Most of the interactions with our smartphones involve the display, so it’s no surprise that manufacturers are racing to come up with newer technologies to make it easier to navigate our little pocket computers. Apple introduced 3D Touch last year, which was a game changer for sure, but Microsoft Research is cooking up something you need to check out as well.
Interestingly enough, this new tech doesn’t even involve actually touching the display. We’ve see this before with Samsung’s Air View, but it appears Microsoft is investing a little more attention to the details. It’s not about navigating your phone without ever touching the display. It’s more about making things more efficient when you actually do touch it.
The heart of this tech is a self-capacitive touchscreen that detects your fingers as they approach the display. Past renditions of this type of tech used either the front-facing camera or ultrasound, but Microsoft’s version uses the display itself. The advantage to this is that multitouch can take place above the screen.
It uses what Microsoft refers to as anticipatory techniques to detect the grip and the approach of the fingers to adapt the interface. For example, if you’re watching a video, the control options will show up on the display as your finger(s) approach the screen. You can then tap the pause button with one touch. Normally you would have to tap the screen with one finger in order to get the controls to appear, and tap it again to pause.
Microsoft takes this a step further by modifying how the controls appear based on how you’re holding the device. If you happen to be holding your phone with one hand and attempting to control it with the same hand, the controls on the display will appear in a different spot to make it easier. It can also adapt to whether it’s your right or left hand that you’re using.
Apple’s 3D Touch differs in that the display on the iPhone 6S or 6S Plus detects how hard you’re pressing. A light touch might offer a preview of a particular email, while a harder touch would actually open the email in full view. Microsoft’s pre-touch display senses your movements, and even how your holding the device, to provide the appropriate options before you place your finger(s) on the display.
The video above also demonstrates how the Web browsing experience can be enhanced. Hyperlinks will only appear if you approach the display with one finger, but navigation controls will appear if there are multiple fingers. The display also detects a touch with a rapid move as a flick, but a touch involving a slower motion could be used for highlighting text.
Microsoft was rumored to be working on something similar to 3D Touch for a Windows Phone called the McClaren. Supposedly that phone was scrapped, and it’s possible that the Redmond company shifted its efforts to providing this pre-touch feature. The video above most likely depicts a prototype phone for testing, not necessarily an actual upcoming model.
We won’t be surprised if Microsoft uses pre-touch tech on both smartphones and Surface tablets, but unfortunately we have no idea when. It’s also possible that it never comes to market, but it looks too cool to put on the back burner.