the onscreen keyboard, and this transition appears to be not so smooth for this person. I even had to lighten up the pressure slightly when using Touch Typing. If 3D Touch is really an issue, you can always go in to the Accessibility menu and turn 3D Touch off.

It’s also possible to control the sensitivity of 3D touch. If you tend to apply more pressure with the touchscreen out of habit, you may wish to set this to “firm”. If you continue past the option of setting the sensitivity, you will find the ability to evaluate how it will feel at that setting. Simply press firmly to feel the haptic feedback which will let you know when 3D Touch has been activated.

How 3D Touch Works

I’ve only been playing with this new functionality for a brief time, but here’s what I’ve figured out so far:

  • When performing a 3D Touch, VoiceOver takes you in to a menu where you can select the item you wish by double tapping like you always have in any other situation.

  • When an app or option that utilizes 3D touch is in focus, you will be able to press and hold more firmly to launch the context menu. Many have compared this to right-clicking on a computer, and this does seem an accurate analogy. You will also get a bit of haptic feedback that the menu has come up, along with VoiceOver making a noise. If the app does not have any support for this option in the context for which you are trying to utilize it, you will get a double tap of haptik feedback instead of a single one to indicate as such, and VoiceOver will do nothing. Sadly, I could not find a braille keyboard equivalents for performing this action, which would be very handy for braille display users who could access the same menu without having to take their hands off of the display.

Peekin’ and Poppin’ Through iOS

As stated previously, the 3D Touch features appear to work the same for VoiceOver users as they do for sighted users, and Peek and Pop is no exception. The best way to explain this one would probably be by example. Let’s say I’m in the Mail application in a list of messages. I can, of course, double tap to open the message, or I can touch fairly lightly and hold, which will then give me the content of the message itself. The haptic motor confirms I’ve activated this feature with a single tap being felt on my finger. With VoiceOver, I then have to move my finger around the screen to read the entire email unless it is very short. If I’m done with the message, I raise my finger off the touch screen, and am returned to my list of messages. While this works well enough, I think it could be better implemented by just needing to press lightly and hold and then having VoiceOver read the entire content of the message automatically. This is the “peek” part of Peek and Pop.

The “pop” part has nothing to do with soda, but allows you to move in to the message that you want to read to do things like reply, forward, etc. While holding your finger down lightly, press more firmly to activate the message, or to “pop” in to it. You’ll get another tap from the haptic motor confirming you have gone in to the message. While this feature works as intended, for those who tend to flick left and right to navigate around iOS, the 3D Touch features will be a significant challenge. This is because, at least in its current state, you have to touch an item normally before you can apply pressure to launch either the peek and pop feature or to invoke the previously-mentioned context menu. I’ve also been told that once you are holding down your finger and are peeking, you are able to slide your finger up to perform custom actions with VoiceOver turned off. At this time, VoiceOver is set to read the text of the peek while you are holding down a finger. As such, it’s not possible to access these custom actions at this time. By reading the content automatically instead, this would allow VoiceOver users the same functionality as their sighted counterparts since the sliding up of a finger could then be interpreted the same way.

So the obvious question then becomes, what apps have 3d Touch support? The simple answer is that there is no way to really tell. Reminders, Notes, Phone, Mail, News, Maps, App Store, and a few other Apple apps have it. A few third-party apps I noticed were Workflow, Dropbox, and Tweetings 2 for Twitter. How the various apps will incorporate 3D Touch will depend on the app. Just like the context menus in different programs on Mac and Windows, the 3D Touch menu will also have varying degrees of options in each context.


Though I handle many models of iPhones and other devices on a daily basis, the iPhone 6s was an upgrade from my 5S. Overall, I find loading web pages, using Siri, and unlocking using Touch ID to be much faster than what I am used to on the 5S. And, of course, this is the phone of the future. With 3D Touch just now rolling out, I have no doubt many other app developers will jump onboard, and improve the user experience by implementing support for context menus and Peek and Pop. While I may not have upgraded from a 6, I’m very happy with my upgrade from the 5S to the 6S. If the 3D touch feature was the biggest reason for you to upgrade, and you are a person who navigates primarily via flicking around the screen, it may not be worth an upgrade.



Submitted by Stoo on Saturday, September 26, 2015

Having had my 6S for just over 12 hours now I'd agree with a lot of the above. Although I've been at work and not had a chance to explore fully.
I indeed got frustrated when entering text via on screen keyboard for the first time and found myself frequently making mistakes when entering unlock code etc. I hadn't considered that the 3D touch might have been the issue as wasn't sure how it effected the keyboard, but the extra sounds being fed back to me now makes sense after reading this article.
What I did think was the reason for my making errors, was that the speed of interaction, for me at least is hugely improved, both over my 5S and my 6. I'm a "flicker" navigator and finger swiping left and right to move across the screen really is significantly faster and immediately noticeable, as is the speed of opening apps, unlocking via touch ID and pretty much every facet of the phone experience.
This is the first time that I can remember such a memorable jump in navigation and all round performance and this is obviously down to the faster processor and improvements under the shell.
As the article also mentions, given that I am a "flicker" navigator, a lot of the 3D touch gestures are annoying in their implementation. I'm not sure what percentage of VO users navigate in this way, but I suspect it it to be relatively high.
Given that the speed of swiping to navigate is insanely fast now, having to go back to keeping my finger on the screen and moving around in order to keep my relative position to be able to peek or pop seems a big step backwards and a much slower and tiresome way of moving about.
I look forward to the coming days of increased familiarisation and greatful for the above article for the insight into my initial annoyances with my errors in text/password entering, I'm off to have a look at the sensitivity settings to compensate for my heavy handedness.
I could possibly put this down to having to press harder to compensate for the phone case cover I have in place. The case cover does ever so slightly bulge out more than it did before, due to the slightly increased thickness.
Good luck to all on what I believe to be a significant leap forward in tactile feedback for us VO users...

Submitted by Tom on Saturday, September 26, 2015

Has anybody tried the 6 S plus with the keyboard? I'm wondering if the Command-Tab keys work on the 6 S, similarly to how it is on the iPad. Currently it doesn't work on the iPhone 6. I'm trying to decide if I should get the S or S plus, I would get the larger phone if the iPad like multitasking is possible.
Thanks for your help.

Submitted by Joseph Westhouse on Saturday, September 26, 2015

You guys think it's fast compared to the 5s? Try upgrading from a 4s ;)

Stoo, you may appreciate to know that you can activate 3D touch on an item you've flicked to; simply double-tap like you would to activate the item, but instead of lifting your finger after the second tap, press to activate the 3D touch action. Hope that helps!

Submitted by Scott Davert on Sunday, September 27, 2015

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

Thank you Joseph. You are right, so I'll put this in the guide I plan to publish tomorrow on 3D Touch. I can't seem to find a way to consistently make the actions rotor option abailable if I double tap and press, but there is one there that is available from time to time. I think many of us are slowly figuring it out.