It seems almost poetic that on the eve Nokia’s reported return to smartphones with the Android-powered Nokia C1, a Windows Phone skeleton emerges from the Finnish company’s closet. Earlier this week, a user of Chinese social media network Baidu posted images of what would appear to be the Lumia RM-1052, the ill-fated successor to the impressive Lumia 1020 that never made it to store shelves.
The Lumia McClaren, as it was known internally, was a substantial step up from almost every Windows Phone that’d come before it. In addition to a cutting-edge operating system and silicon — it packed 2GB of RAM, a 5-inch, 1080p camera, and the then newest iteration of Windows Phone, Windows Phone 8.1 — the McClaren sported unique technology in other areas. Its imaging sensor, a reported improvement upon the 1020’s widely lauded 41-megapixel PureView camera, was rumored to feature a massive 50-megapixel sensor and dual-LED flash. And more impressively, the McClaren packed Kinect-like sensors capable of detecting finger gestures and movement.
It’s that latter feature — gesture sensing — which Nokia’s then-partner Microsoft intended to headline. The McClaren was conceived as a poster child for the company’s planned Windows Phone gesture suite, 3D Touch, for which Microsoft had begun laying the groundwork in 2008. One component of 3D Touch, Mixview, would reveal hidden windows as users hovered over UI elements with their fingers. Another, a suite of built-in swipes and side taps, would let users dismiss notifications by waving a hand over the display, or zoom in on a photo by sliding a finger along the display screen bezel. Microsoft and Nokia went so far as to create a promotional video for the features and, as late as spring of 2014, shipped Windows Phone 8.1 software development kits with 3D Touch APIs to development partners.
But it unfortunately wasn’t to be. Mere months from the McClaren’s planned launch on at least three major U.S. carriers, Microsoft pulled the plug, mostly thanks to unforeseen setbacks with the aforementioned 3D Touch. Hardware issues pushed back the flaghip’s planned launch from spring to fall, and the initial developer preview was poorly received. But fiscal factors played a part, too; sales of high-end Windows Phone devices slowed significantly in August of 2014, a development which perhaps Microsoft and Nokia took as cause for a shift in device strategy.
In light of the gesture-sensing market failure that was the Amazon Fire Phone, it’s unlikely Microsoft’s 3D Touch will emerge in a new flagship anytime soon. And while Microsoft’s new Windows Phones pack impressively large image sensors, the company seems to have moved away from the PureView technology and branding of Lumias past. Still, that doesn’t make it any less fun to speculate what might have been.