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You can call it Pixel Smush or 3D Touch, it's still the same failed idea

Google Pixel 4 XL long-term review
Google Pixel 4 XL long-term review (Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

One of the new features that just arrived on the Pixel 4 is the "long-press accelerator", or Pixel Smush. It's a concept Google has been kicking around a long time — Android Froyo could measure the force of a touch a decade ago — but with new machine learning capabilities and some software creativity, it's now an actual thing.

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Imagine you want to press on your home screen to bring up the context menu. You press and hold, right? You still can, but with Deep Touch, you can now just press harder and the waiting is gone. That's a pretty simple implementation that's not really useful in itself, but it shows how Deep Touch can work and bring up the context menu in almost any app if a developer chooses to do it. But is it something we really need?

What does it actually do?

Pixel 4

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

In some Android apps, you can get a special menu if you long-press your screen. I'll use the Pixel Launcher, Google Photos, and Google Drive as examples because that's where Deep Touch works right now.

Imagine that instead of touching the screen for an extra second, you could push a little harder and get that menu in a jiffy. That's Deep Touch. And yes, it should sound familiar because it's something Apple tried and decided nobody cared about with 3D Touch.

The execution? Cool. The idea? Meh.

To be fair, it is cool seeing how it all works without any special hardware in the touchscreen of your phone. Google's been good at using pure software to solve things nobody really needed to be solved. But opening a menu using an extra gesture or type of touch isn't going to make using your phone easier or simpler.

In fact, I'd say the opposite is true. Google throws a feature like this out there with no mention of it and unless you read Android blogs and news every day you have no idea it's even a thing. You only know that sometimes you get the long-press context menu without long-pressing the screen. If you didn't know it was there it would seem more like a bug than a feature.

If you didn't know this was a feature you would probably think it is a bug.

A bigger issue is the inconsistency. Like The Verge's Dieter Bohn (see the embedded Tweet above), I already got my March 2020 update and Feature Drop and it's very hit or miss. And it has to be, because of how it works: machine learning.

This is the failsafe to make sure that folks with a naturally heavy touch don't see every tap becoming a long-press, but it also means things will usually err on the side of caution. In other words, try it 10 times and it will work five at best. And even Google — the king of software-magic — can't change any of that without affecting all the touches you want to be "normal".

Maybe this is why Apple seems to be abandoning the 3D Touch system in the iPhone. It's not useful and confuses "normal" people.

What about the future?

Gboard on a Pixel 4 XL

Source: Joe Maring / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Joe Maring / Android Central)

This is a little more fun to think about. Let's say for a minute that 3D Touch was a flop on the iPhone because it didn't do anything regular folks wanted to be done. Some would argue with that, but it's my take on the whole thing.

Maybe Deep Touch will be useful in the future. But I have my doubts.

Maybe Google could find new ways to use it so that regular folks have a good reason to want it. And that's entirely possible because of how it works at a lower level. There's no extra hardware; it uses an existing Android API, and a small kernel change was all that was needed to bring touch data to the front where an application could use it.

Now think of one of the things on every phone that we all touch multiple times per day and always seems to suck — the keyboard. If I open Google Search and hit the letter G (using the standard Gboard (opens in new tab) app) I get a bunch of preemptive search results that start with the letter G. No matter how long I hold it or how hard I press, none of that changes.

These are the best keyboard apps for your Android

Other keyboards have a context menu if you hold a key long enough. You might see symbols or numbers or capitalization or whatever else a developer decided to add there. But a keyboard is also an app that pays very close attention to where you are pressing with a great deal of precision. Right now that precision is used for making sure you are hitting the right key and for autocorrect, but it's still being measured.

Couple that precision with some sort of Pixel Smush action and something useful might come of it. Allow third-party developers to have access and something even more useful could come of it. Let all Android phones with a machine learning component have access and something useful and even better might come from it.

Or maybe it still is a silly idea that has no value. Only time will tell if Google can succeed where Apple couldn't. I'm not betting on it.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

13 Comments
  • Yep.... Feature creep... Keep it simple... For goodness sakes, it's a mass user operating system, not the control panel for a gas plant.
  • 3D touch was great. Most iPhone users didn't even realize that it existed.
  • I still have an iPhone 6S Plus, and every once in a while I'll remember 3D touch exists.
  • 3D touch made accessing context menus faster than long pressing. But if this didn't work well on iPhone, where all the new phones had it and developers typically uptake new technology with enthusiasm... It's going to fail here.
  • I think Apple dropped it because the hardware cost couldn't justify its value. A software enabled touch function doesn't suffer from that problem. It might make sense.
  • Agreed. That was a lot of overhead for a feature that was not much different from a long press.
  • I really dont see a difference. Running March update on my 4xl.
  • Bwhahahahahahahahaha, Google can't even do 3D Touch right no let me rephrase that. Android can't even do 3D Touch right, another thing Apple got right first time with their superior implementation of it.
  • Apple spent a lot of money on a hardware implementation that was only available to that model of iPhone, and dropped it because it was too expensive to implement for something that few people used. Google made it available via software, no specialty hardware needed, available to all phones. You need to get your head checked there, kiddo
  • Well apple made a mistake vtmy deleting it and replacing it by a software solution
  • What is with these Android bloggers and their constant bashing of Google and Samsung? They act like Apple plants.
  • I think this is brilliant  should totally copy this idea. 3D Touch was leaps ahead of the current rewrite of iOS haptic touch. Having another input method is not a bad thing, even the google soli or samsung spen magic wand tricks might have uses down the road. Being dismissive of deep press is akin to saying the spen is pretty much unnecessary, since majority won’t need it or use it. Like how samsung used deep press in the s9 for the home button in any app, in full screen, in videos, in games. Say you do it again deep press on the bottom half of the screen, pull down notification in any app. Or deep press in games on the right of the screen to scope or toss a grenade. Pity  took out the 3D Touch layer, the trade off is good enough though, much more battery. Better than when they did away with the 3.5mm jack.
  • It's a failed idea, because it has almost no utility. But it's a win, because they were able to do something without additional hardware cost. Maybe a developer can come up with a better use for the idea, doing something new with the same hardware doesn't feel like a failure to me.